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The Truth About Suffering

The Truth About Suffering By Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz

יְהֹוָה צַדִּיק יִבְחָן וְרָשָׁע וְאֹהֵב חָמָס שָׂנְאָה נַפְשׁוֹ׃

Hashem seeks out the righteous man, but loathes the wicked one who loves injustice. Psalms 11:5

David’s journey to kingship was not easy. Obstacles stood in his way and evil men attacked him. But David had a perspective on this that leveraged these difficulties to help his devotion to God. This was expressed in Psalm 11:

Hashem seeks out the righteous man but loathes the wicked one who loves injustice. Psalm 11:5

The Hebrew word translated here as “seeks out” is yivchan (יִבְחָן). This word can mean “he will examine” (Psalms 139:23), “to clarify” (Gen. 42:15), and “refine” (Zech. 13:9).

But in this verse, many commentators translated it as “he will test”. When David experienced hardship, he understood that God was testing him.

But why did God test him and how did these tests help his devotion to God?

The medieval commentator Rashi helps us understand this verse, explaining that seeing a righteous person like David suffer leads evil people to boast that God has forsaken him. But this perception is mistaken. Rashi compares God sending hardship onto David to a flax worker who, as long as he knows that his flax is of high quality, beats it. But when it is not of high quality, he crushes it only a little because it breaks.

In other words, God tests the righteous because He knows they can withstand the test and emerge even stronger and better than before. The wicked, on the other hand, would break from the pressure and so God leaves them alone.

Rashi also explains that testing the righteous misleads the evildoers. They think that hardship in a righteous person’s life means that God has abandoned them. What they don’t realize is that the hardship is actually a sign of God’s love. And even though God makes life difficult for the righteous in this world, in the world to come, God will reward the righteous and punish the wicked.

All of these interpretations imply one thing: God pays close attention to the righteous. This scrutiny comes with a price. God will test the righteous, throwing obstacles in their path and making it difficult for them to achieve their goals. This is to improve and refine them and make them stronger. And ultimately, it will increase their reward.

David also understood that implicit in this uncomfortably close scrutiny is divine protection. The psalm describes the punishment of the wicked but it also describes the glorious reward assured God’s loyal servants:

For Hashem is righteous; He loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold His face. Psalm 11:7

We learn from King David that suffering is not a sign that God has forsaken us. As difficult as it may be to endure, and as challenging as it is to understand, the hardships in our lives are meant for our good, and are really indicative of God’s love for us.

Abraham, the father of faith, faced ten trials of his faith. The first was lech l’cha – leave your home and all that is known and go to a land I will show you. The final test of his faith was Akeidat Yitzchak, the instruction to be willing to sacrifice his son of promise.

Genesis 22:12

The Lord said, “Do not reach out [with the knife in] your hand against the boy, and do nothing to [harm] him; for now I know that you fear God [with reverence and profound respect], since you have not withheld from Me your son, your only son [of promise].”

May you and I experience many ‘now I know’ moments as we navigate our journey to our sanctification with Yeshua, our LORD!

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