Avraham ben Yaakov


A clear and concise expression of the Torah view of suffering is contained in "Derech HaShem: The Way of God'', by R. Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, translated by R. Aryeh Kaplan (Feldheim Publishers, Jerusalem, 1983).

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (1707-46) is usually known as the RaMChaL, from the acronym of his name. An outstanding Torah Sage and Tzaddik, he lived in Italy, Holland and finally Eretz Yisrael, a couple generations before Rebbe Nachman. The RaMChaL's brilliance as a systematizer of traditional Torah teachings is evidenced both in the "Derech HaShem'' -- a comprehensive outline of Jewish belief -- and in the classic Mussar work for which he is most famous, the "Mesilath Yesharim: Path of the Just'' (which Rebbe Nachman recommended to some of his followers -- see Sichos ve-Sippurim p.167).

Extracts from the "Derech HaShem'' are reproduced here by kind permission of Feldheim Publishers.

The purpose of the Creation

To understand the meaning and purpose of suffering, we must first go back to the very purpose of the Creation and the meaning of our life in this world. The Ramchal explains:

God's purpose in creation was to bestow of His good to another. Since God desired to bestow good, a partial good would not be sufficient. The good that He bestows would have to be the ultimate good that His handiwork could accept. True good exists only in God. His wisdom therefore decreed that the nature of this true benefaction be His giving created things the opportunity to attach themselves to Him to the greatest degree possible for them.

God's wisdom, however, decreed that for such good to be perfect, the one enjoying it must be its master. He must be one who has earned it for himself, and not one associated with it accidentally and without reason.

God therefore arranged and decreed the creation of concepts of both perfection and deficiency, as well as a creature with equal access to both _ namely, Man. This creature would then be given the means to earn perfection and avoid deficiency (pp.37-39).

Man must earn this perfection, however, through his own free will and desire. If he were compelled to choose perfection, then he would not actually be its master, and God's purpose would not be fulfilled. It was therefore necessary that man be created with free will.

Man's inclinations are therefore balanced between good and evil, and he is not compelled toward either of them. He has the power of choice, and is able to choose either side, knowingly and willingly, as well as to possess whichever one he wishes. Man was therefore created with both a Good Urge (Yetzer Tov) and an Evil Urge (Yetzer Ra). He has the power to incline himself in whichever direction he desires (p.45).

This World and the Next

The true purpose of man's creation was that he should be worthy of attaining true good, namely experiencing God in the World to Come. Man's ultimate destiny is therefore the tranquillity of the Future World. The Highest Wisdom decreed, however, that this would best be attained if man would first exist in the present world, bound and limited by its natural laws. This is actually the true and proper preparation necessary for the desired goal, and everything in this world was therefore arranged so that it should serve as a means of preparing and readying man for this ultimate purpose (p.95).

The creation of man with a Good Urge, an Evil Urge and free will allows the human race to include some individuals who are good as well as others who are evil. Ultimately, the evil ones must be cast aside, and the good ones gathered to form one Perfected Community. It is for this Community that the Future World and all its attained goods are intended (p.95).

Man's true reward is in the World to Come, and for the worthy individual this consists of the eternal continuous experiencing of God. The ultimate punishment, on the other hand, is that the individual should be deprived of this true good and destroyed.

The judgement was set up, however, to be in accordance with the majority of one's deeds. The good deeds of the wicked and evil deeds of the righteous, which constitute a minority, are dealt with in this world through its gratifications and sufferings. It is in this world that the wicked are rewarded with prosperity for their few virtues, while the righteous are punished with suffering for their few faults.

As a result of this, everyone's judgement is perfect. The Future World likewise remains suitable for its intended perfect state. It is inhabited only by the righteous, and the wicked are totally absent. Those who inhabit the Future World are furthermore free of any obstacle within themselves that might restrict the delight intended for them. The wicked, on the other hand, are cast aside and annihilated, but they have no cause to complain since they have already been rewarded for their few virtues in the present world (pp.97-99).


In His mercy, God maximized man's chances of successfully attaining his ultimate goal. He therefore decreed that there should be another type of purification for those who could benefit from it. It was intended for those who have been surmounted by evil, but not to such a great extent that they should be utterly annihilated.

This purification includes a number of spiritual punishments the most prominent being that of Gehenom (Purgatory). The purpose of these punishments is to penalize the individual for his sins in such a way that he is subsequently free of any liability for the evil that he may have done. As a result, he can then receive the true reward for his good deeds.

Because of this, the number of people who are actually annihilated is small and insignificant. It only consists of those who are dominated by evil so completely that it is utterly impossible for them to have any chance of experiencing the true reward and everlasting delight of experiencing God. (p.99.)

The details of man's judgement, however, are not known to anyone other than God, who is the True Judge. He is the only One who knows the true nature and results of all deeds on every level and in each detail. He therefore knows which should be recompensed in each particular period and manner (p.99).

The Purpose of Suffering

Good deeds incorporate an intrinsic quality of perfection and excellence into man's body and soul. Evil deeds, on the other hand, incorporate in him a quality of insensitivity and deficiency, all with a precise measure depending on the deeds, no more and no less.

The righteous man may attain in himself a large measure of brilliance and excellence. From another side, however, because of the minority of evil deeds that he has done, there is in him an admixture of darkness and insensitivity. As long as he still has this admixture, he is neither prepared nor suited to experience God.

The Highest Mercy therefore decreed that some sort of purification exist. This is the general category of suffering. God gave suffering the power to dispel the insensitivity in man, allowing him to become pure and clear, prepared for the ultimate good at its appointed time. The amount of suffering needed to purify the individual would then depend on the amount of insensitivity that he has acquired as a result of his deeds.

In many cases, it is possible that physical suffering alone would not have the power to dispel this insensitivity, and in such cases, spiritual purification in the Soul World is also necessary (p.101).

Suffering may come to an individual in order to make him examine his deeds and motivate him to repent. This is particularly true in the case of a righteous person who may have commited a few sins, or in the case of an intermediate individual, whose sins are balanced by good deeds.

Such suffering, however, is not the same as that discussed earlier, which was an atonement for sin. What we are speaking of now are sufferings meant to motivate a person and awaken his heart to repent.

Punishment was only created to exist in the absence of repentance. What God truly desires is that man not sin in the first place, and if he does sin, that he should repent. If one does not repent, however, he can still be purified through these punishments and thus not be annihilated completely.

Suffering therefore initially comes to an individual to motivate him to repent. If this is not effective, then he must also undergo further suffering to cleanse him of his sins. Regarding this, Elihu told Job (Job 36:10), "[God] opens their ear to discipline, and bids them repent from sin'' (pp.115-117).

Role of the Tzaddikim

When the Highest Wisdom considered everything needed to rectify the human race and make it into the Perfected Community discussed earlier, it saw that this goal would be furthered if some people could benefit others and help them attain a place in this Community.

The rule that the Community of the Future World be restricted only to those who attained perfection in their own right is therefore not absolute. For it was also decreed that an individual can reach a level where he can partake of perfection and be included in this Community as a result of his association with a more worthy individual. The only difference is that he will remain on a lower level, since he is not included in this Community in his own right, but only through association with another.

Those who cause others to partake in the World to Come will definitely be the foremost in that Community. They will be the leaders, while those who enter by vitrtue of their association with them will be beholden to and dependent on them.

In order for this to be possible, all men were originally bound to each other, as our sages teach us, "All Israel are responsible for one another.'' As a result of this, each individual is bound to everyone else, and no man is counted separately. God's attribute of good is the stronger, however, and if the guilt for sin is shared by others, this must certainly be true of the merit associated with good deeds.

Suffering of the Tzaddikim

As a result of this principle, suffering and pain may be imposed on a Tzaddik (righteous person) as an atonement for his entire generation. This Tzaddik must then accept this suffering with love for the benefit of his generation, just as he accepts the suffering imposed upon him for his own sake. In doing so, he benefits his generation by atoning for it, and at the same time is himself elevated to a very great degree. For a Tzaddik such as this is made into one of the leaders in the Community of the Future World, as discussed earlier.

All this involves a Tzaddik who is stricken because his generation is about to be annihilated, and would be destroyed if not for his suffering. In atoning for them through his suffering, this Tzaddik saves them in this world and greatly benefits them in the World to Come.

The Outstanding Tzaddikim

Within this same category, however, there is a class that is even higher than this. There is suffering that comes to a Tzaddik who is even greater and more highly perfected than the ones discussed above. This suffering comes to provide the help necessary to bring about the chain of events leading to mankind's ultimate perfection.

According to the original plan, the sequence of worldly events required that man undergo at least some suffering before both he and the world could attain perfection. This was required by the very fact that one of the basic concepts of man's predicament was that God should hold back His Light and hide His presence, as discussed earlier. This became all the more necessary as a result of the corruption and spiritual damage caused by man's many sins, which held the good back even more and caused God's presence to become all the more hidden. The world and everything in it are therefore in a degraded evil state, and require that God's unfathmomable wisdom bring about numerous chains of events to achieve their rectification.

Among the most important elements of this sequence is the requirement that man be punished for his wickedness until the attribute of justice is satisified. God arranged matters, however, so that select perfect individuals could rectify things for others, as discussed earlier. The attribute of justice therefore relates to them rather than to the rest of the world in general.

Individuals such as these, however, are themselves perfect, and are therefore worthy only of good. The only reason they suffer is because of others, and the attribute of justice must therefore be as satisfied with a small amount of suffering on their part as with a large amount on the part or those who actually sinned.

Beyond that, the merit and power of these Tzaddikim is also increased because of such suffering, and this gives them even greater ability to rectify the damage of others. They can therefore not only rectify their own generation, but can also correct all the spiritual damage done from the beginning, from the time of the very first sinners.

It is obvious that individuals such as these will ultimately be the foremost leaders in the Perfected Community, and the ones who are the very closest to God (pp.119-125).

All this is not only the result of justice, but also follows from the actual order of things, as discussed earlier. As a result of man's sins, corruption is increased and incorporated into both man and the world. This in turn causes God's light to be increasingly retracted and hidden. The more this corruption is cleansed, on the other hand, and the more people are purified of it, the more God's light is once again revealed, step by step.

Suffering is the thing that God created to cleanse this pollution, both in general and in particular. Thus through the suffering of these select individuals, creation in general is cleansed, and step by step the world is brought closer to perfection (p.125.).

This article was first printed in Garden of the Souls by Avraham Greenbaum Breslov Research Institute 1990




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