בצר לך ומצאוך כל הדברים האלה באחרית
הימים ושבת עד ה’ אלקיך ושמעת בקלו
We are analyzing the 7 levels of Teshuba, repentance, formulated by Rabbi Abohab in his book Menorat haMaor (see below the first 4 levels).
The 5th level mentioned by Rabbi Abohab is when one repents after having suffered or experienced difficulties. These difficulties may or may not be related to our wrongdoing.
We have previously explained that negative experiences, for example a health issue, a work related problem or economic difficulties are seen by our Sages as experiences that help achieving Divine forgiveness. (see http://conta.cc/2g2cby1 , where we mention our limitations to understand why sometimes bad things happen to good people). In the text we are exploring today, however, we are NOT analyzing the relationship between suffering and being forgiven, but the relationship between suffering and repentance. In other words, this text explains that bad experiences have the potential to inspiring and pushing us to reestablish our relationship with the Creator.
There is a very famous paragraph in the Tora, in the book of Debarim (Deuteronomy) chapter 4, verse 30, which refers to collective Teshuba, when the people of Israel repents, and their captivity ends. Israel returns to HaShem and renews the observance of His covenant. This is what the Tora says: And at the end of the days, when you have lived in the midst of all these troubles and pains, you will return to HaShem your God and listen to His voice. Classical repentance, the most common one, comes as a result of having suffered. In this case, hatred, persecution or death in the hands of the nations in which we were exiled
This type of Teshuba, wake up after suffering, is not ideal but is very frequent. And it happens in so many ways. Many times a Jewish person who does not live a life of observance only wakes up and begins to assume his or her Jewish identity when he suffers contempt, hatred or mockery from an anti-Semite.
It also happens that many Yehudim come closer to God and to His Tora, for example, after having lost a relative. When one loses a loved one, at first he rebels, but then, as he advances in the stages of mourning, he comes to the acceptance of the new reality and reconciles with HaShem. Reconciliation often brings us to a higher level than before, to a relationship with God that is now closer than what it was before suffering our loss.
Suffering is sometimes the only way to mature, grow, understand and value. When nothing is lacking and we have the power, resources and health to enjoy a high quality material life, we might forget HaShem, and without planning it, we asphyxiate our spiritual life. Mistakenly, we think that God is there, waiting for us to remember Him only when we need Him …. And it does not even occur to us to thank HaShem for having given us everything we have.
A father sent money to his son who studied abroad, every month. The father called the son very often, but the son never had time to talk to him. And it did not even occur to him to thank his father for remembering him every month. The father, consciously, stopped sending him money. At first, the son said nothing, but two months later, when he had no more funds, he called. “Daddy, how are you doing? Long time no talk! By the way, you did not send me money. Have you forgotten me? “
The generous father, who never forgot his son, had to force his son to endure deprivation in order for him to wake up and value the generosity of his father. The father was obliged to interrupt his support so that his son remembered him and returned to communicate with him. Rabbi Abohab explains that unfortunately many human beings (possibly most of us) remember God more to ask Him than to thank Him. It is as if sometimes God’s last resource is to stop showering us with His blessings, to wake us up from materialism and spiritual lethargy. From this point of view, deprivation and suffering must be interpreted by us as God’s call or His invitation for us to repent and remember Him, perhaps because we have failed to thank Him for all He has been giving us.