The idea of being mekabel yissurim b’ahava, accepting suffering with love, is a fundamental concept in Judaism and something that we are exposed to all the time. We may see or hear about people who are living lives of extraordinary pain and suffering, yet their simchas hachayim and connection to HaShem do not seem to be compromised. If anything, their yissurim appear to be making them stronger and even more connected to the Ribbono Shel Olam.
We may see these people, think about the challenges in our own lives, and wonder what we are doing wrong.
Is it possible to ever get to such a level… or, are some people just born this way?
Getting in Touch with the Emotion of being Mekabel Yissurim B’Ahava
Whenever there is discussion about how a person can get to the level of being mekabel yissurim b’ahava, the typical response goes something like this:
We understand that HaShem is giving us exactly what we need, when we need it. He knows what’s best for us, even if we don’t. So, even when a situation is painful or seems unjust, we believe and trust in HaShem’s Ultimate Goodness. Not only is our love for HaShem is not compromised because of the experience, it is often strengthened.
While all of these points are certainly true, the problem with this answer is that it is an intellectual one- one that leaves out the emotion and the fundamental rules of love. Being mekabel yissurim b’ahava, means that in the middle of a difficult nisayon we are still connected to HaShem in feelings of love.
Of course, getting to this place is easier said than done.
If you are suddenly and unexpectedly hurt by someone, you may not exactly be feeling love at that moment. Instead, you’d be feeling sad, angry, frustrated, confused- a whole assortment of distressful emotions.
To a certain extent, our relationship with HaShem may be no different. Even if you know intellectually that HaShem is sending a painful situation to you for a good reason, this knowledge alone may not make you feel any better. Yissurim are not supposed to feel nice. That’s the point. HaShem is trying to get our attention.
We also have to accept the reality that many times we may not merit to see the good outcome(s) of a painful situation right away; and on occasion, we may never see them.
So, for some of us the real question is first how to get past all of the feelings of negativity in order to see HaShem’s hashgacha. Only then can we even talk about reaching the level of ahava.
Then there are those of us who can get past the distressful emotions. When faced with a difficult nisayon, these people are able to disconnect from the pain and almost downplay it. They gather their strength, fight to keep their heads above water, and force a smile on their faces in the name of being b’simcha.
But, chazal tell us that yissurim are HaShem’s way of getting our attention in order that we should be introspective. As it says in Gemara Berachos 5a: “If a person sees that painful sufferings visit him, let him examine his conduct. For it is said: Let us search our ways and analyze them, and return to HaShem (Eicha 3:40)”
When difficulty strikes we need to look at our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to see where they may be going off- where they are pulling us towards sheker instead of emes. Once we find that point, we then need to make some small movement or action to pull away from the sheker and embrace the emes.
It is possible that the person who is putting all her energies into surviving and smiling while doing it, may at the same time be missing out on the very signals HaShem is sending her way.
There is a fine line between going through a difficult experience b’simcha and just disconnecting to what is happening. If you find yourself in a nisayon and never looking inside to figure out what HaShem wants from you, if you are not making small, internal movements towards HaShem and towards the emes He’s trying to bring you to, then it could be a sign that you are not hearing the messages that HaShem is sending your way.
So how do we get out of these places?
Going back to the example above of the person who did something hurtful. Let’s say this person was a beloved parent, sibling, friend, or spouse. If you have built up a good relationship with someone over the years, and then he or she suddenly does something that causes you pain, while you may initially be confused and hurt at the beginning, it doesn’t mean you’ll just throw away the relationship. You would likely first try to speak to the person, tell him or her how you are feeling, and get to the root of why this occurrence happened in the first place.
When you recognize and believe in the person’s inherent goodness, and there is a healthy foundation of giving and taking, communication, emunah and trust, then it would take an awful lot to break that bond of love. If your feelings are real, then your underlying connection to this person will endure even during times of disagreement or distress.
Now, obviously, this mashal has its limitations in regard to our relationship with HaShem since people can make mistakes. HaShem, however, the Source of all Goodness never, ever does such a thing. Every single experience and element in creation has a Divine purpose. They are there for the sole intent of doing and bringing good, and every single experience that you have is perfectly good for you (see the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov, Rav Dessler ‘Strive for Truth’, Ramchal ‘Daas vTevunos’ as well as Yerushalmi Shvi’is 9:1 and Gemara in Chulin 63a).
The main point of the above mashal, however, remains: In order to really be mekabel yissurim b’ahava, you have to first work on your relationship with HaShem, building a healthy foundation of giving and taking, communication, emunah, and trust. The more you speak to Him, the more you connect to Him, the more you will start to see His Handiwork in your life, and the more you will naturally feel love and yearning for Him. This is a process that happens slowly over time- מֵחַיִל אֶל-חָיִל.
In other words, if you are accustomed to maintaining a dialogue with HaShem and striving to come closer to Him during the comfortable and calm times, then you will respond the same way during the challenging times.
HaShem sends suffering because He is trying to speak to you. He wants something from you. He wants you to go davkah to the place where it hurts, a place that may be uncomfortable and from that place connect to Him- even if only the smallest, slightest way. If you choose to follow Him there, and bring Him in there, then the gift of light and clarity that you will receive in return will just make you love Him even more.
This is what it means to be mekabel yissurim b’ahava.