By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
Dear Rabbi Fried,
I was present at a shiva house recently where you spoke and related a parable of a sage to explain why people suffer, sometimes for a very long time. I was inspired by the message but don’t remember all the details, and wanted to share it with someone whose mother is going through a lot of suffering presently. Could I trouble you to repeat it for me?
— Linda T.
What I related is a parable offered by a leading Kabbalist from Jerusalem, as related by my esteemed friend and colleague Rabbi Akiva Tatz:
There was once a man, Moe, who passed on from this world, and found himself walking down a long street toward a great light. He heard a loud noise, and looked up to see three very large dump trucks carrying a cargo of dirt, giving off lots of dust and noise. He hailed one of the trucks and asked the driver where he’s going. The driver responded, “to your court case!” Moe asked him what was in the trucks. The driver responded, “these are all your sins; for your court case!” Moe gulped and nervously asked the driver if he could hitch a ride. The driver responded, “no room in here!” as he and the other trucks drove on.
Moe, who continued walking toward the light, looked up a few minutes later to see a small golf cart whirring along quietly down the road, with a small, neatly wrapped package in the backseat tied with a ribbon. He asked the driver where he was going? The driver responded, “to your court case.” Moe asked, “What’s in the little package in the back?” The driver responded, “Those are all your mitzvot!” Moe, now really nervous, asked if he could have a ride. The driver replied, “Sure, plenty of room in here!”
After Moe arrived at the courthouse, he saw the angels and a huge scale. First the dump trucks unloaded their loads of sins onto the scale, causing that side of the scale to come crashing down onto the ground and the other side to lift high into the sky. Then the golf cart driver climbed a high ladder and gently placed his neat packet onto the scale, not making a dent. Moe turned from red to a deep shade of crimson.
Just then, Moe heard the rumbling of more trucks. Three large dump trucks entered, laden with more dirt. Moe cried out, “What are those?! What are they carrying?” They explained, those are all the sufferings you had in your life below! The three trucks began dumping their loads onto the mitzvah side of the scale, slowly lowering the scale to equal the sin side. When they became exactly equal, the last truck finished its load. Joe cried out, “Isn’t there any more suffering in there?”
We never really know why any individual goes through suffering in this world. (Only in the days of yore when we had prophets could we find out why one is going through suffering, as we often find in the Scriptures. At one point in our history prophecy came to an end, for a number of reasons; from then on we became a “non-prophet” organization). Many of our greatest leaders, including Moses, were troubled by the seeming success of the wicked and the suffering of the righteous, and questioned God Himself why he does so.
The only thing we do know is that God is just and nothing happens without reason. For this reason a mourner recites a blessing at the funeral, “Blessed are You, Ha-Shem King of the universe, the true Judge.”
From the vantage point of eternity, the transient suffering in this world is a small price to pay if it leads to an eternity of bliss and pleasure (although when one is going through it, it is not pretty and defies the comprehension of those surrounding the sufferer). May we all merit to good health and happiness and suffer no more!
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.