In this week’s Torah reading, Parshas Toldos, the Torah tells us (27:1) that our patriarch Isaac became blind. How did this come about? The Medrash (Bereishis Rabboh 65:9) shares with us a most fascinating anecdote. Isaac had actually asked the Almighty to grant him pain! To ordinary people like us, this sounds absurd. Who in his right mind would ask to be afflicted with pain?
The Medrash explains the reason behind his request. The Medrash tells us that Isaac said to God, “If a person dies without experiencing pain in this world, he will have to face severe judgement [in the Next World] for the sins he has committed.” And indeed, God agreed with his reasoning and granted his wish. As a result of his request, we too, benefit from the gift of experiencing pain in this world.
All in all, this is still quite a difficult pill to swallow. The notion of being grateful for pain contradicts human nature. The following story can help in bringing home this concept:
There was once a man who had a difficult life. He endured a lot of suffering, and he decided to beseech the great rabbi, Rabbi Shalom Sharabi, to see if he can help alleviate his pain. The man reached his destination and was told to sit down and wait until the rabbi was available to see him. Meanwhile, the man had fallen asleep out of exhaustion from the trip and he had a dream. that he was facing trial in the Heavenly Court for his entire life.
There was a big scale, and all the angels created from all the Mitzvos (good deeds) he had done in his lifetime, were summoned to ascend onto one side of the scale. Soon after, all the angels created from his sins were called upon to put their weight on the other side of the scale. Unfortunately, the scale started tipping to the latter side and it seemed as if he was doomed to a harsh verdict, and the man was terrified.
But then, an announcement was made in Heaven, “Did this man endure any suffering in his life?” All of a sudden a new group of angels came rushing onto the scale, on the side of his merits, and the scale started tipping back in his favor. But these angels had stopped coming, and the side of evil still outweighed the side of merits. When the man saw this, he started shouting out loud, “Bring on more pain! More pain!” The man woke up from his cries, and startled everyone around him. Rabbi Sharabi asked him, “So do you still wish to discuss your plight?” The man answered that he got what he came for, and left.
We may still not wish upon ourselves pain, but it is inevitable that we will endure pain at various times in our lives. While the natural reaction to pain is frustration and anguish, we are now offered a new perspective. Although painful experiences may not be pleasant, there is nothing to gain by dreading them. We have no idea how much we actually benefit from the pain we experience. If our great patriarch Isaac was concerned about receiving retribution in the Next World for any misdeeds, we certainly have much atonement to gain for our own iniquities. Whatever pain we endure in this world is minuscule compared to the alternative consequences one would have to face in the Next World. Who knows if we ourselves won’t actually wish one day that we had endured even more pain?