Ask the Rabbi with Rabbi Chaim Mintz
The Rambam tells us that there are some sins for which the regular, proper teshuvah (repentance) process is enough, while other sins require Yom Kippur in addition to the teshuvah process in order to be completely atoned for. There is another category, however, for which teshuvah and Yom Kippur together are not enough. To achieve full atonement for those sins, God additionally sends suffering upon the individual.
Why is it that proper repentance is not enough for those sins?
Additionally, if the suffering is physical, how does it achieve atonement for the soul, which is spiritual?
Rabbi Chaim Mintz responds:
One question answers the other. Suffering helps the soul because the soul is spiritual and a person’s body is physical.
Body in Conflict with Soul
When a person lives in this world with his body and soul, the body has a big say in what he does. When the body has normal cravings that pull him away from spirituality and cause him to live an animalistic and mundane type of lifestyle, or does different actions that bring him down into this animalistic and physical world, that is a great conflict with the neshamah (soul), which is totally holy and spiritual.
Why does a person sin? Because the body, an animalistic part of him, is pulling him, for instance, not to keep Shabbos (Shabbat), because he wants to make money, because he wants to buy food, etc. These desires are pulling him away from his neshamah which wants him to keep Shabbos and be close to Hashem (God).
Suffering – The Atonement Solution
So, once a person does that terrible sin for which he’s chayav kareis (deserves to be cut off both physically and spiritually), a very strong punishment, and what pulled him away from that is endless desires, he must go through a purification process which will cleanse him from that animalistic desire that overpowered him. By having yissurim (pain and suffering), a person forgets about good food and clothes and cars. He’s thinking about the suffering, and it’s a time for him to overlook all the physical desires that he has, because they don’t mean anything when one is experiencing that type of suffering and difficulties. It makes him holier because it’s pulling him away from this world and those things that caused him to do the sin. That is why a person needs to suffer in order to bring him back to the spiritual person that he was before.
He will then be spiritual like Hashem is spiritual, and he’ll be able to cling to Him once again.