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Meaning in Suffering – Parshat Ki Teitzei

Meaning in Suffering – Parshat Ki Teitzei

Is there such a thing? It may even sound condescending or patronizing.

In preparing for this blog, I had no clarity of topic. This week’s parsha1 is so full of topics yet everywhere I looked I could find nothing to hook on to. So, I said, I will continue reading Dr. Elizabeth Lukas’ book, ‘meaning in suffering'(1986). I was up to chapter 3, Suffering and the Question of Meaning, when it hit me. This week’s parsha is chock full of situations of suffering  – from the other wife, a wayward son, capital punishment, divorce, rape, war, terror, and more.

“Suffering and death are inescapable realities of life,” writes Dr. Teria Shantall. “We are confronted with these realities virtually every day of our lives. It is when we ourselves are struck by senseless and tragic suffering that we question whether life has any meaning.”3 We can philosophize about it but can only truly understand it if we ourselves are involved in such an instance.

So, what’s it all about? What do we make from all of this? Do we just give in to the depression and despair that suffering may lead us to?

The answer is a resounding no. Does this mean we are to feel no pain or sadness at a loss? Again, the answer is a resounding no. We feel the pain and anguish because we are human. A human who feels no pain at a loss is considered unfeeling and cruel.4 So, what options are there?

We ask, ‘for what purpose have I suffered?’

We may answer as did Viktor Frankl, “suffering is intended to guard us from apathy…in fact, we mature from suffering, grow because of it…”5 It is not an easy conclusion to reach – yet it is full of wisdom…and truth. We often find people saying after a difficult ordeal – ‘I didn’t know I had it in me.’

This is not to say we should search out suffering – that would be nothing more than masochism. Rather if, or when, it comes, how do we approach it? How do we deal with pain and suffering?

Going back to the parsha, what I found fascinating, and perhaps part of the answer is that next week’s parsha, starts off with giving thanks for a harvest.2 We continue with our lives. We acknowledge that even fruit growing from a tree is not taken for granted. We appreciate the world around us and the path we have taken, albeit not always voluntarily, to get to where we are.

We appreciate who we are and what we have to give. It can help us give our own lives meaning.

Notes

  1. Devarim 21-25
  2. 26:1-11
  3. Shantall, ‘Life’s Meaning in the Face of Suffering”, p.9. Dr. Shantall was herself a student of Dr. Viktor Frankl, the founder of logotherapy. She now teaches logotherapy in Israel, Turkey and South Africa
  4. Rambam, Laws of Mourning, 13:12
  5. Shantall, p.39

 

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