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Question - - 02/28/2013
Why is there so much disease and suffering in the world? Why did G-d make germs and illness in the first place? Couldn't He have created man with universal immunity, and parts that dont wear out?
Answer by Arachim
In order to understand why there is illness and suffering in general in the world, we must first understand why man comes to this world in the first place.
Life in this world is not the end goal of the creation, any more than an airplane flight is a goal in itself. We get on a Boeing 707 in order to get somewhere. Perhaps we want to attend a relative's wedding, to go touring, or to do some sight-seeing.
This does not mean that the flight itself cannot be a pleasant experience; it merely means that when we land at our destination, we get off the plane and move on to our main concern, the wedding, the touring, or a restful vacation in the surf and sun. A child who enjoyed the novelty of the flight might balk and want to stay put on the 707, but an adult, who knows that he worked long and hard to earn the money for this vacation, will be quite ready and willing to disembark.
We, too, are on a journey to a place that promises a wonderful experience. Not a vacation, but an eternal existence in the World to Come, where man can experience closeness to his Creator on a dimension we cannot even grasp in this world. We would probably find it difficult to explain what a Hawaiian beach is like to someone born and bred in Antarctica. It's even more difficult to explain the profound pleasures of a purely spiritual existence in the World-to-Come to someone who knows only of this world.
You might ask, quite logically, why G-d doesn't just place us right in the next world, instead of planting us here in this world? Who needs the trials and tribulations of bad weather, disease, famine, wars, taxes, and all the other blights of this world for 70, 80, 90 years or more beforehand he partakes of the pleasures of the next world?
It's a good question, and the answer will give us further insight into the purpose of life in this world. Let's explain.
It's nice to receive an occasional gift here or there, but no one wants to live on handouts for a whole year. No matter how tasty the food in a soup kitchen might be, it still has the bitter aftertaste of charity. We enjoy giving, and we do our best not to embarrass the receiver, but the bottom line is that there is a certain degree of embarrassment in receiving something we have not earned through our own effort.
How much more so is it uncomfortable to receive an eternal reward that we have not earned. True, G-d would have no difficulty in placing us directly in the World to Come. In fact, that is where our souls came from in the first place.
However, since G-d's goal is that we enjoy being there, rather than being overcome with embarrassment, He gives us an opportunity to earn the reward of the next world, and only then transfers us back to the spiritual existence we call the next world.
By definition, the Creator is a Giver, not a Receiver from others. Once we have earned our reward, we are that much closer to being like G-d Himself. The more we distance ourselves from receiving unearned pleasures, the more closely we are emulating our Maker, which is the source of the greatest pleasure man can conceivably enjoy.
This is why we are here in this imperfect world, wrought as it is with trials and difficulties. And this is why people are subject to germs, viruses, and a plethora of functional diseases. It's all a trial, to see how we will react. Do we place our faith only in doctors? Or do we view the medical profession as agents of G-d, sent to heal us or lessen our suffering?
Do we blame so-and-so for leaving the window open, or do we ask ourselves why G-d wanted us to be sick with such-and-such a disease at this point in life? (Note: While it is correct to acknowledge Heaven as the primary cause of illness, we are obligated to seek the best medical help available, to follow doctor's orders, and to make every effort to regain our health. Should one have a question about the extent of his obligation to strive to recover, and the attitude of "Just as G-d made me ill, He can heal me", he should consult a reliable rabbinical authority.)
Above all, do we make a reckoning of where we may have gone off the track, and why G-d is sending us a message that something might be amiss and need our immediate attention?
Or do we grow angry with Heaven for upsetting our plans and catapulting us to an emergency ward instead letting us go on a two-week vacation at the beach?
In the final estimation, illness is a test for the patient. It is also a trial for all those around him, who are also affected by his incapacitation and his suffering. It's not an easy test, but it's easier to get a "good mark" in the test if we recall a few basic facts:
1. G-d knows that we (and perhaps others) are suffering. He knows, and that's how He wants it to be.
2. Our illness has a definite purpose.
3. Nothing goes unnoticed in Heaven. Everything is recorded; and everything is rewarded. How did we react to being ill? How did we treat those around us, even when we were feeling very ill? Did we blame others for our illness, or take it as a message from Heaven? Did we pray for recovery, or just run from one doctor to another?
4. If one must endure a punishment for a sin in the past, the penalty will be far lighter if it is given in this world than in the next.
5. It may be very difficult right now, but if we stand up to the challenge, we will eventually be thankful that we were given the chance to prove ourselves worthy of a great reward.
At the time of a trial, the challenge may seem a bitter pill to swallow. Once we have met the challenge, and victory is ours, nothing could be sweeter. This, too, is part of G-d's plan to give man the greatest reward possible drawing nearer to Him, and coming closer to His ways.
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