By Shmuel Pollen
Everyone reading this has experienced suffering. So has the one writing it. Sometimes the most pious among us seem to suffer the most. And sometimes the ones who hurt others the most live best. So it’s only human to ask, “Why does a good G‑d allow bad things to happen to good people?”
Rabbis don’t like answering this question. Not because they can’t. Because of the risk. If your brother’s pain makes sense, it might not bother you the same way. In that case, it would be better to have no answer at all. So if you want to understand “why,” you must promise me one thing. That in the face of others’ pain, you will forget every explanation and just be silent. Just look into their eyes. Into the pain. And don’t stop until they know for certain that you share in it. Until they know they’re not alone. For all other times, let’s begin to understand.
A group of boys decide to play a game of basketball. One boy doesn’t hear so well. A ball is handed to him, so he puts it on the floor and kicks it hard to the other side of the court. The other kids turn to him angrily and say, “What the heck are you doing?”
He says, “What do you mean? I just scored a goal.”
They say, “No, you didn’t. You scored nothing, got us a penalty, and gave the other team control of the ball.”
The boy is confused and dejected. The issue? He was playing soccer. They were playing basketball. I call this problem “playing the wrong game.” And “playing the wrong game” is the biggest mistake you can make in life.
Whatever you face now, whether it be debt, hunger, addiction or disabilities, that’s how G‑d “kicked the ball.” You get angry and think something must be wrong with Him. Or with you. In truth, the only problem is the two of you are playing different games. Let’s introduce them.
You are playing a game called “My Perfect Life.” Every day, you strive to have perfect health, perfect finances and the perfect marriage. Or as close as you can get to them. When suffering occurs, you’re angry because that means your game is being ruined.
What game is G‑d playing? It’s called “The Perfect Story.” G‑d wants to tell the greatest story ever told. He unfolds His story (history) like acts in a play. The story is full of drama. Heroes and villains. Victory and catastrophe. Sadness and joy. And we are told that it’s all being recorded “above” like one big 7,000-year-long movie.
So where are you in this game? You’re on camera! You’re an actor and He’s the director. You’ve been in this movie the whole time. The problem is, you don’t realize you’re in it. You’re playing the other game, so the director’s instructions don’t seem relevant. Meanwhile, there is no one who can play your role, and that’s ruining this game. Until one day, you decide to listen. The words you hear affect you to the very core of your being. You begin to feel like you’ve awakened from a bad dream. You aren’t who you thought you were. And your life isn’t what you thought it was. Things begin to come into focus.
This is what the Director said: “My child, I chose you for this specific role for a reason. I waited a long time for you to turn to Me and find out what it was. So I will tell you what it is. Your role was never to have the perfect life for yourself. Your role is to find a way to be a hero for someone else. What’s a hero? Anyone who is willing to go beyond himself for the greater good. Anyone who is willing to put his personal desires aside, to fulfill My wishes for him.
“What do I wish? I wish you would uplift others who have fallen, with a kind word or a small act of charity. I wish you would feel grateful for all of the good that surrounds you, and that you would humbly accept the challenge to overcome the rest. I wish you would fight every day to defeat the demons I gave you, be they greed, lust, laziness or anything else.
“Because I want you to know: buried underneath the jagged rocks I’ve put in front of you is hidden gold. It is in those darkest moments, when you see no way out, that all the souls who have passed, ‘the great audience in heaven,’ will be glued to the screen, crying for you, praying for you, waiting to see what you’ll do and who you’ll become.
“And where will I be? Not behind the camera like any other director. I will be with you in that moment of pain. Experiencing it just as you do. Because we are not separate. We are one. And you will never be alone. I want you to hear My instructions, and listen to them, because I know that’s what’s best for you. I know because I created you. But even if you ignore everything I say, the love I have for you will be the same. You are my daughter. You are my son. Always.”
Upon hearing these words, you look back at everything you’ve been through. And say, “Yes, I’ve been cut. Yes, I’ve been bruised. Yes, actors I loved have had their roles cut short far too soon. Unfair? Imperfect? Yes. But maybe the goal never was perfection. Maybe the goal was the story itself. And stories never die. I feel inner joy behind all that pain. Because I know that no matter what happens, every day I’m being chosen to have a small part in the Great Production. And I get to work with, and for, the Almighty Creative Director.”
The challenges will be there. They aren’t torture. They are the Director’s way of saying, “I believe in you. I have a lesson that I need to teach the audience, and I think you can do it like no one else in the world.” When a challenge seems too big to handle, that just means the Director sees a power in you that you didn’t know you had. He wants you to see it too. Distress isn’t a cause for anger or despair. No. That’s your moment. Do something with it that’s worth watching. Something that makes the Director smile.
The best part about this game? You can never lose. Because the failures are worth just as many points as the successes. The story needs those failures. If you can’t see how, just wait. In time, He’ll show you how the whole production would have fallen apart without them.
What’s your role now, right now? Here it is: You’re in a scene in which the world has been encompassed by darkness for thousands of years. Everyone has forgotten what light even is. Everyone has a single match, but they don’t know what to do with it. You strike your match on a rock, and others are amazed at what they see. They start to do the same. Soon thereafter, candles all over the globe light up the world.
The Director’s instructions are the Torah and its mitzvahs. Your match is your actions. Your soul is your fire. And when you hit a rock, instead of losing faith, strike the match. It can change everything. The day is coming when only good things will happen to good people, and justice will be served to the rest. And together with Moshiach, we will create “Our Perfect Life.” I bless you all to be heroes who don’t need any challenges to become great.
Now go and play.