Often, when we are in pain – whether it be physical, emotional, or spiritual – we beg Hashem every day, with all our heart, to make the pain go away. We imagine how wonderful life will be when the challenge finally passes, and each day we hold on to that image, cherish it, and hope for Hashem to make that day come more quickly. We cry, we suffer, we push – and just when we think we cannot take it anymore, just when we think we may not make it another day, when every last ounce of strength and hope has faded, the pain begins to subside.
However, we must ask ourselves: Is this the best way to handle an ordeal? When we face challenges, how do we act during these moments of pain and discomfort? Most people simply want to get through it as quickly as possible; every night they’ll go to sleep hoping for a better tomorrow. In other words, we sometimes throw away our present lives during times of challenge, just waiting for the pain to pass. Instead of taking full advantage of our tests as an opportunity to grow, achieve our greatness, and connect with Hashem, we try to hide until it’s gone. We say, “I’ll start to do things once this challenge goes away!” But the whole reason this challenge was given to us in the first place was to push us and help us grow.
This is obviously easier said than done and is not meant to diminish the genuine pain and anguish of challenges. But consider it this way: You’re already in pain, so use it! Don’t be used by the pain; use the pain. Push yourself to the max; see what you’re capable of becoming. Growth occurs only in the face of resistance and pressure. There is no growth in the comfort zone. You can only grow muscle when you rip your muscle fibers; you can only grow existentially when you rip yourself out of your comfort zone. Growth in your life, learning, midos (character traits), career, and relationships only happens when you push yourself to the limit. While the ideal is for us to push ourselves, like Avraham exemplified through “afar va’eifer,” quite often this does not happen. In such cases, Hashem may try to help by challenging us to grow. If we try to “sit out” the challenge, we are missing the point. We need to embrace the challenge, to ask ourselves, “How can I use this challenge to help me grow?”
Suffering vs. Pain
This perspective can fundamentally transform the way we experience hardship. Suffering is meaningless pain, and therefore unbearable. But when we give meaning to our pain, it becomes bearable. When going through an extremely painful birth, a mother might be in immense pain, but she is not suffering. In fact, most mothers will tell you that childbirth was the most meaningful pain they have ever experienced.
Imagine a man who must travel thousands of miles through a jungle, a journey full of danger, pain, and ordeals, in order to be reunited with his beloved wife. He gladly accepts every challenge that comes his way, excitedly overcoming them one by one, knowing that with every step he takes he comes closer to reaching his goal, reuniting with the most important person in his life. But what if, instead, this man was in the jungle with no idea why he was there and no idea where he was going. He will likely feel more and more depressed with every challenge that he faces. Eventually, he’d rather just sit down and give up than keep on fighting. The same is true for every challenge we face: If you are living with a higher purpose and you know where you are going in life, challenges make the journey meaningful; they push you to achieve your goals. But if you have no idea why you’re here, then challenges will break you down and make you want to give up. You choose how to view your nisayon.
At this very moment, you are “who you are” because of all the challenges you have faced. Every decision and experience you have ever had has led you to this very moment. Some turns were bigger than others, but they have all led to your unique path in life. One day, you will realize that the challenges you faced were in fact the best things that ever happened to you. You will realize that everything you’ve managed to become is not despite your challenges but because of them. The greatest people among us are great because of their challenges, not despite them.
While it is difficult to see the positive aspects of a nisayon while it is still underway, it is easier to look back in retrospect and see how past challenges shaped you into the person you are today. This is why the baalei machashavah (Jewish thinkers) suggest writing your own personal megillah. In Megillas Esther, there is no open miracle; only by putting all the pieces together do we see the yad Hashem and how everything fit together so perfectly. The word “megillah” shares the same root as the words l’galgeil (to roll) and m’galeh (to reveal). When we roll through the scroll of the Megillah, we reveal the presence and hashgachah of Hashem.
The same is true of our own personal story. Each individual piece seems insignificant and happenstance, each challenge bearing little consequence. However, if we put all the pieces together, connecting the dots, we begin to see the beauty manifest in our own personal megillah. We begin to see the turning points in our lives; we retroactively see the life-changing impact our challenges had on our lives. Whether it was a physical illness, a difficult relationship, losing someone dear, or a personal struggle, our challenge-streaked past becomes a masterpiece ready for us to read.
A Life Worth Living
We must learn to embrace our challenges – to see them as an opportunity to achieve our unique greatness in this world. And as we push past our physical, emotional, and mental shackles, well aware of the impossible leap we are asked to take, we must look up to Hashem and put our complete trust in Him. As we close our eyes and take that leap of faith, we find ourselves on the other side, now a banner of greatness and a partner in revealing Hashem’s presence in this world. In doing so, we not only achieve our own greatness, but we inspire others to strive for more, as well.
Never stop dreaming, never stop pushing past your boundaries and limitations. Be happy with what you have become, but always remain hungry for more. Like the Avos, you will constantly be challenged, but remember: Challenges are opportunities in disguise.
Rabbi Shmuel Reichman is an author, educator, speaker, and coach who has lectured internationally on topics of Torah, psychology, and leadership. He is the founder and CEO of Self-Mastery Academy, the transformative online self-development course. Rabbi Reichman received Semikha from RIETS, a master’s degree in Jewish Education from Azrieli, and a master’s degree in Jewish Thought from Revel. He is currently pursuing a PhD at the University of Chicago and has also spent a year studying at Harvard as an Ivy Plus Exchange Scholar. To find more inspirational content from Rabbi Reichman, to contact him, or to learn more about Self-Mastery Academy, visit his website: ShmuelReichman.com.
 - Usually due to laziness, misplaced values, or lack of clarity and focus.