In the course of discussing this, the Gemara argues that there are three different possible sources for an individual Jew’s suffering, each with scriptural support.
- Generally, suffering comes about as punishment for one’s transgressions, as it is stated: “We will search and examine our ways, and return to God” (Eichah 3:40).
- If he examined his ways and found no transgression for which that suffering is appropriate, he may attribute his suffering to dereliction in the study of Torah. God punishes an individual for dereliction in the study of Torah in order to emphasize the gravity of the issue, as it is stated: “Happy is the man whom You punish, Lord, and teach out of Your law” (Tehillim 94:12). This verse teaches us that his suffering will cause him to return to Your law.
- And if he did attribute his suffering to dereliction in the study of Torah, and did not find this to be so, he may be confident that these are afflictions of love, as it is stated: “For whom the Lord loves, He rebukes, as does a father the son in whom he delights” (Mishlei 3:12).
The Iyyun Ya’akov explains that the Gemara is teaching that when one realizes that he is ill, he should not assume that it is happenstance and immediately turn to medical doctors. Rather, he should view it as an opportunity to examine his own actions and conduct. A doctor examines a patient to determine the cause of the illness so that he may prescribe effective medicine to counteract the illness and restore the patient to physical health. Similarly, an examination of the soul is required to determine the source of one’s spiritual illness. The first step in curing the illness is abandoning the conduct that is deleterious to one’s spiritual health.