[In order to explain how a righteous person like Jacob suffered so many misfortunes in life,] Rabbi Chiya opened his discourse with the verses:

Therefore listen to me, you men of understanding; far be it from G‑d, that He should do evil; and from the Almighty that He should commit injustice. For a person will be paid back according to his actions, the very way that he acts will rebound upon him. (Job 34:10-11)

Come and see. When the Holy One Blessed Be He, created the world, He created it with the attribute of Judgment.

This is as the first verse of the Torah states: "In the beginning Elokim [the name representing the divine attribute of Judgment] created…" (Gen. 1:1) ...that the world not be destroyed because of the wickedness of man…He spreads mercy upon it…

The world is also sustained by this divine attribute, and everything that is done in the world is based on this attribute. However, in order that the world not be destroyed because of the wickedness of man generating a strict and just response, He spreads mercy upon it. This mercy prevents the response of the attribute of strict justice so the world will not be destroyed [as it was at the time of the Flood]. So it is that the world is guided by the attribute of Mercy and [the world] is sustained by it.

Now you could ask how it could be that the Holy One Blessed Be He seems to cause unjust things to happen to righteous people [which seems to show that Strict Justice overcomes Mercy]. We have explained that the suffering of righteous people also comes from the side of Mercy and is generated because of His love of those people. Because He loves the righteous, He wants to draw them closer to Him. In order to do this He breaks the person physically, through illness, or other suffering. This strengthens the person spiritually. Instead of the body ruling the spirit, the reverse happens and the spirit rules the body. From this new, heightened spiritual awareness, a person can see the Divine properly. All this is because the soul is ruling a weak body. The righteous need a weak body and a strong spirit…

The righteous need a weak body and a strong spirit, further enhanced by overcoming its own weakness, in order to be true lovers of the Holy One Blessed Be He. This is what the Colleagues mean by saying that the Holy One gives the righteous suffering in this physical world, in order to reward them in the spiritual world.

When a person's soul is weak and his body is strong, you can be sure that he is hated by the Holy One Blessed Be He. He doesn't have any desire to draw this person close to Him and so He doesn't give that person any problems in This World. His paths are smoothed out for him, and he appears as though he lacks nothing. Should he do a charitable act or good deed, G‑d pays his reward in This World so that he should have no part in the Spiritual World.

Zohar, page 180b; translation and commentary by Simcha Treister

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