Dear Rachel,

I have been suffering from back pain for years. I’ve gone to doctors, physiotherapists, chiropractors and alternative healers, and nothing seems to help. I started to wonder whether my back pain might be some sort of spiritual test. I read about Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi, a great Talmudic sage, who suffered from tooth pain for many years because he wasn’t compassionate enough to a calf. Could my pain be spiritual? And if it is spiritual, what can I do about it?

In Pain

Dear Growing Pains,

Before we discuss the spiritual aspect of your pain, I suggest that you continue to take care of the physical aspect of your pain and follow the professionals’ recommendations. Safeguarding your health is a very important mitzvah, and you do it every time you are proactive about healing yourself—so taking care of yourself physically really is spiritual!

Now, to address your question. Since everything in the physical world is a reflection of the spiritual world, there is a spiritual reason why you are having this pain. Indeed, we learn that Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi was on such a high level that he was expected to be more empathetic toward a calf on the way to slaughter. The physical pain that he suffered guided him toward self-refinement, and years later he was relieved of his pain when he told his servant not to disturb a nest of voles.

G‑d custom-designs our lives—including our challenges—for our spiritual growth. And often, when we have accomplished the spiritual growth necessary, there is no longer a need for a particular challenge in our lives, so G‑d takes it away. So, what can you do to address your suffering on a spiritual level?

First, pray. Pray for healing so that you may serve G‑d, pray that you have the strength to accomplish His holy work. In the morning blessings, we recite blessings thanking G‑d for the functioning of different parts of our body. One of the blessings is, “Blessed are You, L‑rd, our G‑d, King of the universe, who straightens the bent.” Say that blessing with extra concentration every morning, envisioning your body completely healed, serving G‑d in the best possible way.

Second, take a moment to reflect on what your back pain could indicate for your spiritual growth. Here are some ideas:

  • Be more flexible and less rigid.
  • Be more humble and less arrogant.
  • Support others more.
  • Surround yourself with more supportive people.
  • Be more decisive (have more backbone).
  • Keep your commitments and be more honest in business.
  • Relax and don’t see life as a burden.
  • Let go of past hurts (stop carrying them around with you).
  • Relinquish control.

There are endless ways to interpret your pain, but ultimately, this is your search. Think about what resonates with you. The good news is that cause and effect are more flexible in the spiritual realm than in the physical realm. So you can say, “G‑d, I know You are using this pain as a way of telling me to work on something. I’m not sure exactly what is, so I’m going to work on —– (fill in the blank), in which merit I hope my back will get better.”

G‑d is described as the Healer of all Flesh. And He can certainly heal your back, whatever spiritual path you take.

Wishing you good physical and spiritual health until 120!