In this week's Torah portion, Parshat Va'eira, we read about the plagues that were brought upon Pharaoh and how he reacted to them. Each time a plague afflicted him and his Egyptian nation, he called to Moshe to stop the plague and he promised to let the Jewish people go free. However, after the plague stopped, he refused to keep his word. Hail, the seventh plague, was very difficult for him to endure.
The Torah tells us:
"And Pharaoh sent and he called Moshe and Aharon and he said to them, I have sinned this time, the Almighty is the Righteous One and I and my people are wicked. Entreat G-d - there has been an overabundance of G-dly thunder and hail; I shall send you out and you shall not continue to remain." (Parshat Va'eira 9:27,28)
And then, after G-d made the thunder and hail cease, we read:
"Pharaoh saw that the rain, the hail, and the thunder ceased, and he continued to sin; and he made his heart stubborn,...and he did not send out the Children of Israel...." (Parshat Va'eira 9:34,35)
What was Pharaoh's problem? Pharaoh verbally admitted his guilt when he was under the pressure of the plague, but he reverted to his old ways as soon as the pressure was off. The problem was that Pharaoh viewed suffering merely as a punishment for wrongdoing. He admitted that "the Almighty is a righteous judge and the punishment I received is fair because I have done evil." But because he viewed his suffering only as a punishment, he took no lasting lesson from it and did not keep his commitments.
The reality of any suffering inflicted by the Almighty is that there is a strong element of kindness in the suffering. The goal of suffering is to motivate a person to improve his behavior.
When we view suffering as a means to elevate ourselves, we can find meaning in it. When we find ourselves challenged and suffering, we can make it easier to cope with by asking ourselves how we can use the situation as a tool for self-improvement. And when the suffering is alleviated, hopefully we find ourselves stronger and able to maintain the commitments that we made during that difficult time.
rom Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin)