How Difficult People HELP Us

How Difficult People HELP Us

Mazal tov to my learning partner Sara Deb and me on our five year anniversary this month! Sara Deb and I read a few pages every day of a Jewish book and then write to each other about what we learned (click here to read an article I once wrote about our chavruta). Right now we are reading, 4 pages a day, through Rabbi Avigdor Miller’s newly-released book On Emunah and Bitachon, which I think is one of the most fascinating books I’ve ever read. I love how Rabbi Miller makes really lofty and philosophical concepts so accessible through his great stories and unforgettable metaphors, like this one…

Reprinted from Rav Avigdor Miller’s On Emunah and Bitachon (The Judaica Press)

A man standing under the chuppah looks at the array of his wife’s relatives. He has to know that each is a different opportunity for perfection. Each presents a different kind of problem or opportunity.

This one is stubborn. Learning how to get along with a stubborn person is one of the reasons he came into this world.

Another relative is selfish. This presents a different problem entirely and requires a different reaction. It’s a different test when you have to greet a stubborn man or a selfish man than when you have to greet a pleasant, amicable fellow.

It’s easy to be friendly to a friendly person. But the Mishnah says we have to “greet everyone with a happy countenance” (Pirkei Avos 1:15).

Then there is a hot-tempered man, and you have to be especially careful with him.

Then there is a man who thinks differently. He has different thought processes than you have.

Every person is a new opportunity—that is the reason why they are all there in your life.

Your first test is your mother and father. You might think you have it difficult. Your mother is domineering or your father is not friendly—or both. You say to yourself, “Had I had different parents, I would have reacted in a different way.” No, that is failing the test. That is looking for excuses.

They are given to you just as they are…for the purpose of making you into something.

Each person who crosses your path is sent by Hashem and is sent in such a way that is suited to your needs. You pass through life in stages, one type of test after the other. First you’re a child. Then you’re a sibling; you’re tested by your sisters and brothers. Then you go to school or yeshiva and are tested by your teacher. At the same time, you’re also tested by your friends, your peers. Then, after a few years, you’re tested by your spouse.

And you’re not done after marriage. Then you will be tested by your neighbors and landlord. Then your employer. After a while, you will be tested by your employees or your students. You will be tested by your children and then your son-in-laws and daughters-in-law. Then by your grandchildren. Life is a long series of continuous tests.

Each test is another opportunity.

Think of a chicken roasted on a spit. It’s turned slowly to get every crack and wrinkle cooked just right. Likewise, in order to make us perfect in every facet of our character, Hashem “rotates us” as we pass through life over the fire of ordeals. As we go through life from one stage to another—from childhood to adulthood and then middle age to old age—we are constantly tested, perfected and “cooked” to perfection.

Yep, JewishMOM, that's you and me getting roasted to perfection by difficult people.


That is how a person accomplishes one of his chief purposes in life. Tests bring out all these latent capabilities mikoach el hapo’eil, from potential into actual. They make a person into a perfect being—a being prepared for the World to Come.

Reprinted from Rav Avigdor Miller on Emunah and Bitachon (The Judaica Press), pages 98-99

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6 comments

  1. the first time i encountered this theory was by reading Miriam Adahan’s book “Living with Difficult People, Including Yourself”
    really opened my eyes to the “why” of having to deal with difficult people
    I also realize now that seeing the difficult in other people is Hashem’s gift to us—because our egos don’t let us see our own imperfections, Hashem lets us view those imperfections in others. when we become aware of those negative midos in others, we have an opportunity to correct them in ourselves. It is a teaching of the Baal Shem Tov: as a face is reflected in water, we see a vision of ourselves in others.

    for me, it isn’t enough to just say “oh, thank you Hashem for gifting me with a difficult person so that i may improve my response to them.” that makes me feel helpless. just working on my response is like walking around holding my arms up, waiting for something to land on them so i can show how strong i am in holding it up. a more active response would be: “Thank you Hashem for showing me a reflection of my imperfection; now i know what mida i have to improve so that i don’t irritate/frustrate/upset others….”

  2. Well said! I learned this prior to marraige 8 years ago, that in marraige we are constantly reflecting on eachothers own tikunim..so theres no blaming, just introspecting…do I always remember this,….Hashem ya’azor.

  3. “I also realize now that seeing the difficult in other people is Hashem’s gift to us—because our egos don’t let us see our own imperfections, Hashem lets us view those imperfections in others.”

    I had to laugh out loud when I read this. The moment I learned this concept was the moment I was able to really start refining my midot.

  4. Loved the chicken metaphor, particularly since we may think we’ve finished working on one middah, when Hashem brings us back to it in a different form. I often refer to life as a spiral, but the chicken on a spit (great picture and caption!) is more memorable. Sounds crazy, but it really works.

    • JewishMom

      thanks debi, a friend had told me this metaphor was really depressing before I posted, so I’m really happy that you loved it as much as I did!

  5. I also try to remind myself during difficult or even boring times that I am meant to be right here, right now. That calms me down and helps me stop looking for ways to wriggle (or yell) my way out of the situation.

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