Do you believe in Divine afflictions of love? God choosing to bring pain as an act of purification? Many of our rabbis did, but not all. These questions emerge from an unusual phrase in Psalm 66, “You have refined us as if refining silver.”
Traditional commentators link the phrase to a quality of moral refinement that came from overcoming the spiritual temptations attendant to the Diaspora. The phrase brings to mind a Talmudic conversation (Berachot 5a) that begins, “If a person has afflictions and cannot find any personal failing, such as neglecting Torah study, they may conclude that they are afflictions of love.” Later commentators will explain that such afflictions cleanse inadvertent sins (Nachmanides); provide reward (Rashi); or subdue physical cravings that are an impediment to spiritual elevation (Ran). I am troubled by such a theology for it suggests an abusive Parent. And I was relieved to read that Maimonides (Spain-Egypt, 1135-1204) weighed in on the topic referring to the Talmud’s comments as lacking legal standing and contradict a foundational understanding of God’s just goodness (Guide for the Perplexed III: 17, 24). The great master of Jewish Law cites another Talmudic teaching, “There is no death without sin and no suffering without transgression” (Shabbat 55a).
So what does the Psalmist mean in saying, “You have refined us as if refining silver?” How is Psalm 66 relevant for our lives?