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The Talmud in Berachos 5a says: "Rava said: If a man sees suffering coming on him, let him examine his ways..."

does this mean the suffering is to atone for his sin or does it mean the suffering is to notify him that he sinned. (or perhaps a different reason?)

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There is definitely the idea of suffering as a kapparah (atonement) for sins. – Daniel Apr 12 '13 at 6:13

The Mosaf Rashi to Berachot 5A points to Rashi's commentary on Eruvin 13B, which says:

יפשפש מעשיו. שעשה כבר ויבדוק עבירות שבידו ויתודה וישוב:‏

He should check his deeds that he has already committed, examine the transgressions found in his hands, confess, and return (i.e. do Teshuvah)

This would seem to indicate that the suffering is a wake up call. (It does seem however, that the Talmud in Eruvin is not talking about suffering)

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I can read that either way. He should check his deeds and repent since maybe G-d is trying to atone for his sin, therefore he must have sinned. Or He should check his deeds since maybe G-d is notifying him that he sinned so that he check his deeds and repents – ray Apr 12 '13 at 12:44

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