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Brachos 5a states:

אמר רבא ואיתימא רב חסדא, "אם רואה אדם שיסורין באין עליו יפשפש במעשיו, שנא' ,(איכה ג, מ) 'נחפשה דרכינו ונחקורה ונשובה עד ה'.' פשפש ולא מצא יתלה בבטול תורה שנאמר (תהלים צד, יב) 'אשרי הגבר אשר תיסרנו יה ומתורתך תלמדנו.' ואם תלה ולא מצא בידוע שיסורין של אהבה הם, שנאמר (משלי ג, יב), 'כי את אשר יאהב ה׳ יוכיח.'"‏

Rava, and some say Rav Chisda, said, "If a person sees that suffering has befallen him, he should examine his actions, as it is stated (Eichah 3:40), 'We will search and examine our ways, and return to G-d.' If he examined his deeds and did not find anything, attribute it to Bitul Torah, as it is stated (Tehillim 94:12), 'Happy is the man whom You punish, Hashem, and teach out of Your Law.' And if he did attribute [it to Bitul Torah] but did not find [that to be so], it must be afflictions of love, as it is stated (Mishlei 3:12), 'For whom Hashem loves, He rebukes.'"

To summarize: When one is suffering, he should (1) see if he has any sins. If he doesn't, (2) it must be Bitul Torah, and if that's not true, either, (3) it must be afflictions of love.

What are "afflictions of love"? Later down on the same amud, the Gemara records a debate between R' Yaakov bar Idi and R' Acha bar Chanina (it's not sure who said which) that either it's afflictions that don't prevent Torah learning (but could prevent davening) or afflictions that don't prevent davening (but could prevent Torah learning). There is a third opinion brought there (R' Abba bar R' Chiya bar Abba in the name of his father in the name of R' Yochanan) that afflictions of love could prevent both.

What if one is suffering, but able to daven and learn, and is unable to attribute it to any sin in particular? What kind of suffering is that? It's not an atonement for sin, nor is it an affliction of love, so what is it?

To give an example of what I am talking about, say a person is in the hospital. He's able to daven, and he's able to learn, but he's not able to do much else.

  • In your example, that could be afflictions of love, or for some sin as well. Why not? – David Kenner Jul 2 '17 at 4:04
  • @DavidKenner I'm establishing the case as one in which it's not for a particular sin and in which he is able to daven and learn and as such it's not afflictions of love. – DonielF Jul 2 '17 at 4:20
  • I didn't check the text. Does it say they completely prevent praying/studying? Someone bedbound is usually hindered in his prayer/study even if he can do it. – msh210 Jul 2 '17 at 4:43
  • How do you know this case is possible? Maybe there is no case of a suffering person who can pray and study who hasn't sinned – Double AA Jul 2 '17 at 5:36
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Your question appears to be based on an incorrect premise which is contadicted from your second paragraph (not counting the quote) to your third paragraph.

The debate in the Gemara is about the maximum limit for "afflictions of love". One amora says that if the afflictions are so intense that they prevent Torah study they cannot be afflictions of love. But as long as the person can still study Torah the afflictions can be afflictions of love. The other amora says that the limit is whether the person is still able to engage in prayer. As long as he can, the afflictions can be considered afflictions of love.

This is indeed how you seem to have understood it in your second paragraph. But then in your third paragraph you seem to have reversed it and you assume that afflictions of love are only if Torah or prayer is prevented, hence your question of what kind of suffering it is when Torah and prayer are not prevented.

But as per your second paragraph, and the simple reading of the Gemara, this is precisely the case of afflictions of love. You did not find any sins to attribute it to and it's not affecting your Torah/prayer, which is exactly when the Gemara says בידוע שיסורין של אהבה הם.

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The Marasha learns that the point of the sugya is that really there is no one that doesn't have some sins, and there is no one that can learn 24 hours a day. Even King David eventually stopped learning the day he died (see Shabbos 30). But sometimes it seems like our suffering is disproportionate to what we feel we've done. From this the gemarrah learns that "whoever God desires he brings suffering on him" - so that punishment comes in this world and not in the world to come.

In more specific regards to your question, the gemarrah comes out throughout Taanis that we really don't understand suffering in this world, but we must do our best to stay connected to God and cry out when appropriate. So I don't think you'll ever be sure if suffering that comes to you is an "affliction of love", but as long as you accept it, and you stay connected to God, even if you are angry with God and don't understand why things happen the way they do, you will אי"ה get what you are supposed to get out of your experience, and your reward will be very great.

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