Recently, I lost a pregnancy. That passing, as much as was the pregnancy that preceded it, too, was for my good. It was as important for me to embrace and to celebrate that nullification of potential life, as it was for me to cry out in awe and wonder that Yours Truly, a woman of more than fifty years of age, b’ayin tova, received the grace of a “change-of-life” gestation.
In serving Hashem, we are supposed to be grateful for everything that happens to us, including and especially those aspects of our days and nights that we find difficult to incorporate or upsetting to think about. Harm, heartbreak, trouble, and other “terrible” occurrences, in the end, are gifts, not punishments. Our work is to come to terms with the benevolence in such items.
Maybe such rigorous samples of Hashem’s loving kindness are meant to route us away from our lesser manifestations of ourselves, i.e. to help us rectify our strayings. Maybe such harsh events are meant to pull us, imperfections notwithstanding, to higher levels of actualizing ourselves, i.e. to help us approach, in the World to Come, heights closer to the throne of Hashem than we might otherwise have achieved. We can’t and don’t have to know why we go through anguish.
Likewise, we can’t and don’t have to erase any feelings we suffer in association with our growth opportunities. Psychic and physical injuries wound us. Loss hurts. The point is not to deny our reactions, but to concede them and then to give ourselves over to the goodness we derive therein.
Such a seemingly impossible stance is not unique to Torah living. The undergirdings of most martial arts comes to mind. So, too, the expressiveness found in many creative endeavors makes clear this notion. Wisdom dictates that all of living is of a single piece and that the oneness of life is for our benefit. Yet, we Jews do not agree to this view as a means to greater athleticism or as a means to make nicer paintings; we adopt this perspective because it is at the heart of Torah.
Rabbi Lazar Brody writes in “The Cow Comes, the Cow Goes,” that “ka-para [atonement] also means ‘like a cow.’ Whenever we lose something dear to us, we should always remember that Hashem is simply taking back a gift. We should never forget that everything in life is a free gift. Emunah is our only real comfort in this difficult world.”
Our afflictions, thus, on the one hand, are a vehicle for our joining together with HaKodesh Baruchu even when such hardship and misery extend past human measure or capacity. It remains important for us to try to say “thank-you” for all that befalls us.
On the other hand, we continue to have no answers for why our people endured the Shoah (the Holocaust) or why: a friend’s children are orphaned, a son’s classmate is killed defending Eretz Yisrael, a dear one’s husband remains unemployed, a beloved continues on as barren, an associate has lingering problems with in-laws, a neighbor’s small daughter loses the classroom work she spent weeks preparing, or a stranger misses his bus. The workings of the cosmos defies logic.
In balance, all of us have heard stories of how: a broken car engine kept someone from vanishing in the death towers of 9/11, a co-congregant waited twenty years to meet her beshert only to be Blessed with a man of great middot and a beautiful child, a teen was rejected at a certain Ulpanat in order for her to make great friends and to receive a wonderful education at a school she would not have otherwise considered, and a gift of home grown flowers, from an economically-challenged guest, became the most favored present of a celebrant. Sometimes, behind the scenes benefits get revealed. Most often, though, they do not.
Accordingly, we need to admit that it will remain impossible for us to be glad about why certain “bad” things happen to us, i.e. why The Boss, gently or firmly, leads us away from one manifestation of our lives to another. Instead, we must trust that such goings on are for our good.
Per that notion, Rabbi Yehoshua Geller writes, “the Chazon Ish, in his sefer Emunah Ubitachon, Faith and Trust, Perek 2a, shows that bitachon [trust] is trust that everything that happens is from Hashem for the good or the bad. Everything is from Hashem. Period. Nowhere does it mention that we must always feel that all is for the best. Trust is about knowing that all is from Him whether we understand it or not.”
Quoting Rabbi Zeinvert ZT"L, Rabbi Geller continues, “I believe in the name of the Noam Elimelech, that Hashem wants us to not understand. It’s not that we do not understand Hashem’s ways. The not understanding is what He wants. [Knowing is not the same as trusting]. Now the Gemara brings a story of Nachum ish Gamzu, who always said that all is for the best. This is a story of a high level Jew. Hence he was famous for this trait. For the average person, the concept that ‘all is for the good’ is something for us to know now, but something we can only truly feel in the world to come.”
In other words, we can aspire to feel grateful for all of our agonies, but if we fall short, if we are annoyed, or worse, with our life encounters, those sentiments, too, are part of our development. What’s more, it is our process of reaching for thankfulness, not necessarily only the gratitude, itself, that elevates us.
Rabbi Geller concludes, “we can always look around and see things that make it clear to us how Hashem made things for the good. We need to use those cases to strengthen us and to help us appreciate Hashem. Hence the pasuk, from Psalms, recited in Ashrei, a prayer said thrice daily,''I will tell of your wonder Hashem.’ As we tell of wonders we see, it makes us stronger that the big picture we don''t see also has an explanation.”
To wit, we live a life of faith by believing that everything is from Hashem and by believing that everything Hashem does is for our good. Faith does not ask of us to understand causal relationships between pain and future (good) outcomes. Faith does not ask of us to rise to the level of our perfectly righteous teacher Aaron, who was able to remain silent when his sons, Nadab and Abihu, were consumed by fire. Faith asks us to stretch to grasp that Hashem’s universe, without exception, is as it ought to be and that the universe’s obligatory state is one of delight.
Rabbi Eli Popack observes, in a response to a question about Moshe consoling Aaron, that “the Rebbe explains: though the Torah does not limit the closeness to Gd attainable by man, we are empowered to accommodate….” Particularly, we are to be especially appreciative of even our deepest aches. Further, Psalm 107 notes, “let them acknowledge to Hashem His kindness and to the children of men His wonders. And let them sacrifice thanksgiving offerings, and relate his work with joyful song.”
We are not called upon to join with Kohanim, with kings, with Tzaddikim, or with people otherwise more lofty than ourselves. Rather, we are asked to be our best by overcoming, somehow, our lowly tendency to kvetch. We are asked to replace that tendency with a higher one of praise. The death of dear ones and other forms of intense deprivation are more than tragic to us. Consequently, such episodes can be our best springboards to increased spirituality.
It is incumbent upon each of us, as best as we can manage, to take up the understanding that to serve Hashem is to accept, not necessarily to like, but to acknowledge all that occurs in our lives. When we minimalize, rationalize, or deny the dreadful circumstances of our lives, we turn away from our Creator.
Rabbi Shalom Arush explains in The Garden of Gratitude,
There are three types of heresy:
The first is pure atheism, where a person doesn’t believe at all in Hashem.
The second type of heresy is a belief in a Higher Power, but a denial of Divine Providence. This is the denial that Hashem personally guides and governs our lives. This type of heresy is manifest by belief in happenstance and nature. It also leads to blaming others and/or self-persecution for life’s setbacks and hardships.
The third type is belief in Hashem and in Divine Providence, but denial that Hashem runs the world with complete loving-kindness and mercy (105).
That is, whenever we say all that happens to us is (for our) good, we say we believe in the Boss with all of our hearts, souls, and resources. When we don’t, has v’shalom, the opposite is true.
Dr Naftali Loewenthal, Lecturer in Jewish Spirituality, shares, in “Meaning and Chaos,” that “redemption depicts a state of union between spiritual and physical aspects of life….Galut [, exile,] is the separation of spirit from matter.” We get to choose how high we extend ourselves. In view of this illumination, may we merit, on the occasion of our running to integrate our most difficult experiences, to be closer to Hashem.
I didn’t want to lose my pregnancy. I haven’t liked the other sensations of lack with which my life has been punctuated. I am working to stay conscious, however, that all is for my good.