R’ ELAZAR MORDECHAI KENIG
Everything is for the Good
When one knows that everything they go through in life is for the good, it is as if they exist in the World to Come, m’eyn olam haba. It is written that a person must make a blessing over the bad as well as the good. What does it means to recite the same blessing over the bad as the good? It is obviously easy to make a blessing over something good, but how can we sincerely say the same blessing over something bad?
For this reason, a distinction is made between them, and practically, there are two separate blessings. Over good, we recite the blessing ending with hatov v’hameitiv, “…Who is good and does good.” A separate blessing is recited over bad, baruch dayan ha-emes, “Blessed is the True Judge.” Even a blessing over something bad should be said wholeheartedly and with joyful acceptance, together with the realization that difficult things are for the good as well.
A story is told about Rabbi Akiva who approached a city to spend the night, but was refused entry. He immediately exclaimed, “Whatever God does, He does for the good.” Prevented from entering, he was forced to sleep in an open area outside city limits. He had a candle, rooster, and donkey. All of a sudden, a gust of wind blew out the candle. This was followed by a cat, who came and ate the rooster; then a lion came and ate the donkey. After each incident, he said, “Whatever God does, He does for the good.” Anyone else in a similar situation could have easily complained and blamed others for their woes. Yet Rabbi Akiva had the ability to sincerely say that everything G-d does is for the good.
In the course of the same night, enemy soldiers infiltrated and captured the city. Rabbi Akiva then said, “Did I not say that everything God does is for the good? If the candle was lit, I would have been found and taken captive. If the donkey brayed or the rooster crowed, I would have been easily discovered and captured.” In spite of the suffering he inevitably experienced, it was a clear and simple matter for Rabbi Akiva to say, “Everything God does is for the good.”
At times, a person seems to have everything, and then suddenly, out of nowhere, everything changes. Every step brings new trouble, with no chance to rest. Eventually, whatever they do have is taken from them as well, like Rabbi Akiva’s candle, rooster, and donkey. Nonetheless, even in such circumstances, there is still a practical obligation to say with full sincerity, “Everything God does is for the good,” because the world doesn’t run on its own. There is Someone who leads and guides everything that happens. Since He is good and acts only for our benefit, anything that occurs to us is for the good. When this awareness becomes absolutely clear in our minds, we enter into a state of olam haba, the World to Come.
It is written, “On that day, God will be One and His Name One”. The question is raised, “Is He not One now?” Our Sages explain that presently, since the full revelation of God’s unity is still lacking in the world, we have separate blessings for good and for bad. In the future, it will be different. Evil will be completely nullified and everything will be perceived in its true light as good. At that time, we will say only one blessing—hatov v’hameitiv. This means that if one is able to achieve an awareness that every occurrence in life is good right now, they are actually living in a state of the World to Come, while existing in this world. Happy is one who achieves such a level.
ACCEPTING GOD’S KINGSHIP
Yet the challenge remains. How is it possible to avoid uttering an empty blessing over the seemingly bad and be completely clear that everything is really for the good? Rebbe Nachman reveals a practical way to achieve this: Accept the sovereignty of the Creator over your life. This is done by consciously acknowledging the existence of a God who runs the world both on a macro and micro level. This is how God’s Kingship, called malchut, is elevated from exile. The term “kingship” is relevant to God, since there is no king without a people. We are His people because He created each one of us. In this sense, He “needs” the creation, as it were, since the world was created only for the revelation of this kingship.
The fundamental nature of true kingship, malchut, is not a rule by force, but rather ratzon, i.e., desire from those being ruled. Thus God’s kingship must be revealed in the world through willingness and desire on the part of Creation. This was the situation during the Exodus from Egypt, when the Jewish people willingly accepted God’s kingship and authority upon themselves. However, in the case where the Jewish people are distant from God, He rules over them with anger, chas v’shalom. This is not what God wants, rather He desires that we willingly accept His sovereignty over the world.
This is the essence of free choice. On the surface, it appears we can do whatever we want, since one can choose between good and bad. Free choice is necessary within creation in order to reveal God’s kingship. It is also the vehicle for willingly accepting Divine authority, and having desire to serve Him, by asking ourselves, “How can I best bring pleasure to the Creator?” Our actions should not be driven by our own desires, but rather be completely directed toward what God wants. Practically, this is how the kingdom of holiness is redeemed from exile, and through this, the entire purpose of creation is realized.
In the future, the Jewish people will possess the consciousness that every occurrence is truly good, including the most difficult things that happen in general as well as on a personal basis. If we know we are already destined for such a level, then it is easier to understand Rebbe Nachman’s statement that even now, it is possible to realize that everything is for the good. On a deeper level, we will also understand that there was no bad in the first place.
As mentioned earlier, the first step towards this level of awareness is to accept God’s kingship in the world. Although this is an ongoing process, a person shouldn’t live with complaints and in a depressed state. One can suffer greatly over a perceived lack, or suffer because what they do have is not perfect, thinking that everyone else has more and better. If you ask them what is good in their lives, they are unable to tell you. Feeling bad does not need to be a reality of life. If a person really wants to suffer, reasons abound. One can descend to a very low level just by being overly caught up with themselves and surrounding themselves with the rationale to suffer. However, it doesn’t need to be like this. Sometimes rediscovering the good and blessing in our lives is like reinventing the wheel. While it is true that trouble and pain at times can be so overwhelming that it is experienced only as suffering, when you are really aware that everything is for the good, you can be happy and thankful for the blessings you do have. This gives the strength to adjust to any difficulty, leading to a happier and calmer life—a life not dependent upon what we, or others, have or not. This translates further as not only being happy for another’s good fortune, but also believing that our neighbor’s happiness is good for us as well. A person can be happy and fulfill, “Who is rich? One who is happy with his portion” (Pirkey Avot).
WEALTH & HAPPINESS
Rebbe Nachman tells a story about a country of wealth where one’s importance was measured solely by how much money they had. This determined how much honor was due the person. Those with the most amount of money were considered angels and gods, while those with no money were not even considered human, rather a type of animal.
In reality, financial hardship can cause a person to fall so much in their own eyes they consider themselves subhuman. Lacking the ability to adjust to their current situation, they become apathetic and act in ways they would never consider otherwise. Things are very different for one who accepts God’s sovereignty over their life. Even if suffering has been decreed upon them, they are able to withstand and accept whatever they go through without confusion. They remain “human” with the capacity to function and be happy.
Obviously, true wealth and happiness are not determined solely by material attainments. A person can have many possessions, yet be full of suffering. Someone else, on the other hand, with next to nothing, can live a happy and fulfilled life. It all depends on one’s awareness. When it is clear that events are not random and that there is an Owner of the world Who arranges everything, what others have does not disturb us in the least. Rather, it makes us happy, since when it is good for someone else, it is good for us too. It is a fundamental point to realize that whatever one has, is given directly from God Himself. Despite appearances to the contrary, no one can lift a finger over anything that was not decreed for them from Above.
Another story is told about two people who needed to travel abroad by sea for business. On the way to the port, one broke his leg and missed the ship. He took it badly, thinking, “I am trapped here while my friend has it good. He’s going off to make a fortune while I am forced to stay behind.” A few days later, news arrived that the ship had sunk and all aboard perished. He then viewed his situation in a completely different light. He realized that not only he was saved from death, but the suffering he underwent leading up to the disaster was also for the good. This is the level of understanding we can attain, and it begins by accepting God’s kingship in our lives.
In the future, everything will be understood as good. A great consciousness will be revealed and we will realize how two thousand years of Jewish exile with all of its suffering, was for the good. It will be completely clear that it couldn’t have been any different, and we will thank God for everything with a sincere heart.
May HaShem enlighten our hearts and minds with an increasing awareness of God’s profound goodness in every detail of our lives.
Translated from a shiur given in Tsfat.
- Likutey Moharan II, 4
- Berakhot 54a; Pesachim 50a
- Zecharia 14:9