Everything God does is for the best
Is there meaning in suffering? Rabbi Abraham share this thought provoking lesson in “A matter of Faith“. Discover how to have peace in difficult and stressful times. Everything God does is for the best.
The Talmud relates how once Rabbi Akiva went on a journey. He came to a town and asked if anyone could put him up for the night. The inhospitable inhabitants all refused. Still, Rabbi Akiva said, Kol de-avid Rachmana, le-tov avid – “Everything God does is for the best,” and he went and spent the night in the field. With him he had a lamp, a rooster to wake him and a donkey to ride on. But a wind came and blew out the light, a cat came and ate his rooster, and a lion came and ate the donkey. Rabbi Akiva was left all alone in the dark, but he still said, “Everything God does is for the best.”
In the middle of the night a band of marauders came, sacked the town and took all the inhabitants captive. Then Rabbi Akiva said, “Now I see how everything the Holy One does is for the best. If my lamp had been alight, they would have seen me. If the rooster had crowed and the donkey had brayed, they would have known where I was and taken me as well” (Berachot 60b).
A story not about suffering, perhaps – at least, as far as Rabbi Akiva is concerned – but certainly one about things not going as planned. Yet Rabbi Akiva is a believer. Not just intellectually. His belief has a practical effect on the way he conducts his life and responds to what happens to him. He has the humility to accept that a force higher than himself controls the world in general and his life in particular. Belief does not mean that Rabbi Akiva succumbs to passivity and resignation. No, he is a doer – he has lots of plans and he tries doing whatever he can. But when things don’t go the way he thought they should, he doesn’t get annoyed. He puts up with a bit of inconvenience – because he believes God knows better than he does how to run things.
Rabbi Akiva calls God Rachmana – the Loving One. No matter what happens, the Loving One is working everything out for the best, even when Rabbi Akiva can least see how. And in the end it was indeed revealed how the hand of Providence had been working at every stage to do what was necessary to save the Tzaddik from the punishment of the wicked.
The Talmud tells us Rabbi Akiva spent the night “in the field”. Perhaps the Supernal Field, the Garden of the Souls Rebbe Nachman speaks of in his lesson – the ultimate, joyous goal of all of life. Closing his eyes to the hardships of the physical world, Rabbi Akiva takes himself off to the “field”: he focusses his inner eye on the spiritual world of Unity.
Rabbi Akiva was a living expression of Emunah, our faith in the One God as we express it every day in the Shema: Hear, Israel, HaShem, Our God, HaShem is One. God in Himself is beyond any comprehension. He reveals Himself to the world through different facets. There are the aspects of Chesed, Mercy, alluded to in the name HaShem (YKVK), and Gevurah, Might, Strict Judgement, alluded to in the name Elokim. In the Shema we assert that the two facets are one: HaShem is Elokim. Elokim is HaShem. HaShem is One.
Life has different sides. Sometimes things smile at us and we see the Mercy. Other times we feel under a cloud, nothing goes the way we want it, things seem bad. But in the Shema we express our faith that One God is in control of all the different sides of life. Even the hard things in life are from God. When things go differently from the way we might want, it doesn’t mean that life is cruel without purpose. Hardship and suffering are not arbitrary. They come from God as much as the good things.
God is Rachmana, the Loving One. Everything He does to us is for our ultimate good. God is perfection, and the greatest love is that we should come close to Him and know Him. But we are like growing children who still want to be little: we don’t like leaving behind our childhood indulgences – materialism – for the sake of maturity – the life of the spirit. The worldly ego says “I want things my way”. But good parents know that if you love your child you have to be firm. You have to deny the child things that will be bad in the long run, and you have to push the child to make an effort to attain the things that will be good.
The hand of Strict Judgement operates in unity with the side of Tender Mercy. Both complement each other, working towards the same goal – the bestowal of God’s love on us, which means the revelation of Himself. God is One – EChaD. The sum of the numerical values of these letters – the gematria – is 13. This is the same as the gematria of AHaVaH – Love. Thirteen attributes of Lovingkindness. Perfect unity.
When we say the Shema, the declaration of our faith, we put our hand over our eyes and close them tight. This material world was set up to challenge us. Things cannot be taken at face value here – appearances can be very deceptive. God is often so hidden, especially when things are bad, and we cannot see where any of it is leading. We close our eyes tight and cover them over with our hand, so as to focus the inner eye on the world of truth. Shema Yisrael, HaShem is Elokim. Elokim is HaShem. Mercy involves Firmness. Firmness is a part of Mercy. HaShem is One.