Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad Chassidism,
served as reader of the weekly Torah section in his synagogue.
One year, Rabbi Schneur Zalman was away from home on the
Shabbat on which the section of Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy
26-29) was read. In the Rebbe's absence, someone else did
Ki Tavo includes the Rebuke (tochacha),
a harsh description of the calamities destined to befall the
Jewish people should they forsake the commandments of the
Torah. Rabbi Schneur Zalmans young son DovBer
was so greatly affected by the curses of the Rebuke that he
fell ill. Three weeks later, when Yom Kippur approached, he
was still so weak that his father was hesitant in allowing
him to fast.
When the youngster was asked, Why did the reading affect
you so? Don't you hear the Rebuke every year? he replied,
When father reads, one hears only blessings, not curses.
Another Two Stories
From the Supernal, proclaims the prophet Jeremiah,
in the midst of his lament over the destruction of the Holy
Temple and the exile of Israel, do not emerge both evil
and good. This is a basic tenet of the Jewish
faith: G-d is the essence of good, and since everything in
existence derives solely from Him, evil has no true existence.
There is only revealed good and hidden good.
What we experience as evil is, in truth, hidden
goodgood that we, because of the limits of our perception,
are incapable of perceiving as such.
The Talmud cites two stories that illustrate this point.
The first involves Rabbi Akiva:
Rabbi Akiva taught: A person should always say: Everything
that G-d does, He does for the good. Rabbi Akiva was
once traveling, when he arrived in a certain town. He asked
for lodgings and was refused. Said he: Everything that
G-d does, He does for the good, and went to spend the
night in a field.
He had with him a rooster, a donkey and a lamp. A wind
came and extinguished the lamp, a cat came and ate the rooster,
a lion came and ate the donkey. Said he: Everything
that G-d does, He does for good. That night, an army
came and took the entire town captive. Said Rabbi Akiva to
his disciples: Did I not tell you that everything that
G-d does, He does for good? (If the lamp had been lit, the army
would have seen me; if the donkey would have brayed or the
rooster would have called, the army would have come and captured
The other story is about Nachum Ish Gam Zu:
Why was he called Nachum Ish Gam Zu (Nachum This
Too)? Because whatever happened to him, he would
say: This, too, is for the good. Once the Jews
wanted to send a gift to the [Roman] Emperor. Who will
go? they asked. Let Nachum go, for he is well
acquainted with miracles. They sent along with him a
chest full of precious stones and pearls. On the way, he stayed
at an inn. During the night, the innkeepers took the contents
of the chest and filled it with earth. In the morning, when
Nachum saw [what happened], he said: This, too, is for
When he arrived there, he gave the chest to the king.
When the king saw that it was filled with earth, he wanted
to kill all [the Jews] and said: The Jews are mocking
me! Said Nachum: This, too, is for good.
Elijah the Prophet appeared disguised as one of the kings
ministers and said: Perhaps this is the dust of their
father Abraham, who would throw dust that turned into spears
and straw that turned into arrows? There was a country which [the Roman
armies] could not conquer; they tried [the earth brought by
Nachum] and succeeded in conquering it. So they took Nachum
into the Emperors treasury, filled his chest with precious
stones and pearls, and sent him off with great honor.
There is a significant difference between Rabbi Akivas
experience and that of Nachum Ish Gam Zu. Both reacted to
seemingly negative events with the confidence that G-d is
doing them good rather than evil. But in the case of Rabbi
Akiva, the events themselves remained negative: he was left
without a roof over his head, in the dark, and he lost his
rooster and donkey. The value of these negative events was
only that they prevented a greater evilfalling into
captivity. Seen in this light, they do not constitute a calamity
but a salvation. The fact remains, however, that these experiences
were not themselves good, only the implements of good.
In the case of Nachum Ish Gam Zu, the negative
event itself was revealed as a positive occurrence. The earth
the thieves exchanged for the contents of his chest was more
valuable than what they took, achieving far more than would
a simple gift of gems to an emperor whose treasury was already
filled with the same. The only possibly negative element in
the whole affair is the anxiety and fear a person of lesser
faith might have experienced; Nachum, of course, experienced
nothing of the sort, since at no time did he doubt that only
good transpires in G-ds world. Upon waking in the morning
and finding the chest filled with earth, he proceeded to the
palace to deliver his gift, confident that all would be shown
to have been for good.
This difference between the outlooks of Rabbi Akiva and Nachum
Ish Gam Zu is also evident in the words they used to express
their faith in the goodness of G-d. Rabbi Akiva said, Everything
that G-d does, He does for good. This implies that while
a person might experience certain things as bad, he knows
that they are for the sake of a greater gooda good that
justifies the negative experience. It does not include the
recognition that the event itself is good. Rabbi Akiva did
not say that Everything that G-d does is for goodmeaning
that the things He does are positiveonly that
Everything G-d does, He does for goodthat
G-ds doing of these things is for a positive
end, even if the things themselves are less than good.
But Nachum Ish Gam Zu would say, This, too, is for
good. Not only am I confident that good shall result
from this, but I also perceive this, the event itself,
The difference between them reflects the different spiritual
environments in which the two sages lived.
Rabbi Akiva lived a generation after the destruction of the
(second) Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple) in Jerusalem,
which had served as the center of G-ds manifest presence
in the physical world. His was a time of galuta
time of spiritual darkness, a time in which the divine face
recedes from view and the divine providence is obscured by
hardship, strife and tragedy.
Under such conditions, a person is incapable of perceiving
the positive essence of every event. At most, he can affirm
that there is more to reality than meets the eyethat
while an event might remain negative in his perception, he
can appreciate that it leads to a greater good. But to comprehend
that the event itself is positive is beyond the capacity of
one who inhabits a reality that so blatantly belies this truth.
He might believe that it is so, but he cannot envision it
or relate to it in any way.
Nachum Ish Gam Zu, on the other hand, who was one of Rabbi
Akivas teachers, was of the previous generationa
generation that experienced the revelation of G-dliness that
was the Beit Hamikdash. To them, the quintessential
goodness of everything in G-ds world was close to the
surface, and the illusion of evil readily penetrable by a
firm faith and unwavering trust in G-d.
The languages in which Nachum and Rabbi Akiva expressed their
faith in the ultimate goodness of G-d are indicative of their
different perceptions. The Talmud quotes Nachum as proclaiming,
This, too, is for good (gam zu ltovah)
in the Holy Tongue, while Rabbi Akivas words, Everything
that G-d does, He does for good, (kol david
rachmana ltav avid) are quoted in Aramaic.
The Holy Tongue is the language with which G-d created the
worldthe language whose words and letters embody the
divine essence of creation. A word in the Holy Tongue is much
more than an agreed-upon appendage by which to refer to an
object or phenomenon; rather, it represents the particular
configuration of divine energy that supplies that object or
phenomenon with being and life. Words spoken in the Holy Tongue
imply a perception of a things essence. Nachum, who
lived in an era of divine revelation, was able to say gam
zu ltovahto express the ultimate nature of
Aramaic, on the other hand, while closely related to Hebrew,
represents a departure from the Holy Tongues clear and
concise definition of a things essence. When Rabbi Akiva
proclaimed the ultimate goodness of everything G-d does, he
did so in Aramaic, for his was a more limited perception,
a perception veiled by the encroaching galut.
Singing in the Dark
While the (first) Beit Hamikdash was being consumed
by flames, Assaf (one of the Levites who served in the Holy
Temple) was composing a psalm:
A song to Assaf:
Aliens have entered Your estate
They have defiled Your Sanctuary
They have laid Jerusalem in heaps...
Asks the Midrash:
Should not the verse have said a wail to Assaf,
a keen to Assaf, a lament to Assaf?
Why does it say a song to Assaf? But this is analogous
to a king who built a nuptial home for his son, beautifully
plastered, inlaid and decorated. Then the son strayed off
to an evil life. So the king came to the nuptial canopy, tore
down the tapestries and broke the rails, upon which the prince's
tutor took a flute and began to play. Those who saw him asked:
The king is overturning the nuptial canopy of his son,
and you sit and sing? Said he to them: I am singing
because the king overturned his son's nuptial canopy and did
not vent his wrath upon his son. So, too, was asked
of Assaf: G-d destroyed the Temple and Sanctuary, and
you sit and sing? Replied he: I am singing because
G-d vent His wrath upon wood and stone and did not vent his
wrath upon Israel.
This reflects an Everything that G-d does, He does
for good conception of evil and suffering, as experienced
by Rabbi Akiva. The destruction of the Beit Hamikdash
is a terrible tragedy; but it is a positive event in the sense
that it prevented the destruction of the Jewish people.
This is the ultimate level of perception of which we are
capable in galut: the understanding that despite how
terrible and tragic something is in our experience, we know
that there is a higher truth, a greater good which it serves.
We might eventually discover this greater good, or perhaps
never learn what it is; nevertheless, our faith in the goodness
of G-d enables us to bear the hardship and pain of the perceived
evil in our lives. But we are incapable of recognizing, or
even conceiving of, the intrinsic goodness of the evil
But there will come a time when the veil of
galut will lift, when the divine essence of existence
will shine forth, unobscured by the shell of darkness that
encases it today. On that day we shall proclaim, This,
too, is for good. In the words of the prophet Isaiah,
I shall thank You, G-d, for having afflicted me,
for the quintessential goodness of the affliction
itself will be revealed.
Based on an address by the Rebbe, Av 20, 5711 (August 22,
Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe
by Yanki Tauber
, Rabbi DovBer (1773-1827) succeeded his father as
Rebbe and leader of the Chabad Chassidic movement upon the
latters passing in 1812.
. Hayom Yom, quote for Elul 17.
. Talmud, Berachot 60b.
. Gam zu (this too) is a play
on the word Gimzu, the name of Nachums hometown
in the foothills of Judah.
. When he fought against the Four Kingssee
Midrash Rabbah, Bereishit 43:4.
. In Hebrew, the word this (zeh
or zu) connotes an explicit and directly perceived
reality (Rashi on Exodus 15:2 and Numbers 30:2. See The
Awareness Factor, WIR vol. IV, no. 1).
. Rabbi Akiva lived in the time of the failed revolt
against the Romans led by Bar Kochba (whom Rabbi Akiva had
initially believed to be the Messiah); in a time when the
study of Torah and the practice of Judaism were outlawed
by the Romans and many Jews were tortured and killed. Rabbi
Akiva himself met a martyrs death in the year 134
c.e. (65 years after the destruction of the Holy Temple).
. Rabbi Akiva and Nachums different conceptions
of suffering is also reflected in the exchange
between them related in the Jerusalem Talmud, Peah
. Midrash Rabbah, Eichah 4:14.
. Likkutei Sichot, vol. III, pp. 393-395; Hitvaaduyot
5751, vol. II, pp. 267-274.