“Gam zeh ya’avor /This too shall pass.” – Ancient Jewish/Persian saying
I first heard this Hebrew phrase many years ago, as a college student. I was visiting a friend’s family, when I noticed a curious object on the coffee table in their living room. It was a polished white rock with the words “Gam zeh ya’avor” painted on it in gold letters. “What’s this?” I enquired. My friend explained that her parents had brought it back from Israel many years earlier, and though it was kind of kitschy, they were very attached to it.
It turns out there’s an old story connected to this saying. It appears in Persian Sufi literature, but the Jewish version of this folktale is widespread as well and goes something like this:
The wisest of kings, Solomon, decided to challenge one of his ministers. The king instructed him to search for a ring that could turn a happy person sad, and a sad person happy. King Solomon doubted the minister would be able to find such a thing Still, the intrepid minister set out. The minister traveled the kingdom, but to no avail, Returning to Jerusalem, he found himself in a shabby neighborhood where there was a market. He noticed a man selling some odd pieces of jewelry spread out on a threadbare rug. Desperate, the minister explained to the merchant what he was seeking – a ring that could “make a happy man sad, and a sad man happy.” The merchant smiled, and handed him a ring with the inscription: “Gam zeh ya’avor, This too shall pass.” The minister returned to King Solomon, and presented him with the ring. Smiling at the thought of winning the challenge, King Solomon took one look at the ring and was immediately humbled.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this folktale and about my friend’s rock. It’s been a tough summer in many respects, what with the Israel/Gaza war, the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, ISIS, and Ferguson. And more than once, I’ve repeated those words to myself: Gam zeh ya’avor. A few weeks ago, I was visiting with an older congregant, a man well into his 90’s. I was lamenting the state of the world, when he reassured me: “Rabbi, it’s always been like this. This too shall pass. We’ll get through it.” I looked at him gratefully. He’d witnessed a lot of history in his long life. Nu, maybe he was right.
The next day, I took up rock-painting.