The Soul Would Have No Rainbow if the Eyes Had No Tears
The most successful people in the world are those who know how to react to change. When something bad happens, they refuse to use the word “problem,” choosing “opportunity” instead.
Crisis is defined as “a turning point, when an important change takes place.” Given the new circumstances, one can choose to either focus on what’s been lost or on what can now be gained. Because Blockbuster refused to acknowledge the rise of streaming video services, they quickly disappeared in 2010. A similar thing happened to Kodak when they ignored the emergence of the digital photo, and they filed for bankruptcy in 2013. But when Lego was on the brink of bankruptcy in 2003, when children didn’t want to play with “old fashioned” toys anymore, they adapted, creating movie characters from Lego, catapulting the company to a second wind of meteoric success.
Then-Chief of Staff of the White House, Rahm Emanuel famously said in 2008 that “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you thought you could not do before.”
Imagine if we could apply this same wisdom to our personal lives. What would our lives look like if we tackled every problem with the same innovation, enthusiasm, and creativity seen in successful corporate boardrooms? Instead of sinking in sadness, we would soar with strength!
We can draw great inspiration from one of the wisest sages of Jewish history—Rabbi Akiva (died 135 CE), who lived two thousand years ago during the Roman conquest of Jerusalem and the destruction of our Temple. Though he lived during the saddest period of Jewish history, his transformational approach to viewing problems still motivates us today. A deeper understanding of his puzzling reaction to his troubles illuminates my heart through my own darkness, and I hope that it will do the same for you.
It was one of the darkest periods in Jewish history. Jerusalem lay in ruins, conquered by the Romans; its Jewish inhabitants were broken, bereft, and impoverished, starving for even the basic bread and water.
A group of Jewish leaders, Rabban Gamliel, Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria, Rabbi Yehoshua, and Rabbi Akiva, were on their way up to Jerusalem. When they reached Mount Scopus, they could see the ruins of Jerusalem, and they rent their garments; when they reached the Temple Mount, they saw a fox emerging from the ruins of the Holy of Holies. They began to cry, but Rabbi Akiva laughed. They asked, “Why are you laughing?” Once again, he replied, “Why are you crying?” They said, “This is the place of which the verse states, ‘and the non-priest who approaches shall die,’ and now foxes are walking on it; how can we not cry?”
He replied, “That’s why I’m laughing. Just as G-d’s prophecy to Uriah that ‘Zion shall be plowed as a field,’ has been so meticulously fulfilled, so we will His prophecy to Zecharia—that ‘there will yet be elderly men and elderly women sitting in the streets of Jerusalem’—be fulfilled to the last detail.” His companions replied, “Akiva, you have comforted us, Akiva, you have comforted us.”
The Rebbe points out that Rabbi Akiva’s use of the plowed field metaphor holds the secret to his worldview: When a field is plowed, only a simple person would think it’s being destroyed. A wise person understands that the seeming destruction is actually a vital step in the growth process. Planting without prior plowing is futile. The plowing is a vital step toward fulfilling the purpose of the field. The deeper the plow, the better the subsequent growth. As in the construction of a new home, it’s the destruction of the old that makes way for the construction of the new.
When we declare our faith as we recite Shma Yisrael, we are pledging allegiance to “one G-d—a G-d who is one with everything in existence.” Hence, G-d is powering every detail of our lives. Since G-d is good and “no evil descends from Him (Shaloh 106:2),” when it seems like something evil is happening, we have to fall back on the plowing metaphor of Rabbi Akiva to find strength, purpose, and vision. We cannot understand the wisdom of our Maker, but we can hold on tight and hold on to Him with every shred of faith we can muster.
When life feels overwhelming, close your eyes and envision your problems—see it as your field being plowed by G-d for the growth that follows. Adopt the mantra of Rabbi Akiva: “All that G-d does is for the good.” The very utterance of these words has the power to transform the plower into the planter.
Flies find decay in every field; bees find honey in every dump. You can choose to find the bad in your troubles or to seek the hidden good in them. I think it’s better to be like bees. You can’t discover new oceans unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore. A bend in the road is not the end of the road unless you fail to make the turn.
Admittedly, this takes tremendous work to reach. But G-d doesn’t ask us to do what he hasn’t empowered us to reach. Skeptics will attack this position with heart-rending examples of innocent children dying, or the Holocaust. But it’s important to understand that these are not questions, they’re protests. The concept is true even if we don’t want it to be. Their heartfelt cry is essentially a desire for there to be only revealed good—the hallmark of what the era of Moshiach is all about when G-dliness will be revealed throughout the world for all to see. Bees don’t waste their time explaining to flies that honey is better than garbage.
Rabbi Dovid Vigler
Chabad of Palm Beach Gardens
6100 PGA Blvd, Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33418
JewishGardens.com | 561.624.2223