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Dovid Vigler

Why Bad Things Happen to Good People

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Everything will be Good in the End;
If it’s not Good, it’s not the End!

It’s the question of all questions that has thundered throughout history—Why do bad things happen to good people? Though a famous book of a similar title has attempted to answer this question, it failed to do so, as it declared G-d as not being Almighty. Is it possible for us to reconcile G-d Almighty with the bad things that happen to us?

Though mysterious, the answer to this question is not as difficult as one might think. The Torah—G-d’s gift to mankind—lays out the answer pretty clearly for us. It’s up to us to apply its lessons to enrich our lives and mitigate our anxieties.

In the very opening verses of the Torah, G-d cryptically notifies us that the day begins with nightfall. Ever since the Torah told us “And there was night, and there was day, one complete day (Genesis 1: 5),” the Jewish Calendar never begins in the morning, but rather at sunset the night before. The lesson we learn from this curious chronological custom is that night must always precede the light.

Indeed, the Kabbalah (Etz Chayim Derush Igulim Veyosher 1:2) tells us that when G-d’s infinite light filled all of existence, He first needed to conceal Himself before he was able to reveal His limited creative power to form this world. This contraction of Divine energy—known as tzimtzum—became the default template of existence. Ever since that first state of darkness that preceded the awesome act of creation, there cannot be a positive experience without it being preceded by a negative experience of some sort.

This profound mystical truth is made explicitly clear to us in the writings of Rabbi Dovber Schneuri (1773–1827), the Second Chabad Rebbe, known as the Mitteler Rebbe. In his magnus opus Imrei Bina, Pesach Hashaar Chapter 10, he writes:

We observe the pattern reflected in the affairs of the world, whereby individuals do not achieve growth—in wealth, leadership, building a family, study, or any other accomplishment—without first experiencing humiliation, pain, loss, and the like….

For example, individuals engaged in the study will not arrive at a complete understanding of the subject without much toil and stress, feeling distant from understanding and feeling tempted to despair from mastering the subject……

Indeed the Talmud (Gittin 43a) states “One does not understand statements of the Torah without first being mistaken.”

We observe the same in earning a livelihood, whereby we succeed only after putting forth great effort and enduring much pain., even feeling despair. Only thereafter do we find profit and blessing….

This is the way that G-d’s blessings in the Upper Worlds and travel down to the Lowest Realm…..There is no light without darkness that precedes it….As it is stated (Ethics 5:21) “according to the pain is the reward.”

Armed with this awareness, we quickly learn to overcome our natural fear of the dark. It soon dawns upon us that darkness is nothing more than a stepping stone to the light that will surely soon follow. It is with this enlightened awareness that we can appreciate why the Hebrew word for “night,” “erev,” also means “orev” which means “sweetness.” Normally darkness is something we’d recoil from, but the man of higher consciousness sees the night as light, instead of taking fright.

When we open our hearts to this wisdom, we will discover this truth in practice all around us: The towering tree will never rise from the simple seed until it rots beneath the soil. Health and fitness are never taken for granted—they can only come to us after we have endured the pain of the gym and our exercise regimens. The troubles of pregnancy and the pain of childbirth are vital predecessors before we can enjoy the love and purity of a newborn baby. Only hard work leads to success. This stunning sequence is subtly hinted at in the Torah portion at the very end of Exodus which speaks of G-d’s cloud descending upon the Tabernacle—representing the concealment—just prior to the following Torah portion which opens with G-d’s revelation to Moses. This is not by chance—it’s the template of existence, by original Divine design!

The Talmud (Menachos 53b) doubles down on this stunning secret when it explains the reason for human suffering:

Rabbi Yochanan taught: “Why are the Jewish People compared to an olive? To inform us that just as an olive provides its oil only after being pressed and crushed, so does the Jewish Nation return to the good path only through the suffering they experience.”

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The bad things that happen to us cannot be viewed superficially as standalone negative experiences. We are challenged to broaden our horizons as we view them as part of a greater continuum, in which the challenge serves as the appetizer before the bounty that soon follows—the entree. It’s not by chance that you swing backward before hitting the golf ball forward—it’s the template of creation manifesting in every detail of our human experience.

Applying this wisdom, our sages point out to us that after every calamity in our nation’s history, we experienced a windfall proportionate to the crisis we had endured. Only after we emerged from centuries of servitude in Egyptian bondage, were we brought to Mount Sinai to be crowned as the Chosen People and gifted with the Torah, which infused purpose and passion into mankind. After the destruction of our Temple, we experienced the great light of the revelation of the Babylonian Talmud, the study of which has kept us anchored and oriented throughout the darkest days of our exile.

Similarly, after the trauma of the Spanish Expulsion and Inquisition, the study of Kabbalah was widely disseminated and studied like never before, especially with the advent of the Arizal who was born soon after the edict of Expulsion. After the terrible suffering of the Cossack massacres in 1648 and 1649, the Ba’al Shem Tov was born, bringing the light of Chassidus to the world.

If you ponder your own suffering too, you will likely discover that you also experienced a great benefit afterward. Perhaps you never drew the connection between the darkness and the subsequent light, but the Torah insists that the sequence is deliberate.

This idea is emerging in modern psychology as a phenomenon which behavioral psychologists describe as post-traumatic growth. After serious cancer illness, survivors often emerge with a deeper appreciation and zest for life. After experiencing the traumas of war, victims will often sense a stronger sense of community and brotherhood. After grappling with the death and tragedy of a loved one, many have reported feeling a spiritual awakening.

Admittedly, this idea can take a lifetime of meditation to apply and recall. But it’s well worth the effort, as it replaces fear and anxiety with faith and confidence in every experience and encounter. Understanding the reason for our torment, makes it easier to bear the pain. The troubles become even more meaningful when we realize that the good that is soon to follow will be proportionate to the intensity of the discomfort that came prior.

Yet, when Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the Sixth Chabad Rebbe known as the Frierdiker Rebbe, was asked to summarize his feelings about the crippling abuse he had experienced at the hands of the Soviets while on death row for false accusations, he declared (Sefer HaToldos 3 pg. 236):

“If someone would offer to sell me a single moment of additional suffering for a billion dollars, I would not buy;

But if someone would offer to purchase a single moment of my past suffering for a billion dollars, I would not sell!”

I hope that this wisdom can help you carry the weight of your past and lift your spirits for what you are yet to face. Do you feel that I’ve answered the question to your satisfaction? Please send me an email to Rabbi@JewishGardens.com
— I would love to hear your thoughts on this incredibly personal and painful subject.

_______________________
Rabbi Dovid Vigler
Chabad of Palm Beach Gardens

6100 PGA Blvd, Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33418
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About the Author
Raised in South Africa and educated in some of the finest Yeshivas in Israel, England, New York, and Australia, Rabbi Dovid Vigler strives to share the beauty and depth of Judaism in a clear, conversational, and down-to-earth manner. Whether in private counseling, relatable sermons, weekly email broadcasts, or in his popular Torah classes on social media, he reaches out to every Jew with unconditional love, patience, and compassion. His inspirational talks and uplifting messages can be found on YouTube.com/JewishGardens and Facebook.com/JewishGardens
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