Chapter 3: SeeingThe Silver
Previously, we laid the foundations for the conception that everything
that happens is for the good, postulating that this is so because
everything that happens is governed by Divine Providence. Nothing
happens merely as a quirk of nature; if G-d does not want it to
occur, it cannot take place.
Moreover, G-d’s will is purpose-oriented. Accordingly,
since G-d is the epitome of goodness, everything that happens
has a positive purpose. The more we understand the connection
between G-d and our world — how they are really one —
and the more we understand how G-d controls every event that occurs,
the more we can understand how everything is ultimately good.
There are, however, certain things that happen in life that we
cannot conceive of as being good. We try to adopt a new perspective,
to look from this angle, or from that vantage point, and still
these things do not appear good. In the story of Rabbi Akiva or
in the story of Nachum Ish Gamzu, it took a day or several days
for everyone to see how what happened was for the good. But there
are certain times when you just cannot make the connection. In
fact, sometimes, we see a person perform a good deed or act pleasantly,
and yet a short while later, he is forced to suffer because of
How can this be explained? One of the classic explanations can
be derived from a story from the Midrash,1 which describes a journey
that one of the Sages, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, shared with Eliyahu
HaNovi, Elijah the Prophet.
Once, when Rabbi Yehoshua encountered Eliyahu HaNovi, he asked
Eliyahu if he could accompany him so that he could learn from
his conduct. Eliyahu refused, explaining that Rabbi Yehoshua would
not understand what he would see. On the contrary, his mortal
mind would raise countless questions and there would be no time
Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi nevertheless begged and pleaded; he promised
that he would not ask any questions. Eliyahu finally agreed on
the condition that as soon as Rabbi Yehoshua would begin to ask
questions, they would part company.
And so they set out together. Toward evening, they reached an
old, shaky hut. An elderly couple was sitting outside. While their
features bespoke a dimension of dignity, they were obviously poor.
But their poverty did not hamper their enthusiasm to welcome guests.
As soon as they saw the travelers, they jumped up and eagerly
invited them into their home, offering them a meal and a place
Admittedly, the accommodations were somewhat lacking because
the people did not have very much. But whatever they had, they
were willing to share, doing the best they could to observe the
mitzvah of hachnosas orchim, showing hospitality to guests.
The following morning, the two travelers bade their hosts farewell
and set out again. Shortly after they had departed, Rabbi Yehoshua
ben Levi saw that Eliyahu HaNovi was praying. He listened closely.
What was Eliyahu praying for? The elderly couple who had hosted
them owned a cow. The cow was the most valuable possession they
owned — indeed, the majority of their income came from the
cow’s milk. Eliyahu was praying that this cow should die.
When Rabbi Yehoshua heard this, he was shocked. The couple had
been so nice, so pleasant, so warm. Why did they deserve that
their cow should die? But he could not ask any questions; that
was the agreement he had made.
As they proceeded on their journey, they talked. Rabbi Yehoshua
hoped that Eliyahu would offer an explanation for what happened,
or at least a hint in that direction. But that was not so; instead
he directed the conversation to other issues. Toward evening,
they came to a beautiful mansion. Although many members of the
household saw them, no one offered them hospitality.
They asked the owner of the house, a very rich man, for permission
to spend the night in his home. Reluctantly, the man agreed. But
he was very cold to them; he did not offer them any food, and
he hardly said a word to them.
After they set off on their way in the morning, Rabbi Yehoshua
noticed that Eliyahu was praying again. What was he praying for
this time? One of the walls in this rich man’s house was
cracked and weak. Eliyahu was praying to G-d that this wall should
be restored and should remain strong and solid.
Rabbi Yehoshua could not understand this. Here the person was
a miser, who had not acted kindly to them at all. And yet Eliyahu
was praying for him, entreating G-d that his wall, which was cracked,
should become solid and strong again. But once more, he abided
by the terms of his agreement: no questions allowed.
Eventually, the two travelers arrived in a beautiful city; everything
about the place reflected prosperity and opulence. They made their
way to the shul. It was a magnificent structure, designed with
elegance and taste. Everything, even the benches, was beautiful.
Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi thought that they would have no problem
receiving hospitality in such a town. But it did not work out
that way. The people were not very kind. When the prayers were
over, nobody approached them to ask where they planned to eat
or where they planned to stay. Ultimately, they had to spend the
night in the shul, sleeping on those beautiful benches, without
In the morning, when they were ready to leave, Eliyahu blessed
the inhabitants of the city, wishing them that they should all
become leaders. Again, Rabbi Yehoshua was puzzled. Why did Eliyahu
bless people who had not shown them hospitality?
That evening, they came to another city. Obviously, it was not
as wealthy a community as the first; the shul was nowhere near
as beautiful. But the people were very fine, warm and kind. They
did everything they could to make the two travelers comfortable.
Before leaving that city, Eliyahu told them, “May G-d help
that only one of you becomes a leader.”
At this point, Rabbi Yehoshua could no longer contain his curiosity.
He told Eliyahu, “I know that by asking questions I will
forfeit my right to accompany you, but I cannot go on like this.
Please, explain these four incidents to me.”
And so Eliyahu began to explain: “The elderly couple whom
we met first; they were wonderful people who performed acts of
great kindness. So I wanted to give them a blessing. It was destined
for the woman to pass away that day; it was to be the last day
of her life.
“But by hosting us, she was given the opportunity to perform
a mitzvah. And the merit of the mitzvah of hospitality that she
performed was great enough for the decree to be lifted, but not
entirely. So I prayed that their cow — which meant so much
to them and which was their source of income — should die.
Because the cow would die, the woman would have many more years
to live. So the cow’s death was really a blessing for them.
“About the miser’s house. In that wall, a very great
treasure lay buried. But the wall was weak and would soon break.
Because he was a miser and conducted himself so crudely, I prayed
that the wall should become strong so that he would not be able
to benefit from the treasure.
“What about the people in the prosperous city?” Eliyahu
continued. “My prayer that they should all become leaders
in the city is not a blessing; if anything, it is the opposite.
For the most destructive thing that can happen in a city is that
everybody becomes a leader.
“In the other city, where the people were kind, I gave
them a genuine blessing: that one, and only one, of them become
a true leader.”
This story contains a lesson for all of us. Like Rabbi Yehoshua
ben Levi, we have to realize that life is a large puzzle with
many pieces, of which we possess only a small portion. So, of
course, we have questions. It is natural. For what we know about
ourselves and about others is only a few pieces of a 5,000-piece
puzzle. Is it any wonder that these few pieces do not seem to
mean anything? The form of these pieces, the shape that results
from their combination, does not look like anything, nor does
it appear to lead to anything.
But that is because we have only a few pieces of a 5,000-piece
puzzle. Once we receive the other four-thousand nine-hundred odd
pieces and we add these few, everything falls into place and we
see exactly how it fits in.
So we have to be patient and realize that we do not have the
whole picture. Not about ourselves, about what happened before
in our lives, what will happen later in our lives, about others
in our community, or even about our parents and our children.
And therefore, our vision is very limited, and we do not understand
many of the things we see.