Chapter 4: Expanding Our Horizons
As explained in the previous chapter, expanding our scope of
vision opens us up to the possibility that there are processes
of causation at work within the world of which we are unaware.
There are questions, however, that remain unanswered. What about
a person who is, G-d forbid, ill for life? Or, G-d forbid, a person
to whom an accident occurs, causing his life to end. What can
be said in such a case? How can we say that this is leading to
The answer is that if one believes only in this physical world,
the question will remain a question. But ours is not the only
framework of existence. A true appreciation of reality extends
far beyond the world that we see with our physical eyes.
Firstly, there is an afterlife, Olam HaBo, the World to Come.
Olam HaBo is the world of the souls; after a soul leaves the body,
it ascends to this spiritual world. But this is not the end of
the soul’s journey.
Ultimately, the soul will descend again, return to this physical
world, and go back into its original body. For one of the Thirteen
Principles of Faith1 is that in the Era of the Redemption, the
dead will be resurrected.2 And so the soul’s life does not
end in our material world. On the contrary, it will live eternally
in Olam HaBo and in the end of days be resurrected again in this
This knowledge expands our vision even further, and gives us
a new vantage point with which to appreciate any suffering that
we experience in our lives. It is true that in this life a person
may suffer, but in Olam HaBo, in the life of the soul, he will
reap the reward and the good that is to come from such suffering.
Indeed, the Ramban, in his commentary on the Book of Iyov (Job),3
states that even if a person were to suffer, G-d forbid, like
Job for a period of 70 years, this would be insignificant compared
to even a brief period of suffering that the soul feels in Gehinnom.
Gehinnom refers to the spiritual realm in which the soul undergoes
a period of cleansing and correction after it leaves our material
world. In some texts, this process of cleansing and correction
is referred to as punishment. The term is somewhat misleading,
for the intent is not, Heaven forbid, to punish; we are speaking
about a process of refinement and correction. But it is a painful
process, far greater than any pain of which we can conceive. As
we said, seventy consecutive years of Job’s suffering in
our material world is insignificant when compared with one moment
of suffering in Gehinnom.
(The same is true regarding pleasure. All the pleasure a person
can experience in this world is insignificant compared with one
moment of pleasure in the World to Come.4)
In His kindness, G-d allows the suffering that we experience
in this world to take the place of suffering in Gehinnom. An analogy
to this is the motion of the sun. In space, the sun is moving
millions of miles per hour, but in that time, the shadow cast
by the sun on a wall may move only an inch or two. One inch of
motion here is equivalent to millions of miles of motion there.5
In a similar way, one moment of suffering in this physical world
will make up for far more intense suffering in the World to Come.
And in that sense, all the suffering that a person endures in
this world is ultimately for the good. While living in this physical
world we may be unaware of this, but ultimately we will appreciate
this reality in the World to Come or in the Era of the Redemption.
When we are aware of this concept, it changes the way we look
at life around us. Once, the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe was arrested
in Russia for spreading Jewish practice. The people who arrested
the Rebbe were also Jewish; they belonged to the Jewish wing of
the Communist party known as the Yevseksia. Perhaps it was their
Jewish origin that motivated them to cruelly and ruthlessly try
to stamp out Jewish observance. They demanded that the Rebbe give
them information concerning the network of underground yeshivas
and chadarim that he had established, to tell them about the location
of kosher slaughterhouses, mikvaos, and so on. The Previous Rebbe
was not intimidated and refused to give any information.
Finally, his interrogator took out a gun and pointed it at the
Rebbe, saying, “Do you see this little toy? This little
toy has made a lot of people talk; it will make you talk as well.”
The Rebbe answered very firmly, “That toy can only frighten
people who have one world and many gods. A person who has one
G-d and two worlds is not afraid of your little toy.”
What the Previous Rebbe meant was that those people who are aware
of absolute truth and are concerned with two worlds — this
physical world, and also the spiritual world to come — are
not frightened by the possibility of physical death. For this
is not where life ends. And thus, what appears as a tragedy in
this world may prove to be for the best in an ultimate sense.
In a limited sense, this concept can be accepted easily. But
many will protest against extending it without bounds. Take the
Holocaust, for example. Is there any way in which the cruel death
of six million Jews can be explained as being for the good?
The truth is, we cannot explain how tragedies like these are
for the good. On the contrary, any explanations or rationales
man might offer seem vulgar and crass. For no man can set himself
up as G-d and dictate reasons why another person should live or
But we must realize that our inability to understand and provide
reasons does not alter the fact that the Holocaust and other bitter
events that have taken place in our world, and indeed, everything
that takes place in this world, even the fluttering of a leaf
in the wind, is controlled by Divine Providence. And if the event
is controlled by Divine Providence, G-d surely has His reasons.
We cannot understand His reasons, for He and His wisdom are infinite,
but our lack of ability to comprehend these reasons does not detract
from their existence.
The difference between G-d and a human being is the difference
between the finite and the infinite. There is no way we can expect
to understand and comprehend events that reflect G-d’s infinity.
To illustrate the concept with a gross physical comparison: If
a person went outside at night, looked up at the sky, and said,
“There is nothing on the moon because I cannot see it,”
or “there is nothing beyond the moon because I cannot see
it,” everyone would laugh at him.
Now, why can he not see it? Because the moon, the planets, and
the stars are millions of miles away, and we cannot see anything
that far away. Some stars are not only millions of miles away
— they are light years away. So even if we know they exist,
we cannot know anything about what happens on them.
Nevertheless, all physical space, even at a distance of hundreds
of light years, is a finite distance. When we speak about our
distance from G-d, or His wisdom, we are talking about an infinite
distance. And so, if with regard to physical things we are prepared
to accept the idea that things exist even though we do not see
them, so too, we should be willing to accept that G-d has reasons
for everything that takes place, even when we cannot appreciate
those reasons with our mortal minds. There is no way in the world
we can fathom a possible explanation of the good stemming from
events like the Holocaust, because our limited minds cannot comprehend
something that is infinitely removed from them. But there is no
way that G-d will allow something to happen that is not for the
There is, nevertheless, another point that has to be clarified.
If a person suffered as a result of an act of G-d, Heaven forbid
— be it a thunderstorm, an earthquake, or a disease —
we can appreciate that in it there is hidden good. That is implied
by the very name “an act of G-d.” But when a loss
is inflicted on a person by another individual — for example,
an act of violence or a robbery — how can we say that it
is, in essence, good? Why compare it to an act of G-d? On the
contrary, the other person had free choice whether to commit the
wrong or not.
Seemingly, the person who suffers is a victim of the other person’s
harmful impulses. On the surface, had the other person not chosen
to do him harm, he would not have suffered this loss. How then
can we say that this loss is in essence good because it is coming
from G-d, when it is another human being who is responsible for
The resolution is, once again, that everything that happens is
ordained by Divine Providence. Even when the loss is inflicted
by another individual, it never would have happened6 had it not
been destined for the person to suffer this loss. Although the
person who perpetrated the wrong chose to do so independently,
the person who suffered, did so because he was destined to. Had
this not been his destiny, the person who perpetrated the wrong
would never have been able to do so. For example, when a thief
chooses to steal from another person, the victim was destined
to lose the money. Had the thief not chosen to steal, the victim
would have lost the money some other way.
(This does not release the thief from the responsibility for
his deed. Although the person was destined to lose his money,
G-d has many emissaries at His disposal.7 The thief knows nothing
of G-d’s plan. He stole because he chose to do evil, and
he will therefore be punished.
The Mishnah8 tells us that Hillel once saw a skull floating on
the water. He said to it, “Because you drowned others, you
were drowned; and ultimately, those who drowned you will themselves
be drowned.” Hillel was explaining the process of causation.
The person made a wrong choice and drowned others. Since G-d punishes
“measure for measure,”9 drowning leads to drowning.
In each instance, the person who was drowned received that punishment
for a reason. Nevertheless, the person who served as the medium
to administer that punishment did so of his own volition, and
hence he is punished for that choice.)
Therefore, the fact that one suffers a loss that is caused by
another person should not prevent one from being b’simchah
(happy). On the contrary, he should recognize that this loss was
destined by G-d, and thus is, in essence, good.
For these reasons, a person should always be b’simchah,
because everything that happens to him is coming from G-d, and
G-d is good. And so, everything that happens is in essence good.
Sometimes, the good and the blessing G-d bestows can be perceived
openly. At other times, the good is disguised and cannot be seen
immediately. But even these things are in essence good.