Library: Kabbalsh & Chassidism
The Chassidic Approach To Joy By Shloma Majesky
Publisher's Foreword Mind-Control
Understanding, the Core of Joy Growing From Pain
Being Happy at All Times Growing Beyond the "I"
Seeing the Silver Lining Letting Go
Expanding Our Horizons Simchah: A Dynamic of Empowerment
Probing Beneath the Surface A Lightning Rod to the Spiritual Realms
Confronting Challenges Bringing Moshiach with Happiness

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 something good?

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 world.

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 die.

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 good.

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 it?

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.

1. Rambam’s Commentary on the Mishnah, Introduction to the Tenth Chapter of Sanhedrin. An abbreviated form of these thirteen principles (each beginning Ani Ma’amin) is printed at the end of the morning prayers in many siddurim.
2. See the comments of the Ramban in Shaar HaGmul, where he explains that the Era of the Resurrection will represent the ultimate reward of the soul, surpassing even the reward it receives in Olam HaBo.
3. See the explanation of this concept in Tanya, Iggeres HaTeshuvah, chapter 12.
4. Pirkei Avos 4:17.
5. See Tanya, loc. cit.
6. See Tanya, Iggeres HaKodesh, Epistle 25, where the concepts mentioned here are explained in depth.
7. Zohar III, 36b.
8. Pirkei Avos 2:6.
9. Nedarim 32a.