Nachum Ish Gamzu was cited as saying “This is also for the Good,” regardless of the circumstances he experienced.
Rabbi Akiva, his student, paraphrased his teacher’s statement as “All that the All-Merciful does is for the Good.”
Rebbe Nachman of Breslav took this further, saying that to find the Good in a thing is to find the G-dliness, thus making “finding the Good” an actual contemplative practice.
But in practice, “finding the Good” can sometimes be a struggle.
We’re insulted. We lose a job (or don’t get hired for the one we want). A serious romantic relationship ends. And so on.
Nu. What’s to like?
The answer is: Probably nothing. Yet, we might find things to like that happen as a result of the negative-seeming event.
We’re insulted? So, we work on our own reactions to the insult, and grow spiritually through the process.
We lose a job? So, perhaps we spend some recreational time or do something entertaining that we wouldn’t have had the chance to do otherwise.
We go on a job interview for a job we really want, but we aren’t hired? Perhaps there’s something about getting to the interview, or its location, that was especially enjoyable, and which we wouldn’t have seen or heard otherwise.
A serious romantic relationship ends? We’re probably remembering how ideal it was. It’s often helpful at that moment to remember the things in the relationship which were less than perfect. It can also help to remind ourselves of things about the other person that annoyed or irritated us. The point, of course, isn’t to stir up our own anger or to “judge” the other person as negative in some absolute way. Rather, it’s to focus on why we might be happier and better off without that contact. It’s “selling” ourselves a certain point of view, the way a salesperson will emphasize the deficiencies of a competing product or service, in order to motivate us to buy the one he/she is selling.
I recommend these as psychological techniques, not as ethical statements. Further, they point to a principle explained at length in Rabbi Zelig Pliskin’s book, “Gateway to Happiness:” Happiness is Dependent on our Thoughts.
And we have considerable choice over our thoughts.
Were Nachum ish Gamzu, Rabbi Akiva and others born able to do this? Undoubtedly not. It was something that they learned and practiced.
In some ways, it was as if they were practicing a kind of deductive reasoning: If G-d is in charge of all things, and G-d is Good, then there must be something Good in everything that happens. But they accepted the fundamental premise so thoroughly and applied it so consistently, that it became as if “second nature” to them. That’s why Nachum could reduce it to such a simple, yet comprehensive, formula (much as Einstein did with e=mc2).
Similarly, Rabbi Morris Lichtenstein defined “faith” as the whole-hearted realization of the Divine Presence along with the profound conviction of Divine Goodness
I agree with this in principle.
In practice, though, I’d define “faith” in a dynamic way, as taking the actions (mostly cognitive) to realize the Divine Presence, negating any other power or influence, and to remind ourselves (affirmatively) of Divine Goodness — as both parts relate to specific, current situations in our lives. I agree with Rabbi Lichtenstein’s definition, but prefer to express it as something that we actively do — both “as needed” and on a regular basis. This, of course, is in keeping with his great work to help us apply Jewish teachings to everyday life.
Rabbi Joseph Gelberman was another great master of this — radiating calm joy even as he lay dying.
“Joy is a definition…It is a question of [our] interpretation of experiences and our reactions to them. It is not so much whether good things happen to us as much as how much good we can find in [our] experiences…The pursuit of joy is dynamic; we must constantly ferret out its nuances…But always we are the mariners, charting the compass, plotting the course, setting the sails. Joy is [the] result. It depends on our vision. It depends on our insight.” (Gelberman, Rabbi Joseph and Dr. Dorothy Kobak, Ph.D.; Spiritual Truths; p. 33).
There are times, too, when affirming the Good can mean accepting a good that we might not see or understand. Rebbe Nachman of Breslav also reveals to us that by looking at the Good, we are, at the same moment, “looking at” G-d.
Doing so can open us to a joy that’s G-d’s alone.