In his book, “In Forest Fields,” based on the teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslav, Rabbi Shalom Arush advocates that as part of our daily hour of hitbodedut, we thank G-d for everything — even for the problems we face, even for our mistakes and failures. He gives the example of being deeply in debt at one time himself, and (having already become a Breslaver hasid), he thanked G-d every day for his financial problems. Gradually, things got better for him.
The Talmud certainly speaks similarly, teaching that we say “Baruch…ha-Tov v’ha-Meitiv” for “good things” that happen to us, and “…Dayan Emet” for things that seem “bad” to us. In both cases, we’re thanking G-d. The Talmud goes even further, saying (in tractate Pesachim) that in the World-to-Come, only “…ha-Tov…” will be said, because everything will be recognized as G-d’s Will for the Good. Rebbe Nachman of Breslav says on this perek (paragraph or chapter in the Talmud) that when we can truly thank (or bless) G-d equally for everything that happens to us in this world, we “taste” the World-to-Come.
So, if the Talmud already said it, what’s new about the teaching of the Breslaver Rebbe and Rabbi Arush?
I don’t know if Rebbe Nachman said specifically that we should thank G-d for everything. I do know that he said we should see the good in everything. Because the good is the G-dliness in a thing, when we see the good, we’re seeing G-d. It becomes a kind of contemplation of its own.
It also seems that people can say, “Your Will be done” about an uncomfortable or seemingly negative experience, but, while “accepting G-d’s Will” on one level, they/we are at the same time harboring inner feelings of discomfort that are sadness- or anger- producing.
Something similar can be said about merely saying a brachah, if it doesn’t reflect an inner attitude-change.
I recently read the statement, “We don’t really grow up. We just learn how to act in public.” While I don’t agree with this 100%, it speaks to a truth that we learn more how to “look the part” than to actually accomplish inner change. So, it’s possible to learn to say a brachah, without learning to make the brachah reflect our actual inner attitude (or vice versa: make our inner attitude reflect the brachah).
The ideal is that the mouth and heart should be in agreement.
Finally, based on Rebbe Nachman’s teachings, Rabbi Arush is asking us to do a bit more than the Talmud asks. He’s asking us to make a systematic, consistent practice and habit of thanking G-d in our own words.
We’re to say it out loud as part of our hitbodedut, which is done privately.
This consistent, intentional application is the same as that of the Talmud, but intensified.
It’s active, not passive, acceptance. Grateful acceptance; not “grin and bear it” acceptance.
If I’m overly worried, angry, etc. about an incident, saying “Thank You” to G-d calms me down for the moment — especially if I repeat it several times, or if I thank G-d for everything else that comes to mind, too.
However, if I don’t work through my reasons for being angry, worried, etc., those feelings can come back when I stop saying “Thank You.” Or — and this is more psychologically dangerous — saying “Thank You” can blunt or suppress the feelings, rather than dissolve or eliminate them.
So, “Thanking G-d” can be a great cognitive method that has emotional benefits, if at the same time, I am:
1 — Willing to acknowledge my feelings and grow through learning to moderate and modify them.
2 — Willing to see everything that happens as “good” or “for the good,” even if I don’t see or understand it.
Is everything “good?”
Human evaluation firmly says, “No.”
Yet — in the end, we find that sanity itself requires that we accept what we cannot change. Our business fails, our marriage or relationship breaks up, we’re diagnosed with a critical health problem…and we ask, “Why?” “Why me?”
Eventually, though, we find that even without faith or the desire for it, the human evaluation of “good” is of little value (unless we use it to help others’ suffering). Faced with our own suffering, we have a choice in how to respond. That was certainly the truth that Victor Frankl found in the concentration camps. Some people survived psychically, even when left with permanent physical damage. After the raging and the tears and the demanding questions, we “accept” and move on. As I’ve heard said about grief at the passing of a loved one, “You don’t get over it. You go through it — and keep going.”
To truly thank G-d with our hearts for our suffering, we start by letting go of the expectation that G-d’s Goodness is something that we need to comprehend rationally or empirically. We don’t need to explain it — least of all to ourselves. We simply remind ourselves that G-d is everywhere, in everything and every event. G-d’s Goodness isn’t in any way separate from G-d.
We know G-d’s goodness, declaring it in spite of what our minds and our senses might be telling us.
But if confidently affirming G-d’s Goodness seems too high a hurdle, we can at least consider that it might be so.
To human eyes, the world looked awfully flat as Columbus sailed off toward its edge…