gam zu
(Below is an excerpt from a post by Rabbi Yonasan Easton, followed by some comments of my own.)

“In Chapter Five of [his book] Tomer Devorah, Reb Moshe Cordovero [the ReMaK] explains that the primary way of acquiring G-d’s midah of chesed [lovingkindness] is to love G-d so absolutely that you will not forsake him…The ReMaK explains that we need to make our focus on loving Hashem and only Hashem. In practical terms this means that we must first prepare for our avodas Hashem, and then fulfill our other obligations.

The ReMak further explains how we exhibit absolute love of Hashem in order to acquire G-d’s attribute of kindness: our love of G-d should be fixed regardless of whether we receive benefits or suffering. The Gemara discusses Nachum Ish Gamzu who was wont to say Gam Zu L’Tova (also this is for the good). The tremendous level of emunah and bitachon reached by Nachum Ish Gamzu is illustrated in how he realized the good in every situation…

In Gemara Brachos, Raba in the name of Rav Sahorah in the name of Rav Huna says: ‘If Hashem is pleased with a person, he crushes him with painful sufferings.’ The Gemara asks if Hashem’s pleasure [is] expressed only when the suffering is accepted with love? The Gemara answers that yes, suffering needs to be accepted with love. And what is the reward? The person will see generations of long life with their knowledge of Torah everlasting.

Rav Shalom Arush [following Rebbe Nachman’s teachings] has taken the Gemara’s teachings to a new level by authoring the book ‘Garden of Gratitude‘ and regularly encouraging his talmidim to ‘Thank Hashem for Everything!’…Rav Arush [has] said that the theme of hisbodedus on Purim night (Breslov minhag is to eat a small seudah after krias haMegila [the Megilah-reading] at night and then do hisbodedus until Shacharis at sunrise), is ‘baruch Haman.’ Baruch Haman?! Rav Arush explains this means that our focus during hisbodedus on Purim should be to thank Hashem for all of the suffering, nisyanos [‘tests’] and challenges that we face.

Thanking Hashem for everything is accepting suffering with love. May Hashem give us the emunah and bitachon to truly accept everything – even suffering – with love in order to acquire G-d’s attribute of kindness.” [1]

In principle, I agree with this, of course. I’ve written about it more than once. The Hebrew design at the top of the page is my own, inspired by teachings just like this.

But aren’t there moral questions? Haman was amoral (at best); willing to do anything necessary to further his own ambitions. Are we then to ignore those questions and make “evil” the same as “good?”

Rebbe Nachman, as conveyed by Rabbi Arush, isn’t addressing a moral issue; he’s addressing a cognitive and theological one. One of the distinguishing features of Judaism is the absence of belief in a power of evil that competes more or less equally with the power of good (G-d). If G-d’s existence (or Life, as it were) is the source of the existence (life) of everything else, then even evil can have no existence outside of G-d’s. That being said, the Torah view of “evil” is that it’s ultimately providential.

The Talmud makes a concession to human perception. While we’re to thank G-d for everything, the Talmud (Brachot) allows for separate brachot (blessings) to be said over the “bad” (“…Dayan Emet”) and the “good” (“…Ha-Tov u’Mei’tiv”). We thank G-d as the ultimate source, but distinguish between that which seems “good” for us and that which seems “bad.” Elsewhere, however, and presumably later, the Talmud (Pesachim) says that in the World-to-Come, we will only say “…Ha-Tov u’Mei’tiv,” because we will then see that all is for the good and only for the good. About this, Rebbe Nachman taught that one who achieves this has actually tasted the World-to-Come.

This is the very point (in Liebniz’ formulation) that Voltaire pilloried in “Candide.” For him, as a rationalist, everything that happens is not for the best in this world — the best of all possible worlds.

Yet, William Blake, only a generation later, refuted his argument:

Mock on, mock on, Voltaire, Rousseau;
Mock on, mock on; ’tis all in vain!
You throw the sand against the wind,
And the wind blows it back again.

And every sand becomes a gem
Reflected in the beams divine;
Blown back they blind the mocking eye,
But still in Israel’s paths they shine.

The Atoms of Democritus
And Newton’s Particles of Light
Are sands upon the Red Sea shore,
Where Israel’s tents do shine so bright.

(Let’s give Voltaire some credit, though. He, like Newton, was a Deist, not an atheist. Believing himself to be dying, he said, “I die adoring G-d, loving my friends, not hating my enemies, and detesting superstition.” After which he remained alive a while longer.) [2]

Blake was a follower of the mystical teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg (for a time at least). In “The Age of Enlightenment,” he rejected a religiosity like Voltaire’s — limited as it was by rationality. He expressed this rejection by likening scientific, “rational” knowledge (Democritus; Newton; Voltaire; Rousseau) to miniscule particles, compared with the infinite breadth of Israel’s revelation.

I think Rebbe Nachman, Blake’s contemporary, would have approved.

But who are each of us, in this regard?

We might nod in agreement with Rebbe Nachman’s and the Talmud’s optimistic teaching, but how do we react to the Nazis? To Yasser Arafat/Mahmoud Abbas? To ISIS? etc.

In Phillip Goodman’s “Purim Anthology,” I once found a joke about Hitler: Hitler was giving a speech against the Jews, and noticed a Jewish man sitting in the audience laughing. He demanded to know why. The Jewish man told him that he was reminding himself that every time the Jews overcome an enemy, it becomes a holiday with special, delicious food (e.g. Purim/Haman/hamantaschen) and he wondered what delicious food he’d be eating to celebrate Hitler’s defeat.

People don’t make jokes about the Nazis, “The Producers” and “Hogan’s Heroes” notwithstanding.

We should only be disgusted by the intentional murder of unarmed civilians, whether by suicide-bombing or by decapitation. Some of us might have to distinguish between our position on the issues themselves and the methods employed, but we cannot equate inhuman (or all-too-human) cruelty with “the good.” Nevertheless, in our hearts, we must acknowledge that there is only one power — G-d — and all is done for an ultimate good, whether we can perceive it in the present or not.

It is for us to incorporate both the moral and the theological in our outlook.

Wrong is wrong, and yet might still serve an ultimately providential purpose.


even in these times.