Overcoming Challenges, Ga’m Zu l’Tova, Emunas Hashem and Bitachon

Mindle Lerner, Woodmere, NY
Essays 2018

Why is it that we encounter situations that often times leave us frustrated and sometimes angry?

Why is it that we find ourselves annoyed when faced with seemingly trivial circumstances?

It’s because that specific situation was custom tailored for you! Hashem placed you in that exact place in order that you face that challenge and overcome it.

It’s safe to say that Hashem is fully capable of creating a specific blueprint for each of us that would guide us through our every day; a blueprint that would help me avoid that train accident I was stuck in last week, and that wrong turn that I took the other day that made me miss my appointment.

But turns out He had other plans for us. He has that perfect blueprint sitting on His bookshelf, but He keeps it from us. He gives us the chance to blindly encounter all types of situations, both beautiful and painful, and He does this only for our benefit – for us to grow and become stronger with every passing day. For someone who has solid belief in Hashem, who lives day to day knowing with full trust that Hashem only leads him into situations that will help him become a better person and therefore never gets thrown off or frustrated when things go “wrong”, this is a blissful life. But what about the other 95 percent of us? How can we achieve this level of belief and trust in the face of what seems to be endless struggle?

Enter the concept of “Emunas Hashem”, usually translated as “Faith in Hashem”- believing that Hashem is the conductor of this crazy fiasco called life, and that He does love us infinitely and only wants the best for us. It starts with letting ourselves be vulnerable to Hashem, closing our eyes and telling Him, “Look, if You really are up there and You really are running this show, help me help myself, help me trust You.” Hashem wants us to be in a relationship with Him. He wants us to turn to Him. So the first step is pushing away that rush of anger that we experience at the face of a challenge and replacing it with an earnest cry to Hashem.

There is a mistaken notion that Emunah is about being naive. On the contrary, Emunah is higher than intelligence, an idea that is discussed in Chapters 18 and 19 of Tanya.

In their 40 years of travels in the desert, the Jewish people had almost no regular food. They subsisted on “Mon” (manna), which was a type of bread that fell from the heavens each day. They could collect Mon each day, only enough for that day. Anything that stayed overnight rotted. They had to trust that every morning Hashem would send the Mon anew. Once they arrived in the land of Israel, they began to work the land and prepare their own food. But their training in the desert, which caused them to rely on Hashem for their sustenance,  taught the Jewish people to view the bread that they earned, “the bread from the earth,” in the same way they viewed “bread from heaven.” This is actually a higher level of trust because when one sees the physical vessel for the blessing, it is much easier to believe that he himself is responsible for the blessing through the toil of his hands. (Maamar, B’Sha’ah She’hikdimu) Trusting in Hashem became second nature to the Jewish people when they entered the land of israel and it is part of our spiritual DNA.

Tanya teaches another way to imbue, using our Emuna, genuine happiness into our life—especially at those times when we experience the “custom tailored” struggles that can so easily brings us down.

Turn off the notifications of your surroundings for a moment and picture in your mind Hashem’s infinity. Think about how everything in this world and beyond is filled with His glory. Contemplate how there is nothing else but Him (Shaar Hayichud v’Haemuna) And just as there was nothing at all but Him before the moment He created the world, so too now, in this world is there nothing but Him, because of how infinitely null we are in comparison to Him. This can be better understood with the example of our thoughts; The words in our thoughts only take up consciousness once they are thought about. So too, our only state of existence is linked to our Source, G-d. Once we come to think about this concept sincerely, our heart will begin to sing. We will feel rejuvenated and honored that we are an automatic part of the fulfilment of Hashem’s greatest desire. All worlds, highest and lowest, and every one of us were created for the sole purpose of the fulfillment of Hashem’s desire to dwell in the lowest world.

This is why the Sages stress the importance of praising and thanking Hashem every day; thanking Him that He made us a part of this mission and goal. We celebrate our inherited identity, specifically the Emuna in us, that is passed from generation to generation, as if it were a treasure that had miraculously came into our possession. We say, “How fortunate we are! How goodly is our portion! How sweet is our lot and how beautiful is our inheritance!” (Shaar Hayichud V’Haemuna: 33)

We can further understand the immense power of Emuna from the words of the Prophet, Chavakuk –  “And a righteous person lives on his emunah.” – Living on our Emuna means that once we acknowledge that Emuna is innately part of our being and we live through it, it opens up the door for all other Mitzvos to follow. We live on our Emuna because it gives us the perspective that allows us to live joyously and go beyond the limitations that get in the way of our doing the other 612 Mitzvos.

Next comes “Bitachon” – trusting that Hashem will listen to us, and that Hashem’s, so to speak, “intentions” have always been and will always be genuinely kind.

David Hamelech, author of the Tehilim (Psalms, 32:10), writes: “Many are the agonies of the wicked, but he who trusts in the Lord is surrounded by kindness.”

By trusting Hashem, we relinquish control of everything to Him. Admitting to ourselves that we can rely on Hashem to take care of the world, and everything in it is a liberating awareness. It brings comfort at times when all seems to be hopeless, when we’ve truly done our part, but what’s left to do is beyond our control. This is where trusting Hashem comes to lift a huge burden off of our backs.

In order to strengthen our belief and trust in Hashem we should practice daily the saying, “Gam Zu Letova” – “This too is for the good.”

In a sicha on Parshas Ki Tavo, the Rebbe cites two sayings that are possible responses to events that do not turn out the way we believe they should. Both are mentioned in the Gemara. One is Rabbi Akiva’s mantra, “Everything that Hashem does is for the good.” It’s the belief that somehow, underneath layers of what we may experience as hardship and pain, there is good, simply because it is Hashem who created it and Hashem is good.

The other is the well known saying of the Talmudic Sage Rabbi Nachman, who was often heard, even under the most dire circumstances, to say “Gam Zu L’Tova”–This too is for the good. Unlike the previous statement, Gam Zu L’Tova is the belief that even the thing that could be perceived as bad, is actually in and of itself a good thing.

When I encounter a situation where an angry response is understandable, even forgivable, I must go beyond logic or instinct and I must stubbornly exclaim “Gam Zu Letova!” Perhaps a few moments after this exclamation, I’ll let out my frustration and complain, but it starts with this blind declaration of trust in Hashem.

Rabbi Akiva experienced something bad, but he recognized that everything that Hashem does, even what is experienced as bad, will have a good outcome. In the case of Rabbi Nachum Ish Gam Zu, there is no implication that there was anything bad in the first place.

That’s pretty reasonable and practical when the pain or misfortune is our own; but what about when it comes to a friend’s misfortune?

In that, we must act with extreme compassion to others as they face challenges. This is when Hashem wants us to come banging on His door. We must scream out to Hashem and demand that whatever suffering our friend is going through, must stop immediately. While we must know without a doubt that somehow that pain is for the good, we ask that Hashem show us the good in a kind way.

There is a famous story told of The Baal Shem Tov’s wife, who was once combing the knotted hair of an orphan child, who had been badly neglected. The little girl cried from the discomfort. The Baal Shem Tov quietly passed by and went on with his day. This was held against him in Heaven.

There was no injustice in the story, so what was wrong with the Baal Shem Tov’s actions?

Gam Zu Letova isn’t about being comfortable with the bad. It’s about believing in Hashem deep in our core, but never using our faith to minimize the pain of another. We must feel their pain. We must know undoubtedly that bad things don’t happen. Period. But if it hurts, if we see another person suffering, it’s has to stop, and we should do whatever is in our power to ease the pain.

At the end Parshas Vayigash, Yosef is reunited with his brother, Binyomin, whom he’d been forcefully separated from for 22 years. The Torah states, (Bereishis 45:14) “And [Joseph] fell on the neck of his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin wept on his neck.” The Talmud (Megillah 16b) interprets their weeping on each other’s necks as expressions of pain and sorrow over future tragedies in their respective histories: “[Joseph] wept over the two Sanctuaries that were to stand in the territory of Benjamin and were destined to be destroyed … and Benjamin wept over the Shiloh Sanctuary that was to stand in the territory of Joseph and was destined to be destroyed.”

The Rebbe writes, (Likkutei Sichos, Cheilek Yud) Yosef and Binyomin cried about each others’ tragedy out of the pain they felt for one another. They did not weep for their own tragedy since doing so would accomplish nothing, but rather, taking action and trying to work on the problem that would be the cause of the tragedy in the future.

This teaching brings out many important points under the topic of Emunah, Bitachon, etc. Just like Yosef and Binyomin only cried for the sake of comforting each other, we must remember that sympathising is only productive when it comes to another’s misfortune. While, in our struggles, dwelling on the negative really gets us nowhere! We must tap into our Bitachon and use it to keep moving forward.

Unfortunately, there are those who jump back and forth between the stages of wanting to trust and believe Hashem’s goodness, but then experiencing trauma that inevitably makes them doubt it. “Why can’t You just show me You hear! I feel the pain! I’ve gotten the point.”

Daily exclaiming Gam Zu L’Tova can iron out our thinking, putting us into a better frame of mind, where we recall that everything is actually good. Practicing this attitude also helps us grow more compassionate to others. We can come to an understanding that maybe they’re not fortunate to have practiced this positivity enough. Maybe while I’m lucky to have started with this solid belief, another person is constantly pushed down back to square one and doesn’t have Emunah and Bitachon to cling onto. Not only does the Gam Zu L’Tova approach help me to see the good in everything, I can teach those around me to use this mantra to strengthen their Emunah and Bitachon as well.