The question was a typical friendly greeting, uttered countless times a day throughout the world.
“What’s doing by you?” the Yid asked his acquaintance.
“Baruch Hashem,” the other replied. “But it wouldn’t hurt if it would be better.”
The Chofetz Chaim, who overheard the conversation, interjected. “How do you know that? Perhaps it would indeed harm you?”
When we encounter difficulties and what appear to be mishaps, we declare, often with a deep sigh, “Gam zu l’tovah.” Our tone of voice reflects what we are thinking: We would have far preferred it otherwise, but since this is what was sent our way, we must accept it as also being good…
But this is a misconception.
The story of Nachum Ish Gam Zu is one of the most famous tales told in Chazal. Many of us learned in kindergarten how, on the way to deliver a gift to the emperor, the saintly Tanna lodged overnight at an inn, and his host emptied the chest filled with precious stones and replaced the gems with sand.
The emperor understandably became furious when he found that the gift from the Jews was a chest of sand, and wanted to kill them all. “The Jews are mocking me!” he cried.
“Gam zu l’tovah! — This, too, is for the good!” Nachum confidently declared.
Eliyahu Hanavi appeared in the disguise of one of the emperor’s men, and suggested that the earth may have the same miraculous powers as the sand Avraham Avinu hurled when he went to war. The emperor decided to use the sand against a country that he had been unable to subjugate, and indeed, the sand turned into flying swords and the land was captured. Nachum was sent home with a chest filled with precious stones.
The very act that appeared to be so troubling — that of the innkeeper stealing the contents of the chest — turned out to be the direct cause of great benefit to Nachum. Instead of simply delivering a gift and going home empty-handed, he was the conduit for a great kiddush Hashem and came home with a chest filled with gems.
A sigh actually contradicts the very notion of “this, too, is good,” for when we internalize this concept, we realize that there is no reason to sigh.
* * *
During a visit to Tzfas, the Imrei Chaim of Vizhnitz, zy”a, was told the following story by an elderly caretaker of a local mikveh:
During his visit to Eretz Yisrael, the Shineva Rav, zy”a, approached the previous caretaker of this very mikveh with a request. Among other tzaddikim, the Rav preferred using a mikveh with fresh water that hadn’t been used by anyone else. He offered to pay the caretaker to remove the water and refill the bor.
The caretaker — who happened to be the follower of a group that had a dispute with the Divrei Chaim, father of the Shineva Rav — took the money. He dutifully emptied the mikveh, cleaned it and refilled it with water.
I wonder if he would really be able to tell the difference if this was used by anyone else, the Yid thought to himself. He decided to immerse himself in the mikveh and see what happened.
When the Shineva Rav came to use the mikveh, he immediately called out in a stern voice, “Who immersed himself here?”
Frightened, the caretaker promptly admitted that he was the culprit.
“Do you have children?” the Shineva Rav shouted at him.
The caretaker revealed that though he was married for many years, he had yet to be blessed with children.
“Because you did such a thing,” the Shineva Rav told him in a harsh voice, “within a year you will have a son.”
“I am that son,” the elderly Yid told the Vizhnitzer Rebbe. “I succeeded my father as the mikveh Yid.”
The Rebbe marveled how not only had the Shineva Rav not reprimanded the Yid who had mistreated him, but had actually worked on himself to the degree that he was able to bless him with the yeshuah that this Yid so desperately needed.
* * *
In this week’s parashah we learn how, after Yaakov Avinu’s petirah, the brothers of Yosef Hatzaddik were apprehensive that Yosef “will surely repay us for all the evil we did him,” and pleaded for his forgiveness.
When his brothers came to him, saying, “We are ready to be your slaves,” Yosef was reassuring. “Fear not, for am I instead of Hashem?” he told them. “Although you intended me harm, Hashem intended it for good.”
To Yosef Hatzaddik, it was clear that regardless of his brothers’ motives, all that happened to him was for the good. They had sold him as a slave down to Egypt, but he bore no grudge against them. He realized — clear as day — that the real reason was in order to keep a vast people alive.
When someone truly internalizes the crucial concept of gam zu l’tovah, it not only proves to be a source of enormous tranquility in life, it also wipes away grudges and hard feelings, obviating the reasons for most conflicts.