Can something Bad be Good? Can G!d, who is surely all-Good, create evil?
Why do terrible things happen to good people and can I continue to believe in G*d when they do? These are some of the hardest questions for a sensitive thinker to consider. During one of my first stints in yeshiva in Israel more than half my life ago, I asked my rabbi how he was and his answer was, “Baruch Ha-Shem, I have a little flu.” I wasn’t sure I had heard correctly. I was used to religious friends saying Baruch Hashem in answer to a casual “Howzit,” or even “Baruch Hashem, fantastic!”, but “Baruch Ha-Shem, terrible,” was not a response I had heard before. It was only when I was shown this Mishnah (from B’rachot 9:5) that I understood it fully:
“One should bless the evil just as one blesses the good. For it is written [in the Sh’ma], “You shall love the Eternal your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your being.” “With all your heart” means “with your two inclinations, with the Yetzer ha-Tov (good inclination) and the Yetzer ha-Ra (evil inclination).”
The Mishnah is basing itself on a curious spelling of the Hebrew word for a heart. In most cases, the word is spelled Lamed-Bet which results in the word lev, but in the Sh’ma the phrase is b’chol l’vav’cha – “with all your heart”. The word for heart has a double bet – l’vav. Why did the Torah use the extra bet? The Mishnah understands it to mean with your two hearts, that is your good and evil inclinations.
On a psychological level this means that while deep down within us the struggle goes on between our good and evil inclinations, on a conscious level we should understand that everything that happens in this world (and within us) is a result of G*d, and therefore deserving of blessing.
There is nothing that isn’t G!d, neither things we perceive to be fantastic, nor things disastrous. Not the recalling of Jacob Zuma, the drought in Cape Town nor the Indian cricket team smashing the Proteas. If South African fans prayed for SA to win and the Indian fans prayed for the Indians, how does G-d choose?
The answer must be that G!d does not try to make our lives hard or even easy – as Rabbi Akiva used to say, kol mah d’avid rachmanah l’tav avid, “Everything that the Compassionate One does is for good.” God wants us to make our lives a blessing by turning the abundance that we have, the gifts that we are born with and are everywhere around us, into more blessing.
And each time we acknowledge that, each time we remember God’s role in our lives and the world around us by saying a blessing, we are a blessing.