Our instinctive response to crisis or tragedy is to look for people to blame (including sometimes ourselves) and to think they are the sole cause of our difficulties. We say to each other, “It’s all their fault. If only they would have acted differently.” But this is a mistake.
The underlying cause behind everything is God. Things happen because God made them happen; all other causes are superficial. At least three prophets taught us this principle:
Isaiah: (Isaiah 42:24), “Who gave over Jacob to the oppressor and Israel to looters? Was it not God…?”
Jeremiah: (Lamentations 3:37), “Whose decree was ever fulfilled, if the Lord did not will it?”
Amos: (Amos 3:6), “…Can there be misfortune in a city, if God had not brought it?”
This means that if you made an innocent mistake, which God forbid led to a tragedy, do not blame yourself; it was ultimately God who caused your mistake to turn into a tragedy. For how to make peace with yourself, see, “Discover Your Inner Peace.”
There are two reasons why people often have a hard time accepting that everything ultimately comes from God, even the evil acts of others. First, they think this lets people off the hook. Nothing could be further from the truth. God holds people accountable for their actions (and so should we). Nevertheless, God uses them as His tool or sword to bring about His desired result. As King David said to God (Psalms 17:13), “…Rescue my soul from the wicked one, who is Your sword.”
When wicked people’s evil acts are needed, they are successful, when not needed, they are not. This explains the countless times people have plotted to commit a crime and failed. Whether they are successful or not, because wicked people have chosen to pursue evil, they will be severely punished, either in this world, in the next or both. We do God’s work when we pursue and punish evil doers. That is what King David did and what we must continue to do.
The second reason people have difficulty with this concept is they do not understand why a loving God would cause pain. But do loving parents never cause their children pain? Sometimes, painful actions are necessary for a child’s growth or wellbeing.
God is our Father in Heaven. The whole reason He created us and put us in this world is so that we can earn the bliss of the next world through the choices we make. He is willing to do whatever is necessary to help us make the most of the opportunities of this world. The eternal benefits we receive from our difficulties far outweigh any temporary pain.
There are general principles as to how suffering elevates us and helps us earn eternal bliss (see, “5 Reasons for Suffering”). For example, suffering can remind us to increase our repentance, prayer, and charity. A key High Holiday prayer states that these three things can annul a harsh decree. Use suffering as a catalyst to repent for misdeeds, pray with greater fervor and give charity more generously.
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught (Likutey Moharan 7:1), “…When faith will spread throughout the world, then the Messiah will come.” The first step to spreading faith is strengthening our own and a crisis is an opportunity to do so. (Our faith is tested when times are rough and we are hurting.) Perhaps this is one reason why the period before the Messiah comes will be a tumultuous one (Tractate Sanhedrin 98b). When we use a crisis to strengthen our faith in God and our commitment to follow His Torah as best we can, we hasten the redemption.
Understanding why specific difficulties are needed or exactly how they benefit us is beyond our ability. Because God is infinitely wise and we are not, there will be times we do not understand His ways. In fact, we never fully understand His ways. Sometimes, we get a glimpse of why events occur, other times, we do not.
Rav Chaim Volozhin taught that during times of danger, a person should focus on the phrase from Deuteronomy (4:35), “…Ein od milvado,” “…There is nothing beside Him (God).” This verse means that there is no force in the universe other than God. Nothing exists or has power outside of His will. God is the ultimate cause behind everything. By focusing on this truth, we bring special merit and protection to ourselves. We realize that no matter how strong the forces of evil may appear, they are nothing before God; in an instant He can render them powerless.
The next time you read about a crisis, say, “This is from God for our eternal benefit.” Then ask, “What can I do to help those affected? How can I use this crisis to change for the better?” (See, “How to Respond Effectively to a Crisis or Tragedy.”)
This mindset toward adversity enables us to read the news with compassion, and at times grief over a loss, but no longer worry. We no longer feel compelled to read the news obsessively, anxiously following every development. We realize God is in complete control and will not allow anything to happen to us that is not for our ultimate good. We know He will only give us challenges we can handle and that in the end, with His help, we will triumph.
When faced with a crisis, just do your best, pray, and look for ways to grow; leave the rest to God. When you do that, you will reach the level described by King David, (Psalms 112:7), “Of evil news – he is not afraid. His heart is steadfast, trusting in God.”
Trusting in God means believing He is guiding your life and doing what is best for you, even though you do not understand how. Do not be passive. Instead, make spiritual and material efforts to overcome your challenges. While making those efforts, realize God is by your side, encouraging and strengthening you, every step of the way.
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