טוב כעס משחוק כי ברע פנים ייטב לב (קהלת ז:ג).
“Sorrow is better than laughter, for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made glad” (Kohelet 7:3).
Three weeks ago, in the Kol Torah for Parshat Ki Tavo, we discussed being happy and letting your troubles role by you. We discussed the physical, mental, emotional, and psychological damage that is caused by being overly worrisome and by not being able to be at rest with one's problems. In the Pasuk quoted we seem to be dealing with a different issue that was briefly mentioned parenthetically in our discussion three weeks ago.
The Gemara (Shabbat 30b) explains this Pasuk to be a reference to Tzaddik Vera Lo, Rasha Vetov Lo. The Gemara explains that the sorrow that is positively referred to is the Issurim Shel Ahava, troubles of love, that Hashem gives the Tzaddikim on this world in order that they can receive a larger portion in the world to come. Similarly, the joy which is negatively referred to is the joy and comfort which Hashem gives the Reshaim in this world in order to diminish their portion in the world to come. This, however, should not be seen as a contradiction to other places where joy is displayed positively. The Pasuk earlier in Kohelet (2:26) states: כי לאדם שטוב לפניו נתן חכמה ודעת ושמחה... "To the man that is good in His eyes, He shall give wisdom, understanding, and joy…” This is explained as a reference to Simcha Shel Mitzva, which is not comparable to the Pasuk in the seventh Perek where it is referring to sorrows and pleasures of this world.
Issurim Shel Ahava are nearly any misfortune, discomfort, or pain that one experiences. (See Berachot 5a for specifications on what is not considered an Issur Shel Ahava.) Suppose you reach into your pocket for an amount of change and you pull out the wrong amount, that is considered an Issur Shel Ahava. My sister tells a story about a friend of hers that would get upset if he would get the right amount of change on the first try, because he wanted such a “trouble” to happen because of its positive effects on his ultimate judgment.
The Gemara in Berachot (54a) says: חייב אדם לברך על הרעה כשם שמברך על הטובה שנאמר ואהבת את ה' אלוקך בכל לבבך וגו' בכל לבבך בשני יצירך ביצר הטוב וביצר הרעה ובכל נפשך אפילו שהוא נוטל את נפשך ובכל מאדך בכל ממונך ד"א בכל מאדך בכל מדה ומדה שהוא מודד לך הוי מודה לו “One is obligated to bless for the bad similar to how he would bless for the good. As it says (Devarim 6:5) ‘And you shall love Hashem with all of your heart and all of your soul and all of your might.’ With all of your heart, meaning with both the inclination for good and for bad. With all your soul, meaning even if he takes your soul. And with all your might, meaning with all of your money. Another interpretation of, ‘all of your might,’ is for everything and anything that he has given you, you should be thankful for.”
Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski brings a story in his book, Seek Sobriety Find Serenity, which demonstrates this point. A man asked an elderly porter how he was faring, and the latter replied, “Terrible! At my age I have to carry heavy burdens to earn enough to survive.” A few days later he repeated the question, and the porter replied, “Why complain? If at my age I still have the strength to carry heavy loads I should be grateful.”
Obviously, few situations can be clearly perceived as having positives and negatives. The Yalkut Shimoni (Neviim/Ketuvim 974) brings a very common parable to the Pasuk טוב אחרית דבר מראשיתו טוב ארך רוח מגבה רוח, “Better is the end of the matter, than its beginning; better is patience than arrogance”(Kohelet 7:8). The parable is that of a man sitting between paths deciding which to go on. One path begins with thorn bushes and then opens to flat land. The other begins with flat lands and later becomes filled with thorns. He calls over his servants and tells them that the path that appears to be flat and easy to travel is to be compared to the Reshaim. While they have no trouble traveling the first few miles of the path contained in this world, once they get to the portion of the path that is in the world to come they will not be able to travel it at all. On the other hand the Tzaddikim who seem to be suffering greatly in this world will come to the next world and their end will be joyous.
As I was in the middle of typing this up, a peculiarly ironic event befell me. After completing five paragraphs, I decided to take a break, included within the time of the break was Mincha and Maariv. I left the computer and had not yet saved what I had written. While I was at Shul, my sister, whose computer is being repaired, wanted to check her e-mail, and after asking my mother permission to do so, came to use my computer. Set on my computer is an energy saving feature that my sister was not familiar with. The feature turns off the monitor after an amount of unused time. My sister tried different things, and resorted to turning off my computer and turning it back on again, oblivious to my open document. When I came back I discovered what had happened and I got very upset, I started jumping up and down, and exclaiming how two hours of work would have to be redone. In the middle of one of my jumps it occurred to me how preposterous I was being. The point of the document that had been erased was to not get upset about troubles! Here I was getting upset about an innocent accident! When I reached the floor, I apologized for getting my sister concerned that she had done something wrong.
Anger and fear are two things that, in my mind, should never last more than an instant at a time. If one is angry and continues to be angry all one does is create a rift in a relationship. Fear as well should only be tapped at the moment at which it is useful. After the situation is out of your hands fear will do you no good. Rabbi Twerski, elsewhere in Seek Sobriety Find Serenity, says that if one were to place a plank on the ground and would have no difficulties walking across it would have a much greater chance of falling if it was in the air, because of the fear of falling.
Rabbi Ephraim Kanarfogel presented three different things that Holocaust survivors say allowed them to return to belief in Hashem after their experiences in the War. They all followed the same pattern of thinking and one of the three was as follows. They ask what the purpose is in the first half of the second Pasuk of the Torah. Why does it need to tell us that everything was Tohu Vavohu? The important part of the story is the creation of people and we understand very well telling us the creation of lower life forms and the actual land and Universe. The answer they give is that the Torah teaches us the important lesson that any time there is chaos it leads to the creation of something that is much greater. Although all roads have certain difficulties, one must realize that the difficulties one is given will give strength and is for the ultimate good.