Jerry Lewis was a 20th century Jewish comedian. During the taping of the last episode of his (about to be cancelled) show, he quoted an old Jewish saying his mother had taught him, gam zu l’tovah, “this too is for the best” (lit. good).
The first verse in this week’s Torah portion mentions a hint of the Golden Calf incident, which was a result of the abundance of gold they had. As it states, (G-d says) I gave them an abundance of silver, and they made a statue out of gold. (Hoshea 2:10; Rashi). The lesson here is that wealth can be a catalyst for forgetting G-d. Indeed, was it poverty or great financial success that caused the children of immigrants to assimilate? It’s obvious that there’s no intrinsic evil that comes with wealth, but with it come certain unique challenges. As terrible as poverty is, wealth—i.e. the pursuit of it—has proven to be a destructive force for many Jews.The Chofetz Chaim (1839-1933) once overheard the following conversation:
“How are things going?”“Baruch Hashem (thank G-d), but it wouldn’t harm anyone if things would be going better.”The Chofetz Chaim interjected:
“Maybe it would be damaging if things would be better.” He explained, “many people use the classic Jewish expression ‘this too is for the good’ (“gam zu l’tovah”) but they say it with a groan. They really want things to be working out differently but if this is what has come my way, okay—this too is for the good. But that’s a negative way to look at life and not the intent of the expression. Many people believe in G-d but trusting Him is a different matter. Gam zu l’tovah means that this, right now, is good for me (even if I don’t understand why).
The Chofetz Chaim said that when one asks G-d for something, a person shouldn’t say “Master of the Universe, give me this,” because a person doesn’t necessarily know what’s good for him. For example, research and documentaries have covered the topic of how winning the lottery was the beginning of the end for many people, some of whom committed suicide. Having more money didn’t help those people, nor does it help for people who don’t have a value system independent of the money. Dr. Suzanne Degges-White discusses this in her Psychology Today article Will Money Make You Happy?
We equate money with happiness, even though a lot of famous and wealthy public figures are experiencing relational and well-being crisis events that we used to associate with people who made up the lower stratus in the earnings category. We’ve come to realize, though, that domestic violence, drug addiction, drunk driving, and physical altercations don’t discriminate against the “rich and famous,” yet many people still assume that money will buy them happiness and immunity from the worries that they have in the less affluent status they currently carry.
Money is not a ticket on the happiness train. This idea is alluded to in a verse in Ecclesiastes: 5:12 There is a grievous evil that I saw under the sun; riches kept by their owner for his harm.
How should one pray to improve his or her financial situation? “G-d, if this thing is good for me, give it to me and if not, not.” An additional benefit of this prayer is the humility awakened in the petitioner. It’s basically the declaration that “I don’t have all the answers and sometimes I’m not even sure if I know what’s
The Chofetz Chaim gave a parable to illustrate this idea. A man and woman had an only child. They told the owner of the town’s candy shop to give him a few candies when he passed by. The store owner wasn’t very intelligent and every time he saw the boy, he gave him candies; tens of candies each day. Eventually, the boy had severe toothaches and his parents had to spend a fortune on dental costs. One day they got a bill from the candy store for all the candy the boy had consumed. They angrily replied, “We were going to demand payment from you for the dentist’s bill and you have the audacity to charge us for the very substance that caused the damage?” The store owner answered, “I did as instructed; you told me to give your son a candy when he passes by. I see him many times a day and did exactly as you requested.”
If they went to court, whom do you think would win? I’d vote for the parents because any thinking person knows that the parents wanted their son to have a treat or two, but certainly not to have candy limitlessly dispensed to the point that it would make their son sick.This parable applies to many people. When the child got the candies he was like the person who had suddenly acquired much wealth. He was happy and loved eating the sweets but when he had to deal with the pain of the gum disease, the Novocaine injections, and other discomforts, he was saddened to have eaten so much candy. So, too, with the person who says, “If only I had this amount of money; if only my kids would be smarter, less naïve, more independent, if only my spouse would be more organized or less tense; if only I got this job; if only this thing would happen. If only…etc. Perhaps the very thing one thinks will solve his or her problems might actually harm them; it might be his or her “candy.” When they look back at their lives, is it possible they will say “G-d you knew this thing was bad for me; why did you grant the requests of my prayers?”
I heard many people questioning why “did G-d do this to me” or “why isn’t G-d listening to me?” Unless one is a prophet, there’s no way to answer that question conclusively. But why not entertain the notion of a paradigm shift. Actually, your life is unfolding exactly as it should and–perhaps–rejection is G-d’s protection. You did win the lottery but don’t realize it.