As I promised, we shall continue our discussion of the last two weeks. This was about viewing seemingly negative events through the prism of Judaism, as did Rabbi Akiva and the Men of the Great Assembly, who taught us to see things from a larger perspective and the belief that the worst things that befall us are the precursors of better things to come. This is besides seeing the hidden good in those very occurrences themselves.
We shall complete this discussion with the words of the venerable sage Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman ob’m, one of the premier Jewish leaders of the Torah world in prewar Europe, who was martyred in the Kovno ghetto.
One survivor of the massacre of the Kovno ghetto related what he had heard from R’ Wasserman when he was asked to explain why such horrors were befalling him. The following is a summary of what this great sage explained shortly before his own death and that of his entire family: (Summarized from Reb Elchonon, ArtScroll Publication, pp. 411-12)
Once a man who knew nothing about agriculture came to a farmer and asked to be taught about farming. The farmer agreed as long as the man agreed to be patient. He took him to his field and asked him what he saw. “I see a beautiful piece of land, lush with grass and pleasing to the eye.” Then the visitor stood aghast while the farmer plowed under the grass and turned the beautiful green field in to a mass of shallow brown ditches. “Why did you ruin the field?!” he demanded. “Be patient, you shall see,” answered the farmer.
The farmer then showed the visitor a sackful of plump kernels of what and said, “Tell me what you see.” The visitor described the nutritious, inviting grain — and then, once more, watched in shock as the farmer ruined something beautiful. This time, he walked up and down the furrows and dropped kernels into the open ground, where he went and covered them with clods of soil. “Are you insane?” the man demanded. “First you destroyed the field and then you ruined the grain!”
“Be patient, you will see!”
Time went by, and once more the farmer took his guest out to the field, and they saw endless rows of green stalks sprouting up from all the furrows, causing the visitor to smile broadly. “I apologize, now I understand what you were doing; you made the field more beautiful than ever. This is truly marvelous.”
“No,” said the farmer, “we are not done yet; you must still be patient.”
More time went by and the stalks were fully grown and the farmer came with a sickle and chopped the rows down and the visitor stood open-mouthed, seeing how the orderly field became an ugly scene of destruction. He then took the bundles of wheat to an area where he beat and crushed them until they became a mass of straw and loose kernels, then separated them from the chaff and created a mountain of grain. Always, he told the protesting visitor, “We are not done, you must be more patient.”
The farmer brought his wagon and piled it high with the beautiful, fresh grain, and transported it to a mill where it was transformed into formless, choking dust. Again the visitor complained that he had transformed all his work into dirt, and was again told to be patient.
The farmer put the dust into sacks and brought it home, mixing some of it with water while the visitor marveled at the foolishness of making “white mud.” The farmer fashioned the “mud” into the shape of a loaf, causing the visitor to smile at the well-formed creation. His smile did not last long, when he watched the farmer fire up his oven and put the loaf inside. “Now I know you are truly insane. After all that work, now you burn what you have created?!”
The farmer chuckled and said, “Have I not told you to be patient?”
Finally the farmer opened the oven and removed a freshly baked bread, crisp and brown, with an aroma that made the visitor’s mouth water. “Come,” said that farmer, and led his guest to the table where he cut the bread and offered his now pleased visitor a liberally buttered slice. “Now,” said the farmer, “now you finally understand!”
Said R’ Elchonon, “God is the Farmer and we are the ones who do not begin to understand His ways or the outcome of His plans. Only when the process is complete will the Jewish people understand why this whole process took place. Then, when the Messiah has finally arrived, we will know why all this had to be. Until then we must be patient and have faith that everything — even when it seems destructive and is painful — is part of the process that will produce goodness and beauty.”
The words were uttered with great emotion before this sage’s own life and the life of his entire family were taken. In this world we won’t necessarily, or usually cannot, hope to understand why such things befall our nation. But we can be comforted in the fact that there’s a bigger picture, one that we shall one day understand.
This we think about during these seven weeks of consolation; may the bigger picture and the true consolation be revealed soon, in our days!