The Weekly Sedra – Parshas Tazria Metzora – This Too Is For Good

Rabbi Yossi Kahanov Shliach to Jacksonville, FL

Rabbi Akiva, the Talmud relates, was accustomed to saying: Kol mah d’ovied Rachmono, l’tav ovied, meaning: Everything that the Merciful-One [G-d] does is for the good. Once, while he was traveling, recounts the Talmud, he was in dire need of lodging, he knocked on the door of a home in the village at which he had arrived, but was refused hospitality. Yet, instead of being discouraged, Rabbi Akiva declared “Everything that the Merciful-One does is for the good.”

He knocked on another door but the response was much the same and so too was his reaction: “Everything that the Merciful-One does is for the good.” His demeanor did not change even after he knocked on every door in town and was refused entry. Lacking a more favorable alternative, he encamped in a field on the outskirts of the town.

Now, Rabbi Akiva was accustomed to traveling with some paraphernalia, including a donkey to carry his belongings, a rooster to awaken him early, and a lamp so that he might study at night. Much to his regret, a lion appeared before long and destroyed his donkey. “Everything that the Merciful-One does is for the good,” reflected Rabbi Akiva. Such were his thoughts even when a cat devoured his rooster and his torch was extinguished by a strong wind.

The following morning Rabbi Akiva learned of the dreadful calamity that had befallen the people of the village. During the night a Roman legion converged on the town taking all its residents captive. Had he been welcomed in any of the homes, he would have met the same fate as did the townspeople. Had his donkey or rooster remained alive they would have promptly given-him-up to the legionnaires. And had his fire remained burning it would have led them directly to him.

A similar story is told about a pious man named Nachum Ish Gamzu. Reb Nachum was once sent as an emissary on behalf of the Jewish people to the Roman emperor with the mission to try and avert a harsh edict that had been decreed upon them. As a good will gesture the Jews sent along a chest filled with precious gems, hoping that it will help appease his Majesty.

On the way R. Nachum spent a night at a roadside inn. The deceitful innkeeper snuck into his room under the cover of night, removed the gems and replaced them with sand. The following morning Reb Nachum awoke and continued on his way with the chest securely at his side.

Once in Rome, he proudly presented the chest to the emperor on behalf of the Jewish people. Yet, when the emperor opened the chest he was anything but impressed, alas, the poor messenger was quickly treated to a cell in the royal dungeon. But Nachum Ish Gamzu – having earned his name on account of his favorite remark: Gam Zu L’tovah, This too is for good – did not fret. In keeping with his tradition, he confidently declared: “This too is for good!”

One of the king’s advisors – who the Talmud describes as Elijah the Prophet in disguise – spoke-up on behalf of the messenger. “Do you think the Jews have lost their minds?” he argued. “Why on earth would they want to mock you? Do they not seek to gain your favor and goodwill? This is certainly not ordinary sand.

Tradition has it,“ said the minister, ”that when their ancestor, Abraham, went to war against the four strong kings he used special sand that, when scattered into the air, functioned like weapons. This supernatural sand led to the defeat of the enemy, perhaps this is the same sand.”

The emperor, who was embroiled at the time in a fierce battle against an enemy of his own, was willing to try anything. He had the sand rushed to the battlefield. Remarkably the miracle repeated itself and the tide of the war was turned in their favor. Quite pleased with the thoughtful gift, the emperor had Rabbi Nachum retrieved at once. After thanking him profusely, he refilled the chest with precious gems and sent him on his way with the assurance that the decree against his people was null and void.

The above Talmudic anecdotes incontrovertibly affirm the deep-rooted Jewish belief that everything that happens – even that which appears to be negative – is for good. The Torah’s perspective on the issue of bad things happening to good people is extremely positive: “Everything that the Merciful-One does is for the good,” and “This too is for good.”

This outlook is further reiterated by the Talmudic declaration that we must bless the Lord for the seeming evil in our lives even as we bless Him for the good. Hence, according to Jewish law when a Jew hears good tidings, he blesses G-d who “is good and does good.” And when he hears bad news of death and destruction, heaven forbid, he similarly praises G-d: “Blessed are you O Lord, the true judge.”

The notion, that every occurrence is infused with a good, pertains to all adversity, even to divine retribution. The following observation made by the classic Torah commentaries in reference to the affliction of Tzaraas – which constitutes a large portion of this week’s Parshios, Tazriah- Mitzora – is a fitting illustration of this fundamental Jewish principle.

The Torah renders the Mitzora, one with a leprosy-like malady – a condition brought-on by spiritual deficiency – spiritually impure and requires him to be quarantined. A unique characteristic of the Tzaraas condition was its capacity to manifest itself in a person’s garments as well as the walls of his home.

In Chapter, 14 verse 33 the Torah relates the following instruction: “G-d spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: When you arrive in the land of Canaan that I give you as a possession, and I will place a Tzaraas affliction upon a house in the land of your possession. The one to whom the house belongs shall come and declare to the Kohen saying: A sort of affliction has appeared to me in the house . . . The Kohen shall return on the seventh day; he shall look and behold the affliction had spread in the walls of the house. The Kohen shall command, and they shall remove the stones that contain the affliction . . . If the affliction returns and erupts in the house after he has removed the stones . . . it is a malignant Tzaraas in the house, it is contaminated. He shall demolish the house – its stones, its timbers, and all the mortar of the house . . .”

Needless to say, when Tzaraas struck, in whatever form, it was not a happy occurrence. In the case of the afflicted house it was a particularly distressing phenomenon, since in its worst form, it would result in the demolition of the house – a rather distressing and costly ordeal on the part of the owner. Yet ironically, the commentaries perceive a very positive outcome to this devastating form of Tzaraas.

From the peculiar manner in which the Torah introduces this topic: “When you arrive in the land . . . I will place a Tzaraas affliction upon a house . . .” – the implication being that this is some type of good tiding. Rashi asserts that when the Canaanite inhabitants realized that the Israelites were poised to conquer the land, they went ahead and hid their valuables in the walls of their homes. In order to enable the Jewish owners to acquire this wealth, G-d placed the affliction on the wall where the treasure was buried so that the stones would have to be removed and hence the treasure uncovered.

Amazing! We’re talking about a person who has been stricken with a serious catastrophe, perhaps as a punishment for damaging transgressions, still, our sages see in this divine mercy and blessing. How is this to be understood? The answer is that herein lays the very essence of the Jewish perspective regarding adversity. G-d, being the epitome of goodness and compassion, does not perform acts of badness. Even when G-d disciplines and exacts punishment, the very act of discipline or retribution is itself permeated with His loving kindness. Rather than revenge, its purpose is to help us uncover deep hidden treasures, whether within the walls of our homes or the confines of our souls.

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  • 4. Another admirerpzj wrote:

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  • 5. a fan all the way from australia wrote:

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  • 6. AH wrote:

    To anon:

    First of all, R’ Akiva traveled extensively – we find him, among other places, in “Afriki” (some part of Africa?) (Gemara Rosh Hashanah 26a) – so this may have happened then.

    Besides, lions used to be native to Eretz Yisroel and its surrounding areas. There are several cases in Tanach of people killing lions that threatened them (Shimshon, in Shoftim 14:5-6; Dovid, in I Shmuel 17:34-36), and of people who were killed by them (I Melachim 13:24 and 20:36).

    Umesaymin betov.


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