Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Very often when we hear stories about hashgacha pratis, Divine supervision and intervention – the end of the story shows how all the preceding details, many of which seemed very negative, were perfectly planned and carried out in order to bring the protagonist to a wonderfully positive outcome.

Megillat Esther is a perfect example of this. The wide range of events described, including all the terrible plans of the evil Haman, happened over nine years (yes, though we read the megillah in one continuous narrative, the events described happened over a period of nine years!). When the end comes and Am Yisrael is saved and re-accepts the Torah with love, we realize that all the difficult, painful and frightening events before the ending were all orchestrated by Hashem for our good.

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Most of these true stories end with a powerful and clear outcome or event which shows us beyond any doubt that even the most difficult situations are from Hashem for our good. Often we are amazed by the outcome and feel a tremendous “Wow! That’s amazing!” reaction as we hear the final words of the story.

The story I’m about to tell you is different; it’s as powerful as the more dramatic stories but its power comes softly when you realize that everything is for the good, even when events are at the stage when it seems totally negative with not the slightest possibility of there being something good about it. When you hear this story and realize the depth and truth of the conclusions, you’ll feel a wow but it will be soft and quiet, because you never would have realized the goodness in the pain if it weren’t pointed out to you. And when you do realize, you know that the contrast between the seemingly negative and all the pain that goes with it is really great kindness from Hashem that leads to absolute goodness.

I live in Yerushalayim and I was teaching a class in “positive thinking.” I was explaining the many advantages of seeing things in a positive light – it’s good for your mind, your heart, your feelings, your body and health. I explained the mind-body connection, how our brains work, how positive thoughts strengthen us and helps us stay healthy, and if we are sick, how positive thinking helps us get better. In that context I discussed placebos, how people were given sugar pills with absolutely no medical value but were told they were excellent medicine and they recovered. How people were given a pill that they said would relax them and they started getting drowsy and yawning even though it was just a sugar pill. There are lots of fascinating and dramatic stories about placebos which prove that our thoughts affect our bodies.

And we spoke about how positive thinking improves our relationships, how we feel better towards others and also about ourselves and how that automatically causes others to feel positive towards us. And when we’re thinking positive, then our brains, hearts and bodies are filled with positivity which is significant both physically and non-physically. And if we’re thinking negatively, even though we’re thinking about someone else in a negative way, that negativity is in our brains, affecting our minds, emotions, body and spirit. And so, though we’re thinking about someone or something else, we ourselves are experiencing negativity.

These are just a few brief examples of what we discussed as I used scientific explanations, research and fascinating and convincing examples of how positive thinking enriches our lives on many levels.

This was not a one-time lecture but an ongoing course so there was by then a very comfortable feeling between myself and the women I was teaching. We were all religious and our Torah values were very much in synch with positive thinking since judging others favorably, forgiving and loving others, gratitude, compassion and other positive outlooks and behaviors are core Jewish values which work perfectly with the concept of ‘positive thinking.’

Since we had already had several classes, by now we knew and respected each other enough for the women to occasionally raise a question, even if it was personal, knowing that her privacy would be respected and anything she said would stay in the group and not go any further, and also that it would be heard with interest, acceptance and care, and not judgmentally.

And so it was that one evening while I was speaking, one of the women in the class, Rachel,* raised her hand to ask a question. I stopped to listen and she said, her voice shaking with emotion: “You say to see everything in a positive light, to see the good in everything. Well, I have a son who became totally non-religious. Can you please tell me,” she said with great pain, “how I can see that in a positive light?”

It was clear from her voice and her whole being that she was sure that there was absolutely nothing positive in what she just said, and we could all see in her face the pain and broken-heartedness that we heard in her voice.

When she finished speaking, the class was silent as seemingly everyone present had been moved deeply by what she had shared with us. After a minute one of the other women, Tamar, raised her hand and said kindly: “I can tell you something very positive about that.” There was absolute silence in the room as Rachel, together with all the other ladies, waited to hear what Tamar would say.

Tamar stood up and said to Rachel, who was listening intently: “This happened with my son, too,” Tamar said with deep emotion, “and I can tell you what happened to him, and what I’ve heard happens to most of those confused boys and girls who leave our beautiful way of life. My son left, but with Hashem’s kindness and help, my son came back, as most of them do. And let me tell you, when they come back to Hashem and to Torah – which your son will; almost all of them do – when he comes back, he will be much stronger in his commitment and love of Torah and Judaism than he was before he left.

“If he left,” she continued, “it’s probably that he had been keeping Torah and mitzvos not because he loved it and believed in it so much, but because he grew up that way, but unfortunately never came to internalize the beauty and truth of Torah. Now he’s seeing what a life without Torah is like, and when eventually he gets utterly disappointed and even disgusted by what he sees out there, he’ll come back to Torah with great commitment, and love, and joy. He’ll come back, with Hashem’s help, because now he knows for sure that this is the best, most beautiful and meaningful lifestyle he could ever had.”

There was silence, and then Rachel, weak with emotion, said in a very faint voice “thank you,” and within a moment she, and then Tamar were in tears. And then, unexpectedly they embraced, each feeling her own and the other’s pain, as they both understood that everything that happened, as horrible as it seemed, was from Hashem for their good.

The entire class, including myself, felt an uplifted state of emunah, of faith, of awareness that everything is from Hashem and everything is good. The sorrow a mother feels when her child is in pain, is living in a wrong way, is so great, that the realization that even this is for the good is life-altering for it helps us to withstand our tests, our difficulties and challenges with emunah and bitachon (trust), knowing that although the good is temporarily hidden, it is there – because everything is from Hashem and everything He does is good.

*All the names in this article are not their real names, and some minor details changed to protect privacy.

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Naomi Brudner, M.A., lives in Yerushalayim where she writes, counsels and practices Guided Imagery for health, including for stroke patients.