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We say in Hallel, Odcha ki anisani vatehi li l’yeshua.” The Malbim translates this, “I thank You for afflicting me with suffering, and it was my salvation.” This passage can be understood with a narrative in the Talmud (Niddah 31a):

Two merchants prepared to go on a business trip. As they were boarding the ship, one of the merchants stepped on a nail. Although the pain was unbearable, the merchant tried to proceed up the gangway. However, he ultimately had to turn back and seek medical attention on land. After being treated, the merchant hurried back to the pier, but to his consternation the ship had already departed without him. Moreover, his merchandise was on board unattended, and for all he knew the other merchant would swindle him and take all the profits. The merchant was embittered and resentful and bemoaned his sad fate and bad fortune.

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A few days later the merchant learned that the ship had sunk at sea and all aboard had drowned. He then realized that his affliction had been his salvation, and he began thanking Hashem and praising him for his delivery from that fate.

Indeed, the Talmud (Brachos 29b) tells us that one who walks in a place of danger with the likes of wild beasts and robbers recites a brief prayer, “Carry out Your will in the heavens above and give peace of mind to those who fear You below, and perform that which is good in Your eyes. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who listens to prayer.”

We see that in this prayer we ask Hashem to do what is good in His eyes, because only He truthfully knows what is good for the person and what is not. Oftentimes, what appears good to us is, in fact, not to our advantage.

This is also the meaning of the verse in Tehillim (69:14), “… Hashem in Your abundant kindness, answer me with the truth of Your salvation.” This is to say that Hashem is the one who knows what is the true and appropriate salvation for us, and is therefore His deliverance that we pray for.

The Talmud (Brachos 60b) teaches, “Everything that G-d does He does for the best.” The Rambam expounds that one is obligated to make a blessing on bad news, just as he makes a blessing on good tidings. Many circumstances appear to be superficially good, and end up being detrimental; while at other times, circumstances that seem to be challenging end up favorably.

 

Life or Death in a Cake

World War II was ending, and the Allied troops were quickly approaching. Nevertheless, the Nazis kept marching their inmates further and further inland, away from the advancing troops. In the camp of Bergen-Belsen, the situation was very difficult. There was sickness among the prisoners – both Jews and Russian army troops who had been captured – and all were starved and thirsty.

One early morning, the Nazis announced to all the prisoners that they would be distributing delicious warm cakes to the inmates and when the Allied forces arrived in the camp, they should remember to tell them how well they had been treated.

One Jew in the camp had practically eaten nothing throughout the five years that he had been imprisoned in Bergen-Belsen. All he could think about was how he would get food. In fact, if he had been asked, “Would you rather be free or would you rather have the cake?” he would take the cake. His brain had become redirected and he was unable to consider anything else but food.

As he stood on the long line, he eyed the basket of cakes and noticed the pile was diminishing, he was afraid there would not be anything left for him. But when he counted six people ahead of him and saw that there were seven cakes, he breathed a sigh of relief, realizing he would indeed get a cake. Finally, he held the cake in his hand, and he was delighted even though it was the smallest one.

Suddenly he noticed that an entire basket of cakes was being brought in at the other end of the hall. He thought to himself: Why don’t I go get another one? The Nazis won’t be able to tell the difference. When they called out for the next in line this prisoner spoke up and received another cake.

As he basked in his happiness with two cakes in his pockets, he suddenly felt a hand around his neck and a Russian voice said into his ear, “I saw you Jew. Give me your cakes.”

The Jew thought to himself: You’re a prisoner like I am, why would I give you the cakes? But the Russian had a strong hold on his neck and with the help of two of his comrades they beat him senseless, grabbed his cakes and ran off, leaving him lying on the ground.

As he lay on the ground close to death, the Jew lifted up his eyes and whispered: “G-d Al-mighty, if You wanted to take me out of the world, You could have killed me any time during the whole five years. Why did You have to do it like this?” And with that he passed out.

Hashem watches over every person. When the Jew opened his eyes the next morning, it was deathly quiet all around. Where was everybody? When he looked around, he saw that everyone was dead. The cakes had been poisoned, but he had been decreed for life. “I thank You for afflicting me with suffering, and it was my salvation” remained on his lips for the rest of his life.

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Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser, a prominent rav and Torah personality, is a daily radio commentator who has authored over a dozen books, and a renowned speaker recognized for his exceptional ability to captivate and inspire audiences worldwide.