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Home » Life Is Beautiful, Sh'lach L'chah, Tragedy

Sh’lach: Bad News

Submitted by on June 3, 2018 – 12:07 amNo Comment | 2,424 views

Why is bad news so ubiquitous? Wherever we turn we seem to hear another piece of bad news. This one has cancer, that one broke an arm, another lost his job, and another’s home was flooded. Why is there so much bad news?

The truth is that there is much more good news than bad news, but we need to dig to find it. Cregg Easterbrook wrote a book called ‘It’s Better Than It Seems,’ in which he chronicles all the reasons why life, by any standard, is better today than it was twenty, let alone fifty, years ago. But we need to dig to find it. Gun violence is down, terrorism is down, pollution is down, poverty is down, by every metric (except for greenhouse gasses) life is better than ever. So why is there so much bad news?

The easy answer is that bad news sells, and the media is interested in making a buck. The media reports the anomaly, not the routine. So, if you hear about a murder on the news, you know that murder in your city is new and unusual. It isn’t routine, or the media wouldn’t report it. That you hear about a murder every day, means that but for that one murder, that one anomaly, everyone else in your city is alive.

This is a good answer, but it doesn’t really address our question. It only tells us why we know about the bad news, but it doesn’t tell us why G-d made bad news so obvious and easy to find and why He hid the good news where we need to dig for it. Why did G-d do this?

A Bad News Month

This question is especially poignant this time of year as we usher in the Hebrew month of Tamuz. If you are familiar with the Hebrew calendar, you know that Tamuz is associated with bad news. On the seventeenth of this month, Moses came down Mount Sinai to find the Jews worshipping a golden calf. He shattered the tablets and you know the rest of the story because the Torah chronicles it so carefully.

You probably also know that on this same day many years later, the Babylonian army breached the walls of Jerusalem and began a three-week campaign of pillage and murder which ended with the destruction of the holy Temple. By all accounts, Tamuz is a month of bad news.

Yet, if you dig deep you will notice that there are more good days in Tamuz than bad days. If Moses only came down from Mount Sinai on the seventeenth of Tamuz, then he was studying Torah with G-d for most of the month. For sixteen days, our ancestors were happy, faithful and anticipating Moses’ return with joy, knowing that they would soon begin to study the Torah that G-d was teaching Moses on Sinai. It was only the last thirteen days of the month that were sinful.

Why do then we associate Tamuz with bad news if most of the month is associated with good news?

I will tell you why. Because the Torah carefully chronicles the bad news and obscures the good news to the point that we need to dig for it. The bad news is on the surface, and the good news is concealed. So why didn’t G-d reverse this and put the good news on the surface?

A Good Reason

There is a simple, but profound reason for this. If the bad news were hidden, we would never look for it and never do anything to fix it. If we wouldn’t be drawn by nature to notice the one missing tile in a ceiling full of tiles, we would never replace the missing tile. If we would never notice our child’s few bad traits and only see their best traits, we would never do anything to help them.

Bad news isn’t a static reality; an immutable fixture that can’t be changed, and that we are better off ignoring. Bad news is malleable. We can fix it if we put your mind to it. If we have bad news today, we can turn it into good news tomorrow. Moreover, if we had bad news yesterday, we can change its impact and make something good come of it. The most painful episodes can result in the greatest good.

Sherri and Seth Mandel are the parents of Koby Mandel, who was hiking with his friend, Yosef Ishran, in 2001, near his home in Tekoa, Israel. They were cruelly tortured and murdered; their bodies were found in a canyon bludgeoned to death by stones. The shock of his murder paralysed the entire community, not to mention his family. Yet, his parents turned the tragedy into a catalyst for good. They founded the Koby Mandel Foundation in memory of their son, which offers support to families impacted by terror and war. In Sherri’s words, my son’s murder will never be a good thing, but good things can come of it.

This is an example of changing the impact of something bad so that it creates something good. Although the past is in the past, we have the power to change it retroactively. What was a horrible thing in the past, can be a catalyst for good in the present.

If G-d concealed the bad news, it would remain unidentified and unchanged and would eat away at our insides without us even knowing about it. By the time we would become aware of it, it might be too late (or at least very difficult) to do something about it. By making bad news obvious and up front, by making us uber-aware of our ills and oy’s, while concealing most of our goods and joys, G-d gives us the opportunity to make lemonade out of lemons.

Vote of Confidence

When we get that piece of bad news, our immediate question is, why me? This question eats away at us because we think we must have done something terrible and are being punished. But perspective is a matter of the mind and if we change our perspective, we can change our entire mindset.

Before we are born, G-d plots our life, the highs and lows, the good and bad. Knowing what we will face, G-d tailors our strengths, endurances and abilities to our specific needs to help us tolerate and even thrive in our individual circumstances. If we encounter a challenge, a tragedy, a problem that we believe ourselves ill equipped to handle, we must remember that G-d knows us better than we know ourselves. G-d foresaw our problem, and yet before we were born, gave us the ability to handle it.

Now, keep in mind that we can only handle our own challenges, which is precisely why we have them. We are as ill equipped to handle the next person’s challenges as they are to handle ours. So, when we ask, why me, G-d, why me? The answer is, because I am the only one equipped to repair this piece of bad news. No one else can repair it. So, I am the lucky one.

The next person will get their own bad news, the precise kind that they can repair. But I am designed for my bad news and that is why I got it. Not to suffer from it, but to turn it around and repair it.

A rabbi once sent his student to be a rabbi in a large synagogue. The student told the rabbi that he felt unworthy of the position. The rabbi replied, “who then should I send, one who thinks himself worthy of the position?” G-d says something similar. To whom then should G-d give your problems, to, someone incapable of handling it?

This doesn’t take away the problem, but it can make us feel better about it. When G-d sends me a problem, he is not saying I am bad. On the contrary, He is saying I am capable.[1]

[1] This essay is based on Toras Menachem 5745, 4:2322-2327.

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