THE JERRY LEWIS SICHA
or
GAM ZU L'TOVAH

By RABBI SHLOMO PRICE

1) It was the last show of Jerry Lewis' and he was being thrown off the air. He quoted an old Jewish saying that his mother taught him, "gam zu l'tovah", everything is for the best.

2) We hope to show that it is not just an old Jewish saying, but nothing less than a foundation of life. Consequently it is a halacha in Shulchan Oruch, Orach Chayim (230:5). It is very befitting that this Halacha of, 'Everything Hashem does is for the best,' is in this section of Shulchan Oruch called Orach Chayim, 'The Way of Life' (which teaches us the basic halachos on how to live such as Tefillin and Shabbos), because this is one of the basic foundations of how to live a happy life.

3) It is based on the Gomoro Brochos 60b: "Rabbi Akiva was accustomed to saying "Everything Hashem does is for the good". Once Rabbi Akiva was traveling with a donkey, rooster, and candle and when night came he tried to find lodging in a nearby village only to be turned away. Although Rabbi Akiva was forced to spend the night in the field, he did not lament his fate. Instead his reaction was "Everything Hashem does is for the best". (It is interesting to note the difference between Rabbi Akiva and us. If for example we were learning for a long time, and we couldn't find a place to sleep wherever we were, we would have complaints against Hashem that this is the reward we get for learning?! Yet Rabbi Akiva who obviously learned more and better than us had no such feelings). A wind came and blew out his candle, a cat ate his rooster, and a lion came and ate his donkey, and again Rabbi Akiva's reaction was "Everything that Hashem does is for the best". That night a regiment came and took the entire town captive, while Rabbi Akiva who was sleeping in the field went unnoticed and thus was spared. When Rabbi Akiva realized what happened he said, "Didn't I tell you that everything that Hashem does is for the best"?" Rashi explains that if the candle, rooster or donkey would have been around, the regiment would have seen or heard them and would have also captured Rabbi Akiva.

4) Gam zu l'tovah is a story in Masseches Ta'anis 21a about person referred to as Nachum Ish Gamzu. The Gemoro explains that his nickname came from the fact that his reaction to anything that happened to him was always "gam zu l'tovah". One time the Jews wanted to send a present to the Kaiser, and they felt that Nachum Ish Gamzu would be the best emissary as miracles are always happening to him. On his way he stopped by an inn and during the night the unscrupulous owners emptied the jewels in the chest and filled it with sand. When the chest was offered to the Kaiser he opened it and saw the sand. Naturally the Kaiser was infuriated and wanted to kill all the Jews. Nachum Ish Gamzu just said, "Gam zu l'tovah". Eliyahu Hanavi came disguised as one of the Kaiser's men and suggested that maybe this sand is from their Patriarch Avraham who threw sand and it turned into swords. They tried it out on a nation that they had difficulty in conquering and were able to defeat them with the aid of the sand. The Kaiser sent him back with great honors and a chest full of treasures. On the return trip Nachum again spent the night at the same inn. The innkeepers couldn't believe their own eyes. Didn't they replace the jewels with sand?! How could the Kaiser have repaid him with such honor for bringing sand?! Finally they approached Nachum and asked him "What was it that you brought to the Kaiser, that warranted such a reward"? Nachum replied "What I took from here is what I delivered there". The innkeepers thought to themselves, wow! we're sitting on such valuable sand and weren't even aware of it. The innkeepers quickly knocked down the inn and brought all the sand to the Kaiser explaining that the original sand came from that inn. The Kaiser had the sand tested to see if it also contained the miraculous powers. When the test failed the innkeepers were executed.

5) Now we understand in the above stories where we see the good outcome immediately, but how do we understand suffering where immediate good may not be forthcoming; how do we endure it?

The Mishnah Brurah (222:4) quotes a Midrash That it was Yitzchak Avinu who requested Hashem to bring suffering to the world, since suffering is a great thing. Hashem replied that it is indeed a wonderful idea and therefore the suffering will start with none other than Yitzchak Avinu himself. As a result Yitzchak Avinu became blind. What does it mean that SUFFERING IS A GREAT THING? So the Mishnah Brurah explains that Yitzchak knew the severity of Gehenom, (which the Ramban says that it is worse than all the suffering of Job). He therefore asked Hashem to make people suffer in this world, which will spare a person suffering in Gehenom, and Hashem agreed. Now this is a GREAT GIFT, because in reality there is no amount of suffering in this world that comes anywhere near the pain of Gehenom, yet HASHEM IN HIS MERCY agreed to count suffering like part of Gehenom. (In reality, Gehenom is NOT A PUNISHMENT, BUT A PROCESS OF CLEANSING all the filth accumulated from sins, to allow us to enter into Olam haboh.) This is comparable to a person who is owed $5,000,000 and agrees to accept only $5, that is $1 for each $1,000,000; this is a great chessed, and only HASHEM, IN HIS INFINITE MERCY, WOULD AGREE TO SUCH A DEAL. This can also be compared to a person who was sentenced to die, but the KING, in his mercy, changed it to hard labor. Those who don't know that the man was supposed to die, think that the King is cruel, but the truth is that he is very merciful.

Rav Elchonon Wasserman describes it beautifully with the following parable.

Once there was a man who knew nothing about agriculture who came to a farmer to learn about farming. The farmer took him to his field and asked him what he saw. He saw a beautiful piece of land full of grass and pleasing to the eye. Then the visitor stood aghast as the farmer plowed up the grass and turned the beautiful green field into a mass of brown ditches. "Why did you ruin the field?" asked the man. "Be patient and you will see," answered the farmer. Then the farmer showed him a sack full of plump kernels of wheat and asked him what he sees. 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 wherever he went, then he covered them up with clods of soil. "Are you insane," the man asked, "first you destroy the field, then you take this beautiful grain, and you throw it underneath." The farmer answered, "Be patient and you will see." Time went by, and once more the farmer took his guest out into field. Now they saw endless straight rows and green stalks sprouting up from all of the furrows. The visitor smiled broadly, "I apologize, now I understand what you were doing, you made the field more beautiful than ever; the art of farming is truly marvelous. "No," said the farmer, "we are not done, you must still be patient." More time went by and the stalks were fully grown, then the farmer came with a sickle and chopped them all down as his visitor watched openmouthed, seeing how the orderly field became an ugly scene of destruction. The farmer bound the fallen stalks into bundles and decorated the field with them. Later he took the bundles to another area, where he beat and crushed them until the became a mass of straw and loose kernels. Then he separated the kernels from the chaff and piled them up in a huge hill. Always he told his protesting visitor, "Be patient we are not done." Then the farmer came with the wagon and piled it high with grain which he took to the mill. There this beautiful grain was ground into formless choking dust. The visitor complained again, "You have taken beautiful grain and transformed it into dust." Again he was told to be patient. The farmer put the dust into sacks and took it back home. He took some dust and mixed it with water, while his guest marveled at the foolishness of making whitish mud. Then the farmer fashioned the mud into the shape of a loaf. The visitor saw the perfectly formed loaf and smiled broadly, but his happiness did not last. The farmer lit a fire and put the loaf into the oven. "Now I know you're insane, after all that work you burn what you make." The farmer looked at him and laughed, "Have I not told you to be patient?" Finally the farmer opened the oven took out the freshly baked bread crisp and brown, with an aroma that made the visitors mouth water. "Come," the farmer said. He led his guest to the kitchen table where he cut the bread, and he offered his now-pleased visitor a liberally buttered slice. "Now," the farmer said, "Now you understand."

Rav Elchonon said, "Hashem is the farmer, and we are the fools who do not begin to understand his ways or the outcome of his plan. Only when the process is complete will all the Jewish people know why all this happened. Then, when Moshiach has finally come, we will know why all of this had to be. Until then we must be patient and have faith that everything, even when it seems destructive and painful, is part of the process that will produce goodness and beauty.

With this Rav Elchonon Wasserman explained the Holocaust. (This story can be found at the end of the biography of Rav Elchonon Wasserman zt"l, the greatest talmid of the Chofetz Chaim, who died in the holocaust. It mentions (Reb Elchonon, pg. 410) that Lieutenant Mayer Birnbaum met a holocaust survivor who related to him this parable told by Rav Elchonon when he was asked to explain why these horrors had befallen them.)
(Story reprinted with permission from Mesorah Publications.)

This is the KEY to understanding suffering.

6) We now can understand the words of the Sha'arei T'shuvah (2:2-4) who says that there are two reasons for suffering: 1) To atone for his sins, and cure his spiritual sickness; 2) To remind him and to make him return from his evil ways. The Sha'arei T'shuvah concludes that a person who repents as a result of his sufferings should rejoice over the sufferings and praise Hashem just as he would do for any other successes.

7) Now we can understand another story with Nachum Ish Gamzu. The Gemoro in Ta'anis (21a) relates that a poor man who was starving asked Nachum for food. Unfortunately, by the time he unloaded his donkey to get it, the poor man died. Nachum was very shaken by what had happened and fell on the poor person and said, "My hands which didn't have pity on your hands, should be cut off. My legs which didn't have pity on your legs, should also be cut off. My eyes which didn't have pity on your eyes should be blinded. Finally he also requested that his entire body be covered with boils. His requests were fulfilled. His eyes were blinded, his hands and feet were cut off, and his whole body was full of boils. (Lev Eliyahu (vol 2, pg. 43-44) explains that although seemingly Nachum had nothing to do with the poor person's death, he nevertheless felt that had he prepared the food in advance, the poor person's life would have been spared. Nachum therefore felt that he was responsible for the poor person's death. If Nachum felt that he need atonement for such a sin, where does that leave us, who have transgressed a lot worse?) When his students saw him with all this suffering they exclaimed, "Woe unto us that we see you in this manner." Whereupon he answered, "Woe unto me if you didn't see me in this manner." What did he mean? The Steipler Gaon explains in his sefer Chayei Olam (chp 14,6) that Nachum knew that the punishment in gehenom even for an accidental sin would be much worse than the suffering that he had endured.

8) Every time a person suffers he should not take it as a coincidence, but rather should try to calculate what he has done to warrant this punishment. A perfect example of this is the following story found in Masseches B'rochos (5b). "Four hundred barrels of wine belonging to Rav Huna turned into vinegar. A group of Rabbonim came to visit him and suggested that he review his deeds and try to discover what had he done to warrant such a financial loss. Rav Huna's reaction was, "Do you suspect me that I have done something wrong"? They replied, "Would Hashem do judgment without justice?" Rav Huna answered "If there is anyone who is aware of any wrongdoing I might have committed, please come forth and tell me". The Rabbonim mentioned that rumor has it that he has been mistreating his sharecropper. Although Rav Huna justified himself, he accepted their rebuke and resolved to treat his sharecropper fairly. According to one version the vinegar became wine, while another version is that the price of vinegar became equal to that of wine."
Now instead of just focusing on the physical and natural reasons for it, he concentrated rather on what act he could have done to warrant such a punishment. When he found the cause and rectified it, he recouped his loss.

(B"H I later found that the Chazon Ish made the same observation on this story, as cited in the sefer Lekach Tov (Parshas Va'eschanon, pg. 42).

9) We must also realize that not only do self inflicted pains, such as slipping or tripping on a rock, come from Hashem, but even when there is another human being involved who is inflicting the pain, it still comes from Hashem. This can be seen from the Gemoro Bava Kama (85a). The Torah states that if a person wounds someone he is not only liable to pay for the damages, but also liable to cover all medical expenses. The Gemoro explains that if the Torah requires to pay medical expenses, evidently the wounded person may seek medical help, from this we learn that a doctor has permission to heal the sick. Now why would the doctor need a license from the Torah? Why should I think that he shouldn't be able to heal without the Torah's permission? The great Sage, Rashi explains that I would think that the doctor is not allowed to heal because if Hashem hits, what right does the doctor have to mix in? Now this incident is referring to a case where ONE MAN HIT ANOTHER, yet the CHAZAL CONSIDER THIS AS 'IF HASHEM HITS'. So we see clearly that even when the pain is inflicted by ANOTHER HUMAN BEING, it is still coming from Hashem, and that person is just a messenger. (The Ramban in Breishis (15:14) addresses the issue as to why the person who caused the pain nevertheless deserves punishment, despite the fact that he was merely a messenger.)
This point is also made in the Sefer Hachinuch (mitzvah 241) Regarding the prohibition against taking revenge. The Chinuch explains that the root of not taking revenge is because the other PERSON WHO HURT YOU is only an AGENT OF HASHEM, while in reality your SINS are the cause of the PAIN.

10) The Gemoro (Avodah Zoroh 4a) states: Rav Abba explains the Possuk (Hoseha 4:13-15) "I (Hashem) want to redeem them, and they speak on me deceit.", "Hashem says, 'I said I would redeem them through their (loss of) money in This World in order that they should merit the Next World, and they speak on me deceit (they complain to me about their loss).'" Similarly Rav Paapi in the name of Rava explains the Possuk, "And I afflict them, I strengthen their hands, while they think badly of me". (Hashem says) "I said that I will afflict them with suffering in This World in order to strengthen their hands in the Next World, and of Me they think badly." In other words Hashem is complaining that while he afflicts us for our benefit, we think badly of him. We only bother to notice the current situation which is painful, but fail to realize that the meager amount of suffering in this world, will spare us from much greater suffering in the world to come.

11) Our life is a more enjoyable one when we live with this concept that Hashem is always with us, helping us and guiding us. Hanoch Teller relates in his book SOULED (pg. 61) about a man who was mourning the death of his beloved wife. While walking on the beach, in his anguish he cried out to the Almighty, "You promised to walk alongside me in times of trouble, but when I look down I see only one set of footprints." There was silence, and then a voice lovingly called out, "My dear Yankeleh, what seems to be one set of footprints is not really you walking alone. It is me carrying you."

12) The Yalkut Sippurim (Parshas Vayerah 18) relates that Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi fasted and requested to have the privilege of accompanying Eliyahu Hanavi and seeing him in action. Eliyahu appeared and warned R' Yehoshua that he would never understand his acts. However, if he promised not to question his acts or demand explanations R' Yehoshua would be welcome to join him. Should he ask any questions he will no longer be permitted to accompany Eliyahu. R' Yehoshua accepted the condition and joined Eliyahu.
First they went to a poor couple whose sole possession was a single cow which gave them what they needed. The couple were as hospitable as they could be and even gave them lodging for the night. The next morning Eliyahu prayed that the cow should die and it did. This bothered R' Yehoshua very much. How could Eliyahu be so cruel and cause the death of the sole possession of this poor couple, after they were so hospitable to them? When he asked Eliyahu why he did that, he was reminded of his condition.
The next stop was the home of a rich man who didn't treat them nicely, and yet Eliyahu built up a broken wall that the man had.
Then they visited a town that mistreated them, and Eliyahu blessed them that they should have many leaders.
Finally they continued on to a town which treated them very nicely but Eliyahu gave them a blessing that they should have only one leader.
At this stage R' Yehoshua demanded an explanation even if this meant that he could no longer follow Eliyahu around.
Eliyahu explained that in Heaven there was a decree that the poor man's wife should die, but since they were so hospitable I prayed that the decree should be changed to the cow. In the case of the rich man, had he built the wall he would have found treasure underneath, but I built it and he won't find it, and the wall will soon fall down and won't be built up. To the town which mistreated us I wished them to have many leaders. This is not a blessing. On the contrary it is a curse since they will always be squabbling among themselves and never be able to get things done. In the last town we visited we were treated very nicely and therefore I blessed them with only one leader. In this case they will all follow and obey him. As the saying goes, "With many Captains the ship will sink, and with one leader the city will be established."
Eliyahu then advised R' Yehoshua that if he sees a wicked man having a good life, he should realize that it is ultimately for his downfall. On the other hand if you see a righteous man suffering you must realize that Hashem and His Law are just and He sees everything. At this point and then they bid each other Shalom and Eliyahu left.

This story underscores the point that we, as humans, have limited vision and cannot see what is going on in Heaven and consequently cannot understand what we see down here on Earth.

[We also have similar experiences. For example, a person leaves his house to do a mitzvah, and upon returning discovers that his house was broken into. The person thinks to himself that he would have been better off not doing the mitzvah and staying home. What the person doesn't realize was that he was supposed to lose this money anyway. He could have lost it by getting sick chas v'shalom, and having medical expenses. Because the person went to do a mitzvah Hashem spared him the sickness. It is also possible that this person had a terrible tragedy coming his way, (e.g. death in the family chas v'shalom). Hashem with his infinite mercy spared him, by taking his money away instead, because he went to do a mitzvah.

Furthermore, any minimal suffering in this world, subtracts from a person's bill in the next world. The Gemoro in Erchin (16b) describes the term yissurin (suuffering) with the following two examples. 1) A person puts on his jacket inside out, and now needs to take it off and put it on correctly. 2) A person put his hand into his pocket needing two quarters, but comes up with only one. He now needs to go to his pocket again.]

How we live our lives is our choice. We could live with Murphy's Law that, "Everything that can go wrong, will go wrong", and live a miserable life, or live with the law of Nachum Ish Gamzu, that "EVERYTHING THAT GOES WRONG IS REALLY RIGHT," and live a happy life.

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