The Hidden Goodness in Our Lives
Rav Zvi Leshem
Parshat Re'eh begins with the verse, "Behold, today I set before you a blessing and a curse. The blessing if you listen to God's mitzvot … and the curse if you don't listen to the mitzvot." On the Shabbat before Elul, the month of teshuvah, the Torah sets out both of these alternatives in stark simplicity. In fact, the Mai Hashiloach informs us that if good things happen we know for sure that we have followed God's will, and if not, we suffer the consequences. However, our instinctive reactions are often quite different because although "everything is from Hashem, human nature is to complain when one suffers, 'what have You done to me?' However, when Hashem blesses a person with only goodness, he refuses to see that it is from Hashem and he says, 'I have achieved all of this with my strength and the power of my hands.'"
Yet things are not always as they appear. The Mai Hashiloach continues, "When Hashem gives goodness He dresses it in a way that makes it appear the opposite so that the person can clarify the good and bring it to light … by the toil of his hands." Similarly, the Beit Aharon writes that there is both hidden good that is tov, good, and revealed good that is chessed, loving-kindness. In this way, "the righteous rejoice even in what does not appear to be good, for they rejoice in its hidden goodness."
We invariably find that the future is filled with uncertainty and trepidation. This parsha is generally read when the Jewish nation enters Elul, a time to renew our optimism and simultaneously undertake a serious and painful cheshbon hanefesh, reckoning of our deeds, as individuals, a community, and a nation. Every painful experience is an opportunity for growth, and without it growth is impossible. The seed must rot in the ground before a tree can sprout, and a woman in childbirth sits upon the mashbar, the birthing stool. The word mashbar also means "crisis," but it is a crisis that leads to a new birth. This is the revelation of the hidden good.
Midrash Tanchuma states that a woman giving birth cries out 100 times - 99 for death and once for life. The first 99 cries represent the time of uncertainty preceding any new birth or growth. The final cry is that of happiness, when the birth has occurred and a new life is revealed. When this happens, we see the past in a new light and realize that Hashem hu HaElokim, and that even the difficulties we have endured have also been for the good. This is the clarity that sustains us after we have been through difficult times, whether as individuals or as a people. It is what we experience during Elul and the High Holidays, as the previous year's sufferings and tribulations are washed away or elevated to a new level or understanding. It is our annual process of closure. We should pray that Hashem will grant us all the clarity to understand the deeper meaning of our own lives.