"And Moshe returned to God and he said, 'My Master, why have You done evil to this people?" (Shemot, 5:22)

"God spoke to Moshe and said to him, 'I am God. I appeared to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov as El Shaddai, but with My name, Hashem I did not make Myself known to them. (Shemot, 6:2-3)

And God spoke to Moshe: "He spoke to him harshly because he spoke strongly to say, 'why have You done evil to this nation." (Rashi, 6:2 sv.)

Parshas Va'eira begins with God rebuking Moshe for complaining about God's treatment of the Jewish people in allowing the worsening of the slavery of the Jewish people in Egypt. The Midrash[1] elaborates on the details of the rebuke: God unfavourably compares Moshe to the Patriarchs, in that they received a lower level of prophecy, and on many occasions His promises to them did not appear to be fulfilled, and they faced great difficulties in their personal lives. Yet, they never complained about these difficulties. In contrast, Moshe did complain when his efforts to help the Jewish people were counter-productive, and the slavery intensified.

The Darchei Mussar[2] asks that it seems that there is a major difference between the nature of the complaints of the Patriarchs and those of Moshe. The Patriarchs' challenges were in their personal lives and they accepted them with equanimity. However, Moshe was not complaining about personal difficulties, rather about the great suffering of the Jewish people - surely it is justified and even expected that a leader cries out on behalf of his people! Indeed, Moshe also cried out after the sin of the Golden Calf to God and requested that He not punish them so severely, and we do not see that he committed any wrongdoing by speaking this way.[3]

The Darchei Mussar answers that God was not criticizing Moshe for crying out on behalf of the people, rather He was critical of the specific expression that Moshe used when he said, "Why are You doing evil to this people?" God was telling Moshe that the use of the word 'evil' was inappropriate, and indeed, incorrect, because even when God sends the most difficult challenges they cannot be called 'evil', because everything God does is for the good.

The explanation of the Darchei Mussar prompts us to rethink our definition of 'good' and 'bad'.[4] Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt discusses this vital point in his excellent book, 'Why Bad things don't happen to Good people'.[5] He points out that what most people would consider as 'bad' is not considered 'bad' according to the Torah definition. The easiest way to define 'bad' is by first defining 'good'. He writes:

"'Good' is something that enables you to become more Godly. And conversely, bad is something that makes you a less Godly person. Torah is good. Mitzvot, good deeds, are good. God Himself is good. And conversely, moving away from God - the source and root of all goodness - is bad."[6]

This is expressed by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto zt"l the beginning of his seminal work, 'Path of the Just'. He writes that the only true perfection is attained through closeness to God. He cites King David saying, 'for me, closeness to Hashem, is good.' This verse clearly indicates the correct definition of 'good'.

With this understanding, we can have a refreshing view of events that take place. For example, breaking one's leg would generally be viewed as a 'bad' occurrence. However, given the above definition it can be 'good' or 'bad', depending on whether it brings the person closer to God or not. If he uses this time to rethink the direction of his life, and improve his Emunah, Torah observance, and relationships, then this seemingly 'bad' incident is actually a very good one.

In contrast, winning the lottery is generally viewed as a 'good' event, but if it causes a person to deteriorate in his relationships, or to lose focus on what is important, then it is actually a very 'bad' event. Indeed, experience shows, that for many people, winning the lottery had disastrous consequences.

The outcome of this idea is extremely significant. It demonstrates that while a person cannot determine what happens to him, he has the ability through his free will to determine how he reacts to the events.[7]

May we all merit to use all the events that God send us for the good.

NOTES

1. Shemot Rabbah, 6:4. Rashi, Shemot, 6:4, sv. latet lahem to a lesser extent makes this point but the Midrash is more explicit.
2. Written by Rav Yaakov Neimann.
3. Indeed, it could also be pointed out that Avraham himself spoke very strongly to God in response to God's plan to wipe out the nation of Sedom.
4. The word 'bad' will be used as interchangeable for evil. It is important to note that we will be focussing on painful events that do not cause death. Issues of death can only be discussed in the context of the Next World and with the realization that death is ultimately a good thing as it begins the process of going to the Next World.
5. As its name suggests, this book addresses the age-old question of suffering, and provides the Torah approach to this highly challenging issue. The ideas expressed below are found in Chapter 1.
6. Ibid., p.27.
7. Needless to say, that each person's free will varies according to their unique circumstances, but logic dictates that anything that, each person, on his level, can use his free will to bring himself closer to God.