What is the difference between good and bad? A simple explanation is that good things benefit us while bad things do not. But, as is often the case, there is more going on than meets the eye.
We all have an understanding of what “good” is. It’s good. It’s the opposite of bad. Only a fool doesn’t know what “good” is. Right? Wrong. Some of the smartest people in the world may not understand the concept of “good”.
First, one must understand the word “experience” because we experience what is good. Experience can be defined as “the observing, encountering, or undergoing of things generally as they occur in the course of time.”1 Our experiences are what we get from everything we observe, encounter, or undergo in the course of our lifetime. Our experiences shape the way we think and live our lives. We have all had experiences that we know to be good. Having a good experience with something or someone shapes the way we think about that same thing when we encounter it again. If it was good at one time, we expect that it will most likely be good in the future. In reality, this is not always true, but that is our expectation.
When we think of something good, it is more often than not, something enjoyable. Maybe a big bowl of ice cream comes to mind. Most of us know from experience that everything that is enjoyable is not always good. Also, not everything that is good is enjoyable. It is good to go to the dentist but few find the experience enjoyable.
So, what really is good? I’ve already given one definition, good things benefit us while bad things do not. This seems to be a good definition. Going to the dentist is good because we benefit from having clean teeth. But what about situations where we don’t see the benefit? Are they no less good? There are things that happen to us throughout our lives that are ultimately good for us even though, in the short term, we do not see the benefit. These things can alter the path we are on and bring us to a better path, a path of righteousness.
The Torah gives us several examples of this. Look at the story of Joesph who was sold into slavery. If this, seemingly bad thing, hadn’t happened, his family would not have survived the famine. So this bad thing was actually a good thing. Not everything that happens to us is on the same scale as this story. Not every situation has such far-reaching effects. Most of the time these seemingly bad situations are meant just for us. In the end, we are responsible for the path we choose to take. Some will choose to ignore these things and continue in the way they are going. The prophet Jonah is a good example of this. Jonah tried not to do that which G-d had told him to do. After he made that choice, HaShem placed him in a different situation, the storm. When Jonah realized what was going on, he instructed the men on the ship to cast him into the sea.
Similar things happen in our lives today. When we choose to do that which Hashem has instructed us not to do, He will put us in a situation for the purpose of making us realize what we have done. We should them do teshuvah. Sometimes though, we don’t realize what is going on. Then He places us in more difficult situations. It starts with a gentle nudge and if we persist in our sinfulness, possibly a smack. But the underlying reason is to bring us into repentance which can only be classified as a good thing.
The principles of faith tell us that all things come from HaShem and that everything is for our benefit. Once you reach this level of understanding, you can know for certain that there really is no “bad”. If everything is from HaShem, how could it be bad? Our perception of something being bad is nothing more than our mistrust in the Creator. If you think that bad things are happening to you, praise HaShem. It means that He is working in your life in order to bring you to teshuvah.
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