Bad things happen. They happen to good people. Contrary to common perception, bad things also happen to bad people. The difference is not so much in what happens, but in what happens to the person.

When bad things happen to bad people, they are confirmed in their badness. "We knew it all along," they say. "The world is a bad place. The only way to get anywhere in life is by being badder than all the other baddies."

When something bad happens to a good person, it makes him or her a better person.

Trust in G‑d is a great virtue. The Talmud and other sources of Jewish lore are full of shining examples of men and women whose faith in G‑d and their trust in His salvation never wavered, even in the most trying of circumstances.

But, said the founder of Chassidism, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, there are times when it is forbidden to trust in G‑d.

Trust in G‑d, said the Baal Shem Tov, is a great virtue when applied to one's own life. But to resort to trust in G‑d in matters concerning others' lives is a grave sin. If you hear of a fellow in need and you say "G‑d will provide," if your reaction to your neighbor's difficulties is "G‑d will help," you're not being pious. You are simply shirking your responsibility toward your fellow man.

The same double standard applies to taking a "philosophical view" on pain and suffering. To justify another person's suffering, to see something positive and gainful in another's pain, is callous, cruel and plain wrong. Unless you are a prophet (in which case G‑d might appear to you and say, "Go to so-and-so and tell him that such-and-such happened, or will happen, because he did this-and-that"), you have no business explaining other people's lives. Or defending G‑d's way of running His world (He doesn't need your help).

But that's exactly what a good person does regarding his or her own troubles. When something bad happens to him, he says: "Where did I go wrong?" She says: "Someone is trying to tell me something. What might that be? What can I learn from this?" He says: "Now I can appreciate the value of health and prosperity. Now I understand what so-and-so was going through."

A good person who lived 850 years ago put it thus: "To say, 'This is just how the world runs, and this trouble happened to happen,' is an act of cruelty, for it causes a person to persist in his negative ways... [rather,] it should serve to rouse the heart and open pathways of return to G‑d" (Maimonides).