There is a famous Chassidic story that goes as follows:

Young Dov Ber was the son of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the saintly author of the Tanya. It was Shabbat, and Dov Ber stood quietly in the synagogue to hear the reading of the Torah portion of Ki Tavo. Usually, it was his father, the Rebbe, who read from the Torah, but this week his father was away and the Torah was read by someone else.

Suddenly, Dov Ber began to cry. The words being read were harsh. They spoke of punishments and tragedy. Dov Ber could not contain himself and continued to weep long after the reading was complete. In fact, he was so distraught that he became ill, and the doctors were not sure that he would be able to fast on Yom Kippur a few weeks later. The synagogue members were confused by his reaction. “Dov Ber, you hear these words being read every year. Why only this year did you react so severely?” Dov Ber responded: “When Father reads, I don’t hear curses."

G‑d only orchestrates our lives in a way that is good and meaningfulWhat did he hear if not harsh words? He read from the same Torah, and sang the same verses in the same cantorial tune. But Dov Ber could pick up the subtleties in his father’s voice that were inaudible to the common ear. The young boy—who would grow up to be a great Rebbe in his own right—perceived these predictions of misfortune to be words of blessing.

The principle behind this inversion principle of misfortune and blessings goes something like this: Everything comes from G‑d. G‑d is good, and orchestrates our lives in a way that is good and meaningful. The very things that seem “bad” are only good that has come in disguise.

Among those who commit themselves to the belief that everything is coming from G‑d and therefore is good, there are two levels. We’ll illustrate each one with a story.

  1. The great Rabbi Akiva entered a town and searched for a place to lay his tired head. But he was unsuccessful in soliciting an invitation for himself. In defeat, he camped out on the cold ground outside the city, and lit his candle and immersed himself in his book of Torah. Next to him lay his other two possessions: a rooster to wake him up and a donkey to transport him. Regrettably, a lion came and consumed his donkey. As if that wasn’t bad enough, a cat came by and consumed the rooster. To top off his misfortune, a strong wind blew out his candle. But instead of becoming upset, Rabbi Akiva proclaimed: “Everything that G‑d does is for the best.” In the morning, Rabbi Akiva found the city silent. A band of thieves had ransacked the town, taking the people as prisoner and their possessions as loot. Yes, his loss was for the best. He had slept away from danger, and neither the candle, rooster or donkey called attention to his presence.
  2. Rabbi Nachum Ish Gamzu—Rabbi Akiva’s teacher—was chosen as a representative by the wise men of Israel to bring a tribute to the king of Rome. Nachum carried to the palace a case full of jewels. On the way, he stopped at an inn. Unbeknownst to him, the innkeeper crawled into his room when he was asleep and stole the jewels, leaving only sand in its stead. When Rabbi Nachum realized what happened, he exclaimed: “This, too, is for the best,” and continued on his way. Rabbi Nachum presented the sand to the king who wanted to jail him for bringing such a shameful gift. But then the king was advised that perhaps these were miraculous sand kernels. Sure enough, when used in battle, the sand transformed into arrows and the king’s army trounced their enemy. In fact, the king was more appreciative of this gift than he would have been of the jewels.

Rabbi Nachum’s philosophy was that everything bad is goodThere is a subtle but profound difference between these two men. Rabbi Akiva viewed misfortune as a means to an end. Given, it is bad, but it will lead to something positive. Rabbi Nachum’s philosophy was that everything bad is good—not as a means to an end, but an end in itself.

And this is the way that Rabbi Schneur Zalman read the Torah—and the way young Dov Ber heard it. He didn’t perceive the bad within the words of retribution. They were not even bad experiences that would lead to something good. To him, they were all good.

(Based on a talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe)