In 1977, during the Shemini Atzeret celebrations taking place in the Rebbe’s synagogue at 770 Eastern Parkway, the Rebbe began to experience sharp and severe chest pains.

The spirited singing and ecstatic dancing came to a grinding halt as the thousands in attendance filed hurriedly out the door into the crisp fall night air, deeply worried about the Rebbe’s health and anxious for answers. Medical attention arrived on the scene to assess the situation and determined that the Rebbe had suffered a massive heart attack.

As soon as the Rebbe’s physical condition stabilized somewhat, he requested his doctor’s permission to attend the following day’s festivities in order to deliver his annual Simchat Torah address.

Dr. Ira Weiss, his primary cardiologist, would not hear of it. In fact, according to Dr. Weiss, “The Rebbe had a heart attack that involved such extensive damage that in anyone’s normal medical experience, one would worry about the possibility of survival.” Instead he let the Rebbe broadcast a twenty minute farbrengen from his office following the festival’s conclusion.

Regardless of the fact that he was physically removed from the thousands of concerned Chasidim gathered to hear him speak, the Rebbe highlighted the positive spiritual outcome of these seemingly unfortunate circumstances.

“For a certain reason,” the Rebbe began, “[rather than speaking during the festival, when such technologies are forbidden] we speak after its conclusion, which allows us to use media to communicate what we say in distant places. [This goes to show that even though we may be] physically far apart, we are obviously spiritually very close, which is the main thing among Jews….. A [special] bond is formed by this, a unity, among all who hear this speech….”1

The Rebbe went on to further emphasize the power of this special kind of non-local connection, illuminating the various ways that Jews are spiritually unified across time and space through Torah values and shared religious practice.

Here we see the Rebbe applying his uncanny ability to pierce through all negative appearances in order to reveal the unique blessings contained within each set of circumstances, no matter how precarious or perilous, even in respect to his own life and mortal experience.

Finding the silver lining in every ominous cloud doesn’t just happen. It depends upon a person’s willingness to consciously curate their worldview and condition themselves to seek out the good in every situation.

The Rebbe believed unshakably in Divine Providence, meaning that G‑d does not do anything that is not for our ultimate benefit, no matter how painful a particular experience may be in the moment.

This is the redemptive lens through which the Rebbe viewed the world. It is the cornerstone of his Positivity Bias, which he communicated to all he encountered.

The more we internalize this radical perspective, the more likely we will be able to find the hidden rays of light, even within the darkest of nights.

The moving stories throughout this chapter vividly demonstrate the Rebbe’s constant quest to reveal the good concealed within every event and circumstance—and, just as important, to inspire others to do so as well.

All Is Not Lost

In his letter addressed “To the Sons and Daughters of Our People Israel,” dated “In the Days of Teshuvah, 5732” (1971), the Rebbe wrote the following:

Inasmuch as G‑d Himself has prescribed and enjoined upon each and every Jew the manner of Jewish conduct in the daily life—how is it altogether possible that there could be a situation wherein a Jew does not have the possibility of conducting himself, in all details of his daily life, in accord with the Will of G‑d, the Master of the whole world. Yet, as we all know and see it, in certain parts of the world, there is such a situation where Jews, with all their desire, and even Mesiras Nefesh (self-sacrifice), are actually precluded from adhering in every detail to the Will of G‑d, because of circumstances beyond their control. To cite a well-known analogy: Self-sacrifice can spur a person to jump from the roof, but it cannot make him leap from the ground to the roof.

The answer to the above questions—at any rate, briefly—is as follows:

To be sure, the essential thing is the actual deed. On the other hand, feeling and devotion are also of supreme importance. Thus, when a situation sometimes arises wherein a Jew finds it impossible, even with Mesiras Nefesh, to carry out a Divine commandment in actual deed, it evokes in him a distress and anguish at being unable to perform the particular mitzvah; a true and profound anguish that pervades him through and through to the core of his soul. This brings him to such a close attachment to G‑d, and to Torah and mitzvot and Yiddishkeit in general, the like of which he could not have attained without the said distressing experience. In such a case, not only is he deemed quite guiltless for not having actually fulfilled the mitzvah—since he had no possibility whatever of doing it, but he is rewarded for his intense desire to fulfill it: and what is even more important: His soul-life henceforth gains a profundity and completeness to which he might possibly never have reached in any other way.

Also in regard to actual performance, it becomes evident that when G‑d eventually takes him out of that situation and places him in circumstances where he is able to carry out also the mitzvah, or mitzvot, which he was previously unable to fulfill, he now carries them out with a depth, enthusiasm and sincerity which he had not had before.2

In this powerful response to a pointed psycho-theological question, the Rebbe turned normative Jewish thought inside-out to reveal its deeper dimensions. Not by undercutting the importance of deeds and actions in Jewish life and spiritual practice in favor of a purely spiritualized or philosophical Judaism, but by opening our eyes to the many levels of experience that comprise a single mitzvah.

The fruit of action does not just appear out of nowhere, it grows out of the branches, trunk, and roots of our internal emotions, intentions, and intuitions. Our inability to physically manifest intention generates a corresponding emotional response of yearning to connect and consummate our faith and devotion.

In our own lives, despite our best efforts and intentions, we each experience moments of unrealized connection and communion. Instead of writing off these un-actualized moments in disappointment, we can learn to embrace and elevate the deep waves of emotion swelling and emerging from within the ocean of absence and longing.

Through highlighting the multi-dimensional inner world of our experience, the Rebbe revealed a positive outcome within a negative situation.

When Tragedy Strikes

The Rebbe once received a letter describing a particularly distressing series of events. A man had sponsored the writing of a Torah scroll, a costly and time-consuming endeavor. After a full year of work, he had invited members of his community to a festive meal in his home on the festival of Shavuot to celebrate the completion of the scroll, which was scheduled to be presented to the synagogue in the days following the festival.

During the course of the celebration, a young woman suddenly fell ill and died. The host was shocked and devastated, to say the least. Unsurprisingly, as a result of this tragic event, he had some gnawing existential and spiritual questions that would not go away.

The distraught host wrote to the Rebbe, posing the following questions:

1. How can it be that a mitzvah such as the writing of a Torah scroll should be the cause of such a tragedy?

2. What lesson must he, the host, derive from the fact that something like this occurred in his own home?

The Rebbe’s response is an astonishing expression of his Positivity Bias, constantly striving to find and elevate the fallen sparks of Divine light:

It is impossible for man, a finite creature, to comprehend all the reasons of the Infinite Creator. Indeed, we would not have a way of knowing even some of G‑d’s reasons were it not for the fact that G‑d, Himself, told us to seek them out in His holy Torah.

Furthermore, each and every individual has been granted a set amount of years of life on earth….

Based on these two points, one can perhaps venture to say that had the departed one (peace be upon her) not been invited to the celebration, she would have found herself at the onset of her attack in completely different surroundings: On the street, in the company of strangers, without the presence of a doctor who is both a friend and a co-religionist, and without hearing words of encouragement and seeing the faces of friends and family in her final moments.

Can one imagine: a) The difference between the two possibilities? b) What a person experiences in each second of her final moments, especially a young religious woman on the festival in which we celebrate and re-experience our receiving the Torah from the Almighty?!

According to the teaching of the Baal Shem Tov—that every event, and its every detail, is by Divine Providence—it is possible that one of the true reasons why you were inspired from Above to donate the Torah scroll, etc., was in order that, ultimately, the ascent of the young woman’s soul should be accompanied with an inner tranquility, occurring in a Jewish home—whose symbol and protection is the mezuzah, which opens with the words, Hear O Israel, the L‑rd is our G‑d, the L‑rd is one.3 Additionally, as the host, you had the opportunity to perform the [ultimate] mitzvah—you were able to elevate the final moments of a human’s life in this world.

Obviously, you and your wife, may you live [long], have many merits. Without having sought it, you were granted the opportunity from Above to perform a [selfless] mitzvah of the highest order: a) To ease the final moments of a fellow human being; b) to take care of a met mitzvah (a dead body with no one to care for it) until the ambulance arrived.

The extreme merit of the latter can be derived from the fact that Torah law obligates a High Priest to leave the Holy of Holies,4 even on Yom Kippur, to take care of a met mitzvah!

Such special merits come with special obligations. In your case, these would include explaining the above to those who might have questions identical or similar to those posed in your letter, until they see the event in its true light—a tremendous instance of Divine Providence.5

One can hardly think of a more inauspicious event—a woman dies in a house in which the completion of a Torah scroll is being celebrated on Shavuot, the very festival that commemorates the giving and receiving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai.

Even from within this tragedy, the Rebbe was able to identify and compassionately communicate the positive benefit of the events, as painful and confusing as they were. Not only that, he asked that others spread that communication, using the events to illuminate G‑d’s ultimate goodness even in the most shattering experiences.

Redemption from Within Destruction

A woman was happily preparing to celebrate the wedding of her beloved daughter. However, tragedy struck less than a week before the wedding, and the woman’s own mother suddenly passed away. Beside herself with grief, and harboring questions about the foreboding timing of these two matrilineal events, the woman reached out to the Rebbe for consolation and insight.

The Rebbe responded by citing an ancient Jewish teaching that states that Israel’s redeemer was born immediately after the destruction of the Holy Temple. This juxtaposition of destruction and redemption is certainly not coincidence; rather, it reflects G‑d’s intimate involvement in the human and cosmic process of redemption. Even when seemingly random suffering or hardship occurs, G‑d always provides a hidden blessing or potential benefit within that painful experience—if we would but seek it out and kindle its miraculous light to guide us on our path forward.

In the case of this Midrash, when the Jewish People learned that Moshiach was born amid such profound brokenness, it gave them the spiritual strength to survive the loss of the Temple and weather the long storm of exile.

Thus, we can see that even in periods of terrible suffering, there is always a concealed expression of goodness; this is G‑d’s garden beneath the ruins of history.

We all have our own churbans (destructions), which are, according to the Rebbe, accompanied by our very own redeemers or redemptive potentials. While it would only be natural for the woman in the story to think that the joy of her daughter’s wedding was ruined on account of the loss, and to feel devastated that her mother wouldn’t be physically present at the wedding, the Rebbe suggests that she might see it differently:

Death is certainly tragic, and we often need a boost to overcome this loss. Therefore, one could say that G‑d orchestrated your daughter’s wedding to be in proximity to your mother’s passing to make it easier for you to cope with the loss, seeing the growth of your family and the perpetuation of your mother’s legacy.6

The timing of her daughter’s wedding was not a tragedy; rather, it was a blessing and source of comfort—if seen through redemptive eyes!

This is the essence of the Rebbe’s Positivity Bias: To believe in G‑d’s ultimate goodness, to know that blessings await us beneath the surface of our experience, no matter how bleak, to actively seek those blessings out, and to spread their light to the world beyond.

These core principles require our active internalization and integration into the ways we encounter, interpret, and interface with the world.

Through such interactions, the Rebbe role-modeled this redemptive way of life to us—not just for our own benefit in a particular circumstance, but also for the benefit of all those with whom we might come into contact, who might themselves need a spark of this miraculous light.