In preparation for Rosh HaShanah1 we read the Admonition, the Tochacha , from the Torah portion of Savo. After Savo, we read Nitzavim and oftentimes Vayeilech as well, in order to put at least one portion between the Tochacha and the festival.
The reason we read Savo before Rosh HaShanah is because the Admonition is not, G-d forbid, meant as punishment.2 Rather, it serves to cleanse us; before something precious is placed in a vessel, the vessel must be thoroughly cleaned.
Rosh HaShanah draws down into the world, as a whole and into the Jewish people in particular, a degree of G-dliness never drawn down before.3 It is thus necessary to first "cleanse the vessel." This ablution, albeit temporarily painful, is - like all things that come from above - for the good.
We find two expressions in the Gemara expressing the theme that all that comes from above is for the good:
The first expression is mentioned in the Gemara in Aramaic, while the second is cited in Lashon HaKodesh, the Holy Tongue.
Lashon HaKodesh is a language that is both holy and refined. All things in Lashon HaKodesh are clear, i.e., we are able to clearly see how everything is for the good. "All that G-d does, He does for the good," however, was said in Aramaic; the goodness is not so clearly seen.
This will be better understood by describing the incidents that gave rise to these two expressions:
R. Akiva once went on a journey and took along a candle, a donkey and a rooster. Providentially, he could not find lodging in the city, so he slept in a nearby field. A wind extinguished his candle, a lion ate his donkey, and a cat ate his rooster. Said R. Akiva: "All that G-d does, He does for the good."
A little later it was revealed that all was indeed for the good. For that night a marauding band had plundered the nearby city. Had he slept in the city, he too would have fallen victim; had the candle not been extinguished he would have been seen; had the donkey and rooster not been consumed, the sounds they made would have been heard by the brigands. By losing everything he was saved.
"This, too, is for the good" is cited in the Gemara with regard to the Tanna Nachum Ish Gam Zu, who was called this for he would always say: "Gam zu l'tovah," "This, too, is for the good."
R. Nachum was sent with a treasure chest to the king of Rome to avert a decree against the Jewish people. Robbers came and stole all the gems in the chest, replacing them with sand. Said R. Nachum: "This, too, is for the good."
When he presented the chest of sand to the king, he was about to be summarily executed. G-d sent Eliyahu HaNavi in the form of one of the king's ministers, who suggested that this might be "magic Jewish sand," similar to the sand used by Avraham. The earth was immediately put to good use in battle.
The difference between these incidents is that R. Akiva truly suffered a loss and was anguished. Yes, it served a beneficial purpose, but the events themselves pained him. R. Nachum, however, suffered no loss at all. On the contrary, had he brought the gems, who knows whether this would have been an agreeable gift, as a king does not lack precious stones. Magical sand, however, is a different matter.
Thus, R. Akiva did in fact endure pain at his loss, though his suffering saved his life. For R. Nachum, however, the robbery itself was an act of goodness.
R. Nachum was R. Akiva's master.6 R. Akiva thus lived a generation later, during a time when there was a greater degree of darkness, for with each generation away from the Beis HaMikdash the darkness grows. He therefore could not see in a revealed sense how every event initself is good. He therefore said: "All that G-d does, He does for the good."
R. Nachum, however, lived a generation earlier, at a time of greater divine illumination, and was able to perceive the actual goodness inherent in even a seemingly untoward event. Therefore his constant comment was: "This, too [i.e. the event itself] is clearly an act of goodness."
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