As the old adage goes, we don’t know why bad things happen to good people.

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

This past Shabbat we read the Torah portion of Ha’azinu (Deuteronomy 32:1-52),  but this Shabbat was much more significant than many others. That is because this past Shabbat was also “Shabbat Teshuva”, meaning “The Shabbat of Repentance” because it is the Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – a Shabbat whose entire theme is that of repentance.

There is an interesting verse in the Torah reading of parshat Ha’azinu that I would like to discuss: “The Rock, His works are perfect, for all His ways are just; a faithful God without flaw, straight and righteous is He.”

Wait a sec. Let’s face it. We all have times in our life when this verse forces us to pause and think. When things aren’t going so well, it is very hard for us to honestly say that God “is perfect,” “all his ways are just,” “without flaw,” etc. Sometimes we are frustrated by what goes on in our lives. Sometimes we just don’t understand why God does the things He does or makes the decisions He makes. As the old adage goes, we don’t know why bad things happen to good people.

Perhaps the following parable will help us understand.

The saintly Chafetz Chaim offered a parable of a wealthy man. This man was really wealthy. He had it all: fancy cars, vacations, servants, and more. Money was no object. He also had a son. It was his only child. He loved him dearly and provided for all his needs.

One day the son fell ill, and his condition got worse and worse. His father took him to the best doctors available. He had him treated at the finest hospitals. To no avail.

Finally, one of the doctors discovered that the source of the son’s illness was an allergy. The doctor discovered that the son was allergic to meat! With some significant changes to his diet, the doctor saw the son return to health.

Of course, before the son’s total discharge from medical care, the doctors warned the father never to allow his son to eat meat. Chicken was ok, but anything else was forbidden. No beef or veal. No burgers or ‘dogs.’ Otherwise his condition would again become critical. The father followed the doctor’s instructions meticulously and his son ate no meat.

One day, the father had to leave town on a business trip. He left instructions to his servants and butlers that his son must not be given any meat to eat. And the servants, of course, complied. However, somebody had accidentally left out a big, juicy, hamburger with all the trimmings. The son saw it, smelled it, and couldn’t resist it. He ate it.

The son was sick again. Critically sick. His father arrived back from his trip to see his son near death. He rushed his son to the hospital, and thankfully, again, the doctors were able to save his life. His father made a promise to himself never to travel or otherwise leave his son alone ever again so that he could personally supervise him.

Finally, the father threw a banquet, a huge feast, for his friends and relatives in order to celebrate his son’s –yet again- miraculous recovery. But the caterer served a meal that included meat, and therefore, the son was not allowed to attend. Yes – the son was banned from a party that was celebrating his good health! The son was in tears, and the participants in the feast saw him crying. They were convinced that the father was cruel and abusive by not allowing his son to join in the festivities. They just didn’t know the truth. They didn’t know the full picture.

The same is true with us. We cannot understand why God does some of the things He does. We don’t know the full picture. But we have to continually focus on the good that we do know about and that we see. We must think of all the good things He does for us. We must always count our blessings. We have to have faith that there is a reason that some things appear to be cruel or unfair.

Shana Tova! Happy New Year!