Better a Thing’s End than Its Beginning
“There is no evil that does not contain some good… there is nothing evil in its proper place” (Rabbi Yosef Gikatilla, Sod Sha’atnez, 278 [Gottlieb]).
“[Son of Azzai] used to say: Do not scorn any person and do not disdain anything; for there is no person who does not have his hour, and there is no thing that does not have its place” (M Avot 4:3).
“And the gain of the land is in everything (Ecclesiastes 5:8). Rabbi Yehudah said: [Even] obscure things which you see are a benefit in the world, [indeed] they are needed for the world’s existence” (Qohelet Rabbah on 5:8).
“Once Rabbi El’azar was walking on the way, accompanied by Rabbi Ḥizkiyah. They saw a snake, and Rabbi Ḥizkiyah was about to kill it. Rabbi El’azar said to him, ‘Leave it alone, don’t kill it!’ He replied, but it’s an evil thing that kills people.’ He said to him, ‘Ḥizkiyah, look at what is written: Does the snake bite without a whisper? (Ecclesiastes 10:11). A snake does not bite a person until it is whispered to from above and told, Go and kill so-and-so!
And sometimes, just as it does this, so it saves a person from other things, and thereby the blessed Holy One generates a miracle for people. All is in the hands of the blessed Holy One, and all is the work of His hands, needed by the world. If the world did not need them, the blessed Holy One would not have created them. Therefore, one must not disdain anything in the world or the acts of the blessed Holy One’” (Zohar 2:68b, cf. Mekhilta Beshallaḥ 1; BT Shabbat 121b; Berakhot 33a).
“Rabbi Shim’on was walking on the way, accompanied by Rabbi El’azar, Rabbi Abba, Rabbi Yehudah, Rabbi Ḥiyya, and Rabbi Yose. They came to a certain obstructive watercourse [of the sort which people make in their fields (Sullam), see BT Bava Batra 54a], and Rabbi Yose slipped into the water fully clothed. He said, ‘This construction of measured water—I wish that it didn’t exist!’ Rabbi Shim’on said to him, ‘You are forbidden! This serves the world, and one must not treat contemptuously those who are of service to the blessed Holy One, especially since they are fashioned genuinely [i.e., this has a corresponding root above (Sullam)].
He opened, saying, ‘God saw all He had made, and look, it was very good (Genesis 1:31)—existing according to the laws of supernal authority. God saw all that He had made—without qualification: even snakes, scorpions, and mosquitoes, and even that which seems to harm the world. Concerning all of them, it is written and look, it was very good. All of them serve the world, conduct the world, though people do not know [cf. Shemot Rabbah 10:1].’
As they were walking along, they saw a snake leading the way. Rabbi Shim’on said, ‘Surely, this one is about to perform a miracle for us!’ That snake slithered quickly in front of them and tangled with a viper diametrically across the road. They fought one another and died. When they reached them, they saw them both lying on the road. Rabbi Shim’on said, ‘Blessed is the Compassionate One who has performed a miracle for us! For if anyone looks at this [viper] while it is alive, or is looked upon by it, he is doomed, all the more so if he approaches it.’ He proclaimed over himself, ‘No evil will befall you, nor affliction draw near your tent. For His angels He will command for you, to guard you on all your ways (Psalms 91:10–11). By all things the blessed Holy One fulfills His commission, and we must not treat contemptuously anything He has made. Thus it is written YHWH is good to all, and His compassion is over all His creatures, and similarly: All your creatures, YHWH, acclaim You (ibid. 145:9–10)’ [cf. BT Shabbat 121b: ‘Our Rabbis taught: If one chances upon snakes and scorpions, and he kills them, it is manifest that he had chanced upon them in order to kill them; if he does not kill them, it is manifest that he had chanced upon them that they should kill him, but that a miracle was performed by Heaven on his behalf. ‘Ulla said:—others state, Rabbah son of Son of Hanah said in Rabbi Yoḥanan’s name—That is when they hiss at him’]” (Zohar 3:107a).
“It is related of Naḥum of Gamzu that he was blind in both his eyes, his two hands and legs were amputated—and his whole body was covered with boils and he was lying in a dilapidated house on a bed the feet of which were standing in bowls of water in order to prevent the ants from crawling on to him.
On one occasion his disciples desired to remove the bed and then clear the things out of the house, but he said to them, My children, first clear out the things [from the house] and then remove my bed for I am confident that so long as I am in the house it will not collapse. They first cleared out the things and then they removed his bed and the house [immediately] collapsed. Thereupon his disciples said to him, Rabbi, since you are wholly righteous, why has all this befallen you? And he replied, I have brought it all upon myself. Once I was journeying on the road and was making for the house of my father-in-law and I had with me three donkeys, one laden with food, one with drink and one with all kinds of delicacies, when a poor man met me and stopped me on the road and said to me, Rabbi, give me something to eat. I replied to him, Wait until I have unloaded something from the donkey; I had hardly managed to unload something from the donkey when the man died [from hunger]. I then went and laid myself on him and exclaimed, May my eyes which had no pity upon your eyes become blind, may my hands which had no pity upon your hands be cut off, may my legs which had no pity upon your legs be amputated, and my mind was not at rest until I added, may my whole body be covered with boils.
Thereupon his disciples exclaimed, ‘Alas! that we see you in such a sore plight.’ To this he replied, ‘Woe would it be to me did you not see me in such a sore plight’ [cf. BT Shabbat 33b: (Rabbi Shim’on son of Yoḥai said:) If you did not see me in such a state you would not find me thus (learned)]. Why was he called Naḥum of Gamzu? Because whatever befell him he would declare, גַם זוֹ לְטוֹבַה (gam zo le-tovah), ‘This also is for the best.’
Once the Jews desired to send to the Emperor a gift and after discussing who should go they decided that Naḥum of Gamzu should go because he had experienced many miracles. They sent with him a bagful of precious stones and pearls. He went and spent the night in a certain inn and during the night the people in the inn arose and emptied the bag and filled it up with earth. When he discovered this next morning he exclaimed, This also is for the best. When he arrived at his destination and they undid his bag they found that it was full of earth. The king thereupon desired to put them to death saying, The Jews are mocking me. Naḥum then exclaimed, This also is for the best.
Whereupon Elijah appeared in the guise of one of them and remarked, Perhaps this is some of the earth of their father Abraham, and when [he threw] stubble it changed into arrows, for it is written, [Who raised up the righteous man from the east, called him to his feet, gave the nations before him, and made him rule over kings? He gave them as the dust to] his sword, and as driven stubble to his bow (Isaiah 41:2). Now there was one province which [the emperor had hitherto] not been able to conquer but when they tried some of this earth [against it] they were able to conquer it. Then they took him [Naḥum] to the royal treasury and filled his bag with precious stones and pearls and sent him back with great honour. When on his return journey he again spent the night in the same inn he was asked, What did you take [to the king] that they showed you such great honour? He replied, I brought there what I had taken from here. [The innkeepers] thereupon razed the inn to the ground and took of the earth to the king and they said to him, The earth that was brought to you belonged to us. They tested it and it was not found to be [effective] and the innkeepers were thereupon put to death” (BT Ta’anit 21a, cf. Rabbi Menaḥem Azariyah de Fano, Gilgulie Neshamot, 95).
Better a things end than its beginning (Ecclesiastes 7:8).
“Rabbi Akiva walked down the road of a village. He asked for a place to stay, but none was offered. He said, ‘All that the Merciful does is for the best.’ He went and slept in a field in which there was a rooster, wine, and a lamp. A wind came and blew out the lamp, a cat came and ate the rooster and a lion came and drank the wine. He said, ‘All that the Merciful does is for the best.’ That night an army came and took the town captive. Rabbi Akiva said, ‘Didn’t I tell you that all that the blessed Holy One does is for the best!’” (BT Berakhot 60b).
“This is the sin of the primordial serpent: he joined below and it separated above. So he caused what he caused to the world. For one should separate below and join above… one should realize that יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים (YHWH Elohim) is entirely one, indivisible. יְהוָה (YHWH) is הָאֱלֹהִים (Ha-Elohim). Once one realizes all is one and does not impose division, even that Other Side will disappear from the world, not be drawn below” (Zohar 1:12b, cf. Guide of the Perplexed 3:10: “The true reality of the act of God in its entirety is good”).