a bunch of grapes

Aka, why ‘bad’ things don’t really happen to ‘good’ people.

In the Gemara, Tractate Brachot 5b, we find the following:

Rav Huna had four hundred barrels of wine that soured, i.e. they turned into vinegar. Rav Yehuda, the brother of Rav Salla Chasida, as well as other Sages, went in to visit him…They said to him: “Let master [Rav Huna] examine his affairs to determine the cause of this loss. He said to them: Am I suspect in your eyes? They said to him:

Is the Holy One, Blessed is He, suspect of punishing without justice?

He said to them: “If there is anyone who heard something about me that I must rectify, let him speak!”

They responded to him: “This is what we heard about you: Master did not give branches to his sharecropper.” He said to them: “Did he leave me any of them?! He stole all of them from me!” That is, he took far more than his rightful share.

They said to him, “This is an example of the popular adage: Steal from a thief and feel the taste of stealing!”

He said to them: “I accept upon myself to give him his share of the remaining branches.”

Some say that then, a miracle occurred and the vinegar reverted to wine. And others say that the price of vinegar rose, and [his vinegar] sold at the price of wine.

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Rav Huna was a massive Sage who could do open miracles and revive the dead.

When Rav Huna’s vinegar soured, it would have been the easiest thing in the world to start throwing around his ‘tzaddik’ credentials, and to avoid examining his deeds.

“I’m such a big tzaddik!! I don’t deserve this!! Why is Hashem punishing me for nothing (God forbid)?! Why is Hashem doing such a bad thing to such a good person, like me?”

We all do this, at certain times. It’s understandable.

But there’s a massive problem (or 8…) with this approach, and that is:

That it makes Hashem out to be the bad guy.

It’s basically saying, “Nothing wrong with me, or my deeds, bub. This is a totally unjustified punishment. God has somehow got this wrong, He’s picking on the wrong guy…”

This is the polar opposite of how a Jew with emuna is meant to approach things. A Jew with emuna doesn’t throw all the problem on God, and start flashing their ‘tzaddik’ credentials all over the place.

A Jew with emuna takes a deep breath, a long spiritual pause, and tries to apply the three rules of emuna, namely:

  • God is doing everything.
  • Everything God is doing is ultimately for my benefit, even though right now I’m not going to pretend that it isn’t causing me a lot of pain, suffering and heartache.
  • God is trying to send me a message, here, that this is something I need to work on or fix or change or tikkun.

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Unlike us, Rav Huna really was a bona fide tzaddik.

He wasn’t a secret member of the local Freemasons lodge; he wasn’t sucking up to corrupt politicians for ‘donations’ to his yeshiva, or firebombing buses, or working for the Mossad or the FBI on the side.

Rav Huna wasn’t flirting with women he wasn’t married to. He wasn’t speaking lashon hara all over the place (like yours truly…) He wasn’t angrily raging at his poor wife and children behind closed doors after a bad day at the beit midrash; or harshly criticizing everybody else on Youtube; or dancing for the Pope; or being paid by Big Pharma to sign on to a psak din trying to force everyone to vaccinate their children.

He was a bona fide tzaddik.

And yet, his vinegar still turned sour.

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Having emuna doesn’t mean that we pretend the hard things in our life don’t hurt us, or bother us.

Before we get to the story of Rav Huna, we have the stories of Rav Yochanan (who lost 10 children) and Rav Elazar (who was seriously ill) – and in both instances, the Gemara makes it very clear that these tzaddikim were feeling their pain and sorrow acutely.

They weren’t robotic, emotionless ‘super-tzaddikim’, who could go through awful suffering and just keep telling everyone how great it all was. They suffered, they admitted they were suffering, and that they felt sad and pained – and then, they pulled themselves together and got on with life.

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Just to confuse matters, there is also  such a thing as being sent a ‘suffering from love’.

If we examine our deeds, and we truly find there is absolutely nothing we can think of that we need to fix, acknowledge or work on, that would somehow explain why God was sending us our harsh circumstances, then we’re dealing with a ‘suffering from love’.

In our generation, there are a lot of loose ends, a lot of tikkunim from previous lives that need to be paid down. Maybe, we were sacrificing our children to Moloch in temple times, or snitching on our fellow Jew for money to the Sultan or the Czar, or cheating on our spouse, or cheating on our taxes…

Who knows?

And now, God is cleaning that stuff off our souls by sending us some hard experiences to go through.

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I learned from the experience with my father-in-law being a Freemason that the sins of the fathers really are visited on the sons up until the third or fourth generation, exactly as it says in the Torah.

When my husband’s left foot refused to heal up for four months, it could have been tempting to pretend my husband is a tzaddik[1], and God is just punishing him, stam, because Hashem is mean and sadistic (God forbid a million times!!!).

But that’s not the path of emuna.

The path of emuna is to keep praying about our suffering, to keep justifying Hashem, and to know that He’s totally righteous, kind and good, and to keep searching for what the heck is going on here?!

It took us 4 months of effort, many long hours of praying, much soul-searching, and eventually a big pidyon with the Rav to start to uncover the real spiritual source of my husband’s dodgy left foot. But thank God, probably all in the Rav’s zchut, eventually we got there.

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Rav Huna was a massive tzaddik.

And even Rav Huna’s vinegar went sour.

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The last thing to take from the story of Rav Huna is that as soon as he got the message, everything turned around for the good. Sephardim say, his vinegar miraculously turned back into wine! Ashkenazim say, the price of vinegar suddenly shot up, and overtook the price of a good cabernet sauvignon!

Either way, the suffering was sweetened once Rav Huna took the steps required to fix the problem.

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What’s the tachlis, to take away from this?

  • We need to justify Hashem, and stop pretending He’s got the wrong guy when He sends us suffering or difficulties.
  • We need to do our best to figure out what we need to correct and fix, in order for the problem to go away. That usually means spending an hour a day doing hitbodedut, or at least a good, solid chunk of time where we sit and just take an honest look at ourselves.
  • If it’s still not clearing up, we need to bite the bullet and do a pidyon with the Rav, which is effectively a short-cut to getting out of the suffering, or even avoiding it in the first place. Money instead of blood.

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May Hashem help us all to do this, as it’s sometimes really, really hard.

And may this piece be for the refuah of Menachem Mendel Shlomo ben Chaya Rachel, who needs to raise money for a pidyon with the Rav urgently. You can donate for the pidyon HERE, and please say it’s for him in the message section.

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FOOTNOTE:

[1] The fact that my husband has put up with me for 23 years clearly gives credence to the idea that he could actually be a tzaddik, at least in theory.

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