It’s All Good—Turning Setbacks into Gold

At the end of the Bible’s creation story the Torah states, “And God saw all that he had done and found that it was [all] good,” (Genesis 1:31). In the eyes of the divine, it’s all good. Even when things don’t run exactly as we planned, even when it all goes like a Stephen King novel, realize it’s all for the good. The Tree of Life helps us to learn to be more patient, to see a bigger picture, “to accept.” Accept disappointment and obstacles, knowing that they pop up only to prod us to create a bigger capacity for life. Look at the labor of childbirth—the curse God supposedly laid on poor Eve as she was cast from Eden. The pain, it seems, is merciless. But the reward for that excruciating torture is a brand new life.

The trees reveal this same truth every autumn as they shed their leaves and stand naked, pretending to be dead. As we watch them bare and shivering in the cold, we might be tempted to believe that they are mourning, keening, “Where are my leaves? What’s happened to us? Who stole our coat of many colors? Who took our life?” But you know the truth. They die to be reborn, losing tired, worn out leaves, shedding failing old props only to experience renewed life afresh and stronger in the spring. With the greatest of ease, trees seem to do the impossible all the time, continually growing upward against gravity, against nature, urging us to grow too, against out essential nature to be selfish and pessimistic, even when we think it’s flat impossible. Remind yourself of this wonderful trait of the tree as you work on your wish. You might encounter setbacks and resistance, but obstacles arise solely to point you in the right direction.

The great Kabbalist Rabbi Akiva, who two thousand years ago was wise in life as well as scripture, had a habit of flipping randomly through his holy books in search of a message just as some people today use Angel cards or the Tarot to divine some instant guidance from the One. Just before he embarked on one particular journey, he chanced to open his book to this same passage, “And God saw all that He had done and it was good.” A lucky omen, he thought. He loaded up his donkey with his books, a candle to study by late at night and a rooster to wake him in the morning. Together they walked all day and arrived at a small town. He searched for an inn, but found no vacancy anywhere. He knocked on random doors, asking for a bed and breakfast deal, but rudeness prevailed in this village, and no one would open their home even to a saint like Rabbi Akiva. “How unfortunate,” he said to himself. But he remembered the message of Genesis, “It’s all good,” and he smiled as he set off to camp in a nearby field.
He tied his donkey to the tree, lit his candle, and began to read his holy texts. Engrossed for hours in his studies, he looked up in time only to see the smacking lips and bone-crunching jaws of a lion transforming his faithful donkey into kitty chow. Rabbi Akiva stared up at the heavens and murmured, “It’s still all good.” At that moment, like an answer to his prayer, a fox dashed into his camp and kidnapped the rooster. There goes my wake up call, laughed Akiva to himself. “But it’s all for the good. All that God created is for the good,” he whispered to the sky. And just as he finished his affirmation, a blast of wind swept through field and extinguished his candle. The old sage stood in the dark field, bereft of a bed, candlelight, his rooster and his trusted mule. And yet Rabbi Akiva chanted on: “Everything is for the best. God found that it was good.”
This deluge of ill fortune distracted the rabbi from realizing that the little village across the field was burning. At midnight, a band of robbers had stormed into town, stealing, raping and killing everything in sight. In the light from the flames, Rabbi Akiva watched as the robbers led dozens of chained and fettered townsmen off to be sold as slaves in Rome. He cried a few tears for their awful plight and prayed for their health and deliverance. And as he prayed, he understood why the lion had devoured his donkey and the fox had stolen his rooster. Both of his friends liked to chatter and bray. Had they lived, they would have alerted the robbers to his presence in the field. The candle, too, would have drawn the criminals right to him. And the cruelty of the townsfolk, refusing the old traveler a place to lay his head, had turned out to be a lifesaver as well.