Let My People Know

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “According to its simple meaning and then according to its esoteric meaning.”

The Tanya says, “One should accept misfortune with joy, like the joy of a visible and obvious benefit.”

These words are difficult to comprehend—and that much harder to implement.

The dilemma is illustrated in a story about Rabbi Berish Meizels, a pious Torah scholar who later because the rabbi of Krakow and Warsaw.

At a younger age, he was the head of a yeshiva and, simultaneously, a wealthy lumber merchant.

In those days, logs were lashed together into rafts and floated down the Vistula River to the sea.

When river traffic went well, the profits were great.

One day, the news came that the worst had happened: all of the logs had sunk.

This meant that R. Meizels … was now impoverished and in debt.

His fearful relatives … asked one of his students to break the news in such a way that he would not collapse.

The student approached R. Meizels with his Gemara and said to him, “Rabbi, there is a passage here that I don’t understand. … How can one accept bad news joyfully?”

The rabbi explained the passage … according to its simple meaning and then according to its esoteric meaning.

But the student again asked, “Rabbi, I still can’t understand. If you were told that all of your rafts had been lost, would you dance in joy?”

The rabbi told him, “Certainly.”

To this, the student replied, “If so, you may begin dancing, because your rafts have, in fact, been lost.”

When R. Meizels heard this, he fainted.

And it is told that the first thing he said when he recovered was, “Now I, too, do not understand this passage.”

—Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz