Parashas Bereishis

After describing what Hashem brought forth on the sixth and final day of creation, the Torah states (Bereishis 1:31): “And God saw all that He had done, and, behold, it was very good.” The Midrash teaches (Bereishis Rabbah 9:8):
R. Huna said: “‘Behold, it was very good’ signifies the Attribute of Benevolence. ‘And, behold, it was very good” signifies the Attribute of Affliction.” But can we really call the Attribute of Affliction very good? Yes, for through it man attains life in the world to come. Thus Shlomo declares (Mishlei 6:23): “The path to life is paved with chastisement.” Go forth and observe what path leads a person to life in the world to come – it is through the Attribute of Affliction.
The Midrash explains clearly why the Attribute of Affliction is good, but it does not explicitly indicate why this attribute is referred to as “very good.” The Maggid sets out to shed light on this point.
He begins by noting two other striking points about the Torah’s statement. The first is the word all in the phrase “and God saw all that He had done.” This word seems superfluous; it could have been written: “And God saw what He had done.” The second is the very presence of a verse stressing that what Hashem created is good. In truth, the world Hashem created is replete with manifest blessing: health, tranquility, wealth, honor, and so on. On the other hand, the world also includes some elements that appear to us to be bad. It is the existence of these elements that generated a need for our verse to be written; the Torah is teaching us that even they are good. Indeed, it is a great kindness on Hashem’s part that He introduced affliction into the world, for, had He not done so, man’s awe of Hashem would not reach the proper level. Our vulnerability to loss and suffering makes us more vigilant in obeying Hashem’s word, thereby solidifying our hold on the blessings Hashem grants us.
In referring to afflictions as “very good,” the Maggid says, the Midrash is not asserting that afflictions are good. Indeed, afflictions cannot justifiably be called “good,” for they actually are, in themselves, bad. Rather, the Midrash is conveying a different message. A simple analogy brings out the point. There are certain condiments that on their own are harsh or unpleasant; examples are salt, pepper, and horseradish. No one would eat these things by themselves. Rather, they are used to enhance other foods. A piece of meat or fish is good in itself, but, just as is, it is not very good. It is the added condiment that makes the food very good.
This is how it is with afflictions and other hazards. In themselves, they are unpleasant. But they enhance the good world that Hashem created, making it very good. For without them, as explained above, we would not have a firm hold on the blessings we receive. We can see a hint to this idea in the verse itself, if we read it closely. The verse says that Hashem viewed all that He had done as very good—the term used is “done” (asah) rather than “created” (bara). Now, the term “done” can be read as “produced.” We can thus intepret the verse as saying not that everything Hashem created is good in its own right, but rather that everything Hashem created – including afflictions – produces good.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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