In every negative situation there are opportunities to find something positive that offers some
compensation for the negative experience. For example, G-d compensates a blind
person’s loss of sight by strengthening his other senses. But sometimes the
loss itself, the negative experience itself, has a compensating positive side.
In his late eighties, the Chofetz Chaim (he lived into his
nineties) became hard of hearing. People had to shout into his ears in order for
him to hear them. Somebody asked him why he didn’t get a hearing aid (he died
in the nineteen thirties). Then people wouldn’t have to shout at him. He said,
“Look, my whole life I worked on controlling my mouth so that I wouldn’t say
loshon hora, and I perfected it. I know when to keep my mouth shut and when to
open it. But my ears were always open. So inevitably I heard loshon hora. But
now, baruch Hashem, the Ribbono Shel Olam has made me hard of hearing, and the
only thing people tell me is what they can yell into my ears. No one has the
chutzpah to yell loshon hora into my ears. ” The Chofetz Chaim certainly did
not mean to say that he’d rather be deaf than have his hearing. The point is
that he found a positive compensation in his loss of hearing, so that he could
relate to it in a positive rather than negative way. To be homebound sick is
very restrictive, and most anyone would find it very hard to deal with. He can’t
do any of the things he was used to do. But there were also things he would have
liked to do that he couldn’t do because he was so busy: learn, read, play
music… the list is endless. Now he has the time. Even a situation that is 99%
negative can have its compensations, a good side. And when person has to deal
with the situation, it’s that good side which he should focus on.
One of the children of the Chofetz Chaim died at a young age.
At the funeral, the Chofetz Chaim said that he knew a widow who had an only
child. She had lost her husband and that child was all she had in the world. The
child got sick and eventually died. At the funeral, the widow turned her eyes to
the Ribbono Shel Olam and said, “Until now I’ve had to share my love for You
with my child. Now that You’ve taken my child, I can give all my love to You.”
Here is a woman who found something positive in one of the most negatively
imaginable situations in life. Of course, her love for G-d represents a very
high madrega, but if she, on her madrega, could respond in a
positive way to such a negative situation, each person, on his madrega,
should be capable of finding something positive in the negative situations.
We often have to deal with setbacks and annoyances. Even when
the electricity goes out, you can short circuit negative feelings by reminding
yourself that the longer it lasts, the lower your electricity bill will be!
Something as trivial as that can sometimes make a big difference in the way we
feel, if only to break the momentum of negative feelings that might otherwise
find no opposition. A person should look for those compensations and side
benefits—even if they are comical—and make a point of using them to help him
reign in his negative responses.
After a fire in my house, my whole family had to live for a
time in my study, which was in a separate building. Of course, it was crowded
and inconvenient, but I used to tell myself that when we were at home and I
wanted to look at a sefer, I had to walk out to the study. Now it’s right at
hand. That’s certainly pretty trivial, perhaps even silly compared to all the
inconvenience the fire caused, but anything that gives a place for positive
feelings is important when dealing with difficult situations.
Sometimes, however bad a situation might be, it would have
been worse if things had stayed the same. For example, divorce is a painful
thing, but when confronting those difficulties, a person should remind himself
how much more painful it would have been to stay married. That’s why he got
divorced. Before he got divorced it was worse, so no matter how bad things are
now, relative to what was, it’s better, and that’s a positive thing—a good
thing to keep in mind. Sometimes, in order to get out of a bad situation we have
to enter into a situation which is also difficult, but difficult in a way that
is easier to handle. When that happens, its important to focus on how much
better things are now, for all the difficulties.