Seeing the Good

A person should work on
developing the ability to appreciate little things. One way of doing this is not
to expect anything. When things go wrong, people ask, “Why is this happening
to me?” Rarely does a person ask that question when things go right—as
though he had a right to his good fortune. People seem to feel they really
deserve a hundred percent, and if it’s only ninety nine percent they have a
right to complain. But, in fact, the opposite is the case.

The midrash says that if a person is alive he has no reason
to complain. That’s the minimum. If you have more than that, be thankful. But
even if you don’t have more than that, you’re alive, you’re in this world.
There’s a benefit to that, which a person recognizes when he believes that
there’s purpose to living here. If a person gets used to not expecting
anything, he’ll be thankful for whatever he has. If he gets used to expecting
alot, he’ll never be happy. There will always be something he doesn’t have
and he’ll always be upset about it.

People have a tendency to look at things in the most negative
way possible. When the sun goes up, they say its too sunny. When the sun goes
down they complain that it’s so dark. Whatever the situation, no matter how
good it might appear to someone else, there’s always somebody who’ll find
something bad in it and focuses on just that.

Related to this preoccupation with the negative, people like
to exaggerate their problems. They get pleasure, even a sense of vitality, in
making their problem seem worse than it really is. A person should work on
maintaining a positive outlook: he should focus on the good and avoid
exaggerating what bad there is. Every negative situation has something good in
it. For example, someone loses his job and there are no other jobs available.
That’s a hard thing to deal with. But to focus on what’s bad about it just
adds hurt to an already difficult situation. It undermines the inner strength we
need to face painful and threatening situations. Find something good—however
trivial—and make a point of enjoying it. You lost your job? Now you’ll have
more time to learn, more time to spend with the children. Small consolation, you
might say, considering the terrible financial situation that could arise and all
that could mean for him and his family. But that positive focus is just what he
needs to maintain his inner strength cope effectively with a very difficult
situation.

Even when there seems to be nothing positive at all, we
should keep in mind this paradoxical truth about human beings: that hardship can
be the occasion of the deepest and most maturing spiritual insight. A person
with an open heart discovers a new feeling of being close to G-d when things are
so bad that G-d is his only hope and his only consolation.

When Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai and his son left the cave in
which they had been contemplating the mystical depths of the Torah for twelve
years, they could not understand how people could spend their time plowing and
planting, engaged in the labor that focuses their attention on the mundane
world. They were so critical that whatever they looked at got burnt up. An echo
went forth from Heaven, “I didn’t put you in this world to burn it up. Get
back into the cave.” Why were they so critical? Because they had spent twelve
years isolated in a cave and engaged in the most intense mystical contemplation.
That made them intolerant of normal people and the ordinary demands of life. If
the cave had made them so critical, how could it be that sending them back into
the cave would make them less critical? From here we see that negativity is not
the result of learning too much, but rather, it’s the result of not learning
enough.

Yeshiva people who spend their days learning Torah and avoid
getting involved in the ordinary activities of life can be very critical of the
world. But that’s not because they learn so much. It’s because they have not
learned enough. The people who learn enough, like Rebbe Shimeon bar Yochai after
he left the cave for the second time, realize that it is inappropriate to be so
critical. They see the positive things.