The Whole Picture
G-d is the greatest artist of
all. No one paints the way G-d paints. The whole world is His canvas and the
entire pageant of history is His picture. But we don’t always recognize G-d’s
technique. We don’t necessarily understand why this black line or that black
shadow—the bitter things in life—are necessary if the picture is going to
come out right.
When a child paints a portrait, we can follow every step. He
draws a circle for the head, an oval for an eye, a line that is obviously the
mouth. We can pretty much tell the purpose of everything he puts down on his
piece of paper. But it’s not the same for a great painter. A person who has
not been initiated into the secrets of his technique may well wonder why he puts
a dab of black here or a shadow over there. He might well ask him: “What did
you do that for? To me it seems completely unnecessary. To me it just seems to
ruin the picture.” The artist might answer: “Fine. It’s going to take me
six months to finish this picture. Stick around. If you have any questions when
you’ve seen the whole thing, I’ll be happy to answer you.” Of course, once
the picture is done and all the lines and colors fall into place, the questions
that once seemed so urgent won’t mean anything. It will be obvious (to the
discerning eye) that every dab and jot was necessary to produce the picture that
the artist had in mind, even the ones that seemed ugly when they were first put
down on the canvas.
G-d is painting the tremendous picture of history. Your
problems are part of that big picture. From your point of view, it may seem that
those problems just make the picture ugly. But that’s only because we don’t
see the finished picture. We don’t realize what the whole thing is going to
look like when it’s done. If we did, we’d realize that our problems are
necessary if the picture is to come out right, and that our problems are not
just our problems. They are an intrinsic part of the complex of events and
experiences which combine to create the history of man. Our problems take place
on the backdrop of world history. Our problems are one of the most dramatic ways
in which we participate in the great drama which began with the act of creation.
Everyone has heard stories about people who thought that
something that happened to them was good. A guy wins the lottery. He becomes a
millionaire over night. A week later he’s dead because people robbed his house
and murdered him. How happy he must have been to discover that he had the
winning ticket. If only he could have seen the whole picture.
Another person loses his job. He’s very upset. He’s sure
that it’s one of the worst things that have ever happened to him. Two weeks
later he finds another job which is a thousand times better than the job he
About ten years ago there was a terrible plane crash in
Chicago. Everybody on board was killed. In the days following the crash, the
papers ran stories on the people on the plane. One of the women was flying to a
family reunion. She had been on standby, and the plane was packed. It was clear
that she wouldn’t get on. One of the passengers, a businessman, saw that she
was desperate to get on the plane. He decided that his appointment could wait
and he gave her his seat. At that moment, the woman must have felt that this was
her lucky day. And who knows if the businessman didn’t feel a little put out.
Within a minute and a half after take-off the plane crashed and the businessman
found out that it was his lucky day. And even that’s not the end of the story.
Who can say, in the final analysis, which one of them got the better end of the
deal? It took one and a half minutes for the table to turn.
So how can a person jump to conclusions about what’s good
and what’s bad. Even death, which people usually regard as the worst of all
evils, is really only the passage into a new stage of life: Eternal life. When
everyone was living into their nine-hundreds, Chanoch died at the youthful age
of 365—25 or 30 years old by today’s standards of longevity. At that time,
it appeared as though he had been cut down in the flower of his youth. His
family must have cried bitterly. But Rashi tells us why he died so young. At
this point he was still a tzaddik, but if he had lived longer he would have
become a rosho and lost his place in the world-to-come. He may have had
his life in this world shortened by 600 years, but what’s 600 years against
eternal life in the world-to-come? So, in retrospect, it was a good thing that
he died. Had his family known the whole picture, might have danced at his
funeral. The most terrible of misfortunes may be a great kindness. It just takes
seeing the whole picture to realize it.