Previously, we laid the foundations for the conception that everything that happens is for the good, postulating that this is so because everything that happens is governed by Divine Providence. Nothing happens merely as a quirk of nature; if G‑d does not want it to occur, it cannot take place.

Moreover, G‑d’s will is purpose-oriented. Accordingly, since G‑d is the epitome of goodness, everything that happens has a positive purpose. The more we understand the connection between G‑d and our world — how they are really one — and the more we understand how G‑d controls every event that occurs, the more we can understand how everything is ultimately good.

There are, however, certain things that happen in life that we cannot conceive of as being good. We try to adopt a new perspective, to look from this angle, or from that vantage point, and still these things do not appear good. In the story of Rabbi Akiva or in the story of Nachum Ish Gamzu, it took a day or several days for everyone to see how what happened was for the good. But there are certain times when you just cannot make the connection. In fact, sometimes, we see a person perform a good deed or act pleasantly, and yet a short while later, he is forced to suffer because of it.

How can this be explained? One of the classic explanations can be derived from a story from the Midrash,1 which describes a journey that one of the Sages, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, shared with Eliyahu HaNovi, Elijah the Prophet.

Once, when Rabbi Yehoshua encountered Eliyahu HaNovi, he asked Eliyahu if he could accompany him so that he could learn from his conduct. Eliyahu refused, explaining that Rabbi Yehoshua would not understand what he would see. On the contrary, his mortal mind would raise countless questions and there would be no time for explanations.

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi nevertheless begged and pleaded; he promised that he would not ask any questions. Eliyahu finally agreed on the condition that as soon as Rabbi Yehoshua would begin to ask questions, they would part company.

And so they set out together. Toward evening, they reached an old, shaky hut. An elderly couple was sitting outside. While their features bespoke a dimension of dignity, they were obviously poor. But their poverty did not hamper their enthusiasm to welcome guests. As soon as they saw the travelers, they jumped up and eagerly invited them into their home, offering them a meal and a place to sleep.

Admittedly, the accommodations were somewhat lacking because the people did not have very much. But whatever they had, they were willing to share, doing the best they could to observe the mitzvah of hachnosas orchim, showing hospitality to guests.

The following morning, the two travelers bade their hosts farewell and set out again. Shortly after they had departed, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi saw that Eliyahu HaNovi was praying. He listened closely. What was Eliyahu praying for? The elderly couple who had hosted them owned a cow. The cow was the most valuable possession they owned — indeed, the majority of their income came from the cow’s milk. Eliyahu was praying that this cow should die.

When Rabbi Yehoshua heard this, he was shocked. The couple had been so nice, so pleasant, so warm. Why did they deserve that their cow should die? But he could not ask any questions; that was the agreement he had made.

As they proceeded on their journey, they talked. Rabbi Yehoshua hoped that Eliyahu would offer an explanation for what happened, or at least a hint in that direction. But that was not so; instead he directed the conversation to other issues. Toward evening, they came to a beautiful mansion. Although many members of the household saw them, no one offered them hospitality.

They asked the owner of the house, a very rich man, for permission to spend the night in his home. Reluctantly, the man agreed. But he was very cold to them; he did not offer them any food, and he hardly said a word to them.

After they set off on their way in the morning, Rabbi Yehoshua noticed that Eliyahu was praying again. What was he praying for this time? One of the walls in this rich man’s house was cracked and weak. Eliyahu was praying to G‑d that this wall should be restored and should remain strong and solid.

Rabbi Yehoshua could not understand this. Here the person was a miser, who had not acted kindly to them at all. And yet Eliyahu was praying for him, entreating G‑d that his wall, which was cracked, should become solid and strong again. But once more, he abided by the terms of his agreement: no questions allowed.

Eventually, the two travelers arrived in a beautiful city; everything about the place reflected prosperity and opulence. They made their way to the shul. It was a magnificent structure, designed with elegance and taste. Everything, even the benches, was beautiful.

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi thought that they would have no problem receiving hospitality in such a town. But it did not work out that way. The people were not very kind. When the prayers were over, nobody approached them to ask where they planned to eat or where they planned to stay. Ultimately, they had to spend the night in the shul, sleeping on those beautiful benches, without eating supper.

In the morning, when they were ready to leave, Eliyahu blessed the inhabitants of the city, wishing them that they should all become leaders. Again, Rabbi Yehoshua was puzzled. Why did Eliyahu bless people who had not shown them hospitality?

That evening, they came to another city. Obviously, it was not as wealthy a community as the first; the shul was nowhere near as beautiful. But the people were very fine, warm and kind. They did everything they could to make the two travelers comfortable. Before leaving that city, Eliyahu told them, “May G‑d help that only one of you becomes a leader.”

At this point, Rabbi Yehoshua could no longer contain his curiosity. He told Eliyahu, “I know that by asking questions I will forfeit my right to accompany you, but I cannot go on like this. Please, explain these four incidents to me.”

And so Eliyahu began to explain: “The elderly couple whom we met first; they were wonderful people who performed acts of great kindness. So I wanted to give them a blessing. It was destined for the woman to pass away that day; it was to be the last day of her life.

“But by hosting us, she was given the opportunity to perform a mitzvah. And the merit of the mitzvah of hospitality that she performed was great enough for the decree to be lifted, but not entirely. So I prayed that their cow — which meant so much to them and which was their source of income — should die. Because the cow would die, the woman would have many more years to live. So the cow’s death was really a blessing for them.

“About the miser’s house. In that wall, a very great treasure lay buried. But the wall was weak and would soon break. Because he was a miser and conducted himself so crudely, I prayed that the wall should become strong so that he would not be able to benefit from the treasure.

“What about the people in the prosperous city?” Eliyahu continued. “My prayer that they should all become leaders in the city is not a blessing; if anything, it is the opposite. For the most destructive thing that can happen in a city is that everybody becomes a leader.

“In the other city, where the people were kind, I gave them a genuine blessing: that one, and only one, of them become a true leader.”

This story contains a lesson for all of us. Like Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, we have to realize that life is a large puzzle with many pieces, of which we possess only a small portion. So, of course, we have questions. It is natural. For what we know about ourselves and about others is only a few pieces of a 5,000-piece puzzle. Is it any wonder that these few pieces do not seem to mean anything? The form of these pieces, the shape that results from their combination, does not look like anything, nor does it appear to lead to anything.

But that is because we have only a few pieces of a 5,000-piece puzzle. Once we receive the other four-thousand nine-hundred odd pieces and we add these few, everything falls into place and we see exactly how it fits in.

So we have to be patient and realize that we do not have the whole picture. Not about ourselves, about what happened before in our lives, what will happen later in our lives, about others in our community, or even about our parents and our children. And therefore, our vision is very limited, and we do not understand many of the things we see.