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The gemara in Brachos daf 60b recounts how while traveling, R Akiva was refused lodging in a certain town. He said "everything which Hashem does is for the good" and went to sleep outside of town. A series of misfortunes happened to him (his rooster and donkey were killed and his lamp went out) to which R Akiva said every time "everything which Hashem does is for the good". It turned out that that night an enemy army came to town and took all the townsfolk prisoner.

The problem is, that if R Akiva's definition of "good" is that he was not taken prisoner, then how can EVERYTHING be good, seeing that the towns people WERE taken prisoner! And if one would reply that for them - for whatever reason - that was the best (and thus "good"), then R Akiva's not being taken prisoner is not a proof that Hashem does everything for the good, because if R Akiva would also have been taken prisoner, then that would have been "good" for him...?

  • Apparently the decree had already been made that the Romans would capture the town. Rabbi Akiva deserved special action to save him which the townspeople did not. For example, Yosef was sold to a caravan that had sweet smelling spices rather than the usual pitch and tar. Actually the caravan had to have been set up months before in order to arrive exactly when Yosef was being sold. – sabbahillel Feb 14 '17 at 14:37
  • I once heard something along the lines of that the town deserved to be punished because their script "no one mAy enter after sundown" policy put people in life threatening danger. From outlaws and wild animals. They were therefore punished by being taken captive. -- don't remember where I read it, though – Menachem Feb 14 '17 at 16:31
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from a human(olam hazeh) perspective , not being taken prisoner is good . Hashem brought this result about through him losing his animals, and flame, but that was better then the alternative and therefor was for his apparent good. This is the lesson of the gemara that anything which happens Hashem is orchestrating for our ultimate advantage and RAbbi AKiva got to see this advantage immediately and obviously, after reassuring himself when things appeared to be bad. Although had HAshem decreed that he would have also been taken prisoner that would have also been for his ultimate good, it would not have been as obvious and immediate of a lesson.

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    Welcome to Mi Yodeya Super! Thanks for sharing the answer. Adding sources always improves posts. Adding some here could improve the answer. – mevaqesh Mar 17 '17 at 0:30
  • See maharsha there who adds in the word ephshar. Which would kill the whole idea of an ultimate good unless it's only referring to in this world. I don't think the story was meant to prove that everything that happens is for the best but rather to illustrate how we should practice and apply the concept. Meaning how to approach difficult situations from the Torah perspective – super IT guy Mar 19 '17 at 15:44
  • sources should be edited into posts themselves and in order for a user to be informed of your comment put his name in the comment with an @ in front of it. E.g. @mevaqesh – mevaqesh Jun 15 '17 at 14:14
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As @DoubleAA rightly commented, Rabbi `Aqiva's outlook was characterized by justifying G-d or, as 18th-century German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz called it, "theodicy" (lit. justifying G-d).

Rabb'einu Bahya ben Yoseph ibn Paquda also urges this approach in his Hovot HaLevavot (in Sha`ar `Avodat HaEloqim IIRC), i.e. that one should strive to justify G-d's actions or give Him the "benefit of the doubt" in modern parlance.

Accordingly, it's certainly logically consistent that both Rabbi `Aqiva being saved and the townspeople being conquered were, in fact, for the (ultimate) good.

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I love this question. It is sharp, shrewd and thought provoking. But i think i've got a good answer too.

I would opt for the second approach that indeed it was good for the people of the town to be taken prisoner (according to his dictum "gam zu letovah"). But note that when we say it was good for them we are not talking about a mystical or otherworldly good, we are talking about simple good; what me and you call good (on this world). And it is possible (maybe hard to imagine but nevertheless conceivable) that for everyone in the city there was some aspect in which "being taken" was good for them (on this world and similar to R Akiva case). R Akiva was just giving a personal example in which he witnessed firsthand the hand of god.

Of course we can all say that everything is for the good (or we can just state firmly that it was good for the prisoners to be taken without providing any evidence for this), but why should we believe that it is indeed so? R Akiva proved it with a personal encounter, in which he thought that something bad happened to him, and in the end turned out to be good. He provided evidence to his claim that everything is for the good!

You ask: if we say it was good for the townspeople to be taken prisoner, then even if R Akiva would've been taken that would've been good too. Well that is only true after the facts - after R Akiva taught us this lesson that "everything is for the best". But R Akiva didn't start out with this assumption, indeed he was questioning this when his donkey was taken. And it is possible that would he have been taken prisoner and nothing good would've come out of it, he might have reached a different conclusion altogether! But luckily R Akiva had a different experience in which he saw clearly how a bad thing (which he thought was bad) turned into a good thing in front of his eyes.

Hope this answer helps you unravel the true meaning of this episode.

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I feel that I understand what you're asking. You're asking, isn't R' Akiva's statement trivial, because it does not rule anything out? If this happens, then this is for the best, and if that happens, then that is for the best. But anything can still happen.

You're going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.

Some children struggle in childhood with the perception that our hopes are often disappointed. And sometimes they progress to a child's faith: although lots of hopes are disappointed, our most important hopes in life will be realized. We sometimes try to encourage this child's faith at bedtime.

On the day the rooster died, Rabbi Akiva observed that things always go our way. Misfortune doesn’t disprove this. Anyone in his position might have been sad about his losses until he discovered that those supposed misfortunes were hugely advantageous to him. If he had instead survived that day by 100 years and died without ever learning that the town had been captured on that day, he might have remembered the day begrudgingly as the day when he received less than he deserved; but that is only possible for any of us because we remain ignorant of the good in everything that happens. Instead he did learn of the town; but unlike many people he reflected on the fact that for that event and for every event there are limitless consequences of which no person can ever become aware. In other words, the lesson was not just that the best course sometimes contains some costs; the lesson is that if we knew the truth we would not consider the costs to be costs at all. But we never know the truth.

If the people of the town died before they discovered how their own deaths were for the good, that does not distinguish them from the imagined Akiva (who never learned about the town), or from most of us who live and die without understanding the good in all of the things that seem so terribly sad about life. The only important difference is in our ability to imagine that this is so.

I know a family whose life unfolded in such a way that looking back on it, I am sure that it would have been better if one of their number had died years ago. But if that person had in fact died, then of course nobody would have been in the position to understand how this death was for the good of all concerned, including the good of the decedent. Instead, the surviving members of that family would have been emotionally devastated by the death, suffering terrible pain and terrible doubts about providence. That is the position which we have put G-d in: he must treat us with such gentleness or harshness as He knows best for us, given that we differ in our trust in him and our consequent ability to accept harshness. Because this family could not have accepted the death which would actually have been for the good, they instead saw the consequences of their lack of faith. The distinction in R’ Akiva is that he understood this.

I am a privileged member of a privileged society. I've known only peace and prosperity, and health and education receive more public support than most societies could have dreamed of. Yet I have a friend whose child died in her grade-school years. I have two friends who fled their burning homes; in one case the house was completely lost. I have friends whose children have profound handicaps, friends who have been victims of crimes, and so on. So I suspect that not many adults at any time in history entertained a child's faith. But some of us, including Rabbi Akiva, have entertained the faith of an adult.

Consider Rabbi Akiva's story. He saw thousands of his students die (Gen Rabbah 61:03, Ecclesiastes Rabbah 11:01, Yevamos 62b3). Then many of his colleagues were brutally killed during the savage Roman persecution of the Rabbis, the martyrs recalled in the Tisha Be'Av service (in Kinna 21), in the Yom Kippur service (in Eileh Ezkra, on p. 266 in Chabad's new bilingual edition), in Sanhedrin 11a3 #29 to 31, and in various other places. As Rabbi Eli'ezer had warned (Sanhedrin 68a1, cf. Pesachim 69a2), Akiva's death would be especially terrible (Berachos 61b, Yerushalmi Berachos 93b3 in the ArtScroll English edition).

And as they were combing R' Akiva's flesh with iron combs, he recited Shema.

So you ask: Does Rabbi Akiva's statement rule anything out? And I answer: only despair.

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