Dr Judith Guedalia

A Kuna Matata - Don't Worry, Be Happy vs. Gam Zu L'Tova

By Dr. Judith Guedalia and Chaim K.

There we were less than a week before Tisha B'Av, the most cataclysmic day in our history. The Two Tablets lay broken as a result of loss of faith by the newly freed Bnai Yisrael, the very same people who experienced G-d's presence among them in both a very spiritual and physical sense. Their enemies "plagued and their soldiers drowned in the parting of the Red Sea; the earth and sky heralding the establishment of the Jewish people's law - the oral law and the written law; and they lost faith and built a golden calf.
On this same date, the Ninth of Av, both Holy Temples were destroyed and the Jewish people were sent to the Diaspora, a state we still find ourselves in close to 2,000 years later.

On a sweltering summer's day in Jerusalem we were contemplating life, wondering how Gilad Shalit, our single, live-captured soldier, is surviving yet another day of inhumane captivity that has lasted over two years. His friends-in-arms were recently "de-mobbed (demobilized), discharged from their active military service after three years. But he remains.

                                                         * * * * *

I sit opposite Chaim K., who has been a "prisoner in his wheelchair and respirator for over eight years.

"I am nothing like Gilad Shalit. I am so fortunate to have my family, their love close at hand. 'Hakuna Matata' - do you know what it means? I recall a song from the 1994 Lion King cartoon movie musical. I look it up online and find that in Swahili it means "no difficulties," no troubles, problems, worries or cares.

Chaim K. starts humming the tune of Bobby McFerrin's song, "Don't Worry, Be Happy. This song was synonymous with a Caribbean "Island attitude that the author and musical artist projected when he performed:

Here is a little song I wrote. You might want to sing it note for note. Don't worry, be happy.
In every life we have some trouble. When you worry you make it double. Don't worry, be happy...
"No way do I believe that, but don't quote me." (As we work on this article, he gives me permission to quote him.)

"Be happy, but worry too! You have to worry about the right things and be happy about the right things, too. Don't worry about politics, but you should worry about shalom bayit, your children's chinuch, and parnassah - and at the same time be happy.

"Be happy with your nachat from children, your income, and the fact that you are not hungry. Be happy with yehiyeh b'seder. All the time people ask me how I am. It doesn't matter whether I am in pain or not, Baruch Hashem, I say. I won't start to whine. My mother will come in and ask; I'll tell her some things. Here and there I am uncomfortable, but I won't tell everything there is to tell."

Do you censor yourself?

"Maybe I do, but not to you, the Shrink! He winks and, a bit sardonically, says, "How can I? Isn't all of psychology about uncovering emotions and against self-censoring and behavior that is caused by that bad habit? On the other hand, when someone is under extreme anxiety they may do things automatically and repetitively, like washing their hands when they are thinking about things they unconsciously feel are wrong." I smile, and he says, "Not bad, eh. I am a psychologist already!

"I think lack of tziniut (modesty) is extreme today, especially in the chiloni (secular) world; they sell you everything with flirting. I wanted to buy a cell phone; the sales person was so beautiful. I felt that I wasn't thinking straight anymore, and her sales pitch was affecting my judgment. I had done a lot of research about which contract was best for me and my pocket. She was selling me something else entirely. I censored out the 'other stuff' and said I had to go home and I'd be back the next day. I went home and thought about it, and went to another company whose deal was better for me. It can be very dangerous and they, the shop owners and sellers of just about everything, know it. 

"That's why most of the time I have to use my brain, think in a logical way, and not let the 'wrapping' or the emotions interfere in my judgment.

"But let me just tell you again: the 'wrapping' was very beautiful. But who knows, the product may have been faulty."

Two stories come to mind on how "our people look at the world and what our attitude should be. 

One is the story of Rabbi Akiva, who is known to have said, "Everything that Hashem does is for the good." In Gemara Brachot (60b) there is a story about when he was traveling with a donkey, a rooster and a candle. At night he looked for a place to stay, and the nearby village turned him away. He said, "Everything Hashem does is for the good, and he slept in a field.
During the night the wind blew out his candle, a cat ate his rooster, and a lion ate the donkey. Again Rabbi Akiva's reaction was, "Everything that Hashem does is for the best. That night a marauding group came and took the entire town captive, while he slept unnoticed. He was spared. Rashi explains that if the candle, rooster or donkey had survived, they would have attracted the marauders' attention and Rabbi Akiva would also have been captured.

Another story found in Masechet Ta'anit (21a) is about Nachum Ish Gamzu. He got this nickname by dint of his reaction to anything that happened to him: "Gam zu l'tovah. The Jews of his area wanted to send a gift to the kaiser and chose him as their emissary. On his way he stopped by an inn, and during the night the unscrupulous owners emptied the chest and replaced the precious jewels with sand. When the kaiser opened his gift and saw the sand, he thought he was being ridiculed - and decided to kill all the Jews. Nachum Ish Gamzu just said, "Gam zu l'tovah.

Eliyahu Hanavi came disguised as one of the kaiser's men and suggested that maybe this sand was from the Holy Patriarch Avraham, who threw sand that became swords. They tried it out and were able to defeat their enemy with the "special sand Gamzu had brought. The kaiser sent him back home with refilled chests full of treasures. On the return trip, Nachum spent the night at the same inn.

The innkeepers were baffled, for hadn't they replaced the jewels with sand? The greedy innkeepers decided that their inn was "sitting on valuable sand. They knocked down the inn and brought all the sand to the kaiser, explaining that the original sand had truly come from them. Once the kaiser had the sand tested and found that it was just plain sand, he felt mocked and had the innkeepers executed.

Chaim is quiet for a moment.

"It is so hard for me to say that the car that hit me and left me this way - quadriplegic, totally paralyzed and on a respirator - did a good thing. If someone had given me a choice that either something awful would happen to one of my family members or that I should be this injured, I would say 'okay.' But who can say that when you don't feel you have a choice in the deciding? I don't know what to say or how to 'gift wrap' what happened to me. But it is a fact. What happened to me is a fact that I have to live with; I have no other choice. I can't say either "Gam zu l'tovah or "Everything that G-d does is okay. But I am sure that Hashem has His reasons, and nothing in this world "just happens. The only thing I can say is that I simply don't understand why this happened. No human person can.

Originally published in the Jewish Press on  August 27, 2008


Tags: Chaim K. | Hakuna Matata | Jewish Press | Quadriplegic