More than just a message of hope, a message of moving on and accepting that life moves in cycles (or more accurately spirals), the saying ‘gam zeh ya’avor‘ says a lot about the Jewish attitude to problems and accepting Hashem‘s ultimate influence in our lives.
As they say, ‘there is only one constant, and that is change’. But as we say, ‘there is only one constant, and that is Hashem’. ‘This too shall pass’ is a declaration that we trust in Hashem. That he runs the world as it’s meant to be, ultimately for our own good. It is a deeply humbling statement that speaks to us when times are good or bad. It brings us back to earth and says “hey you, this that you are experiencing is but a mere moment in time. What’s the big picture?” So when we are sad we can remember this phrase and think something good will come out of our current situation. And when we are happy we can remember this phrase and realise we need to be thankful right now and not take what we have for granted. Either way, whether bad or good, it is right. It is meant to be the way it is because ultimately we are just visitors trying to fulfill our mission in life.
The saying (they say) has it’s origins in a story related to King Solomon. There are many versions of the story, but it goes something like this:
King Solomon had a servant called Nathanial. Nathanial was just amazing. There wasn’t one task that Nathanial couldn’t do, and he made all the other servants envious. King Solomon decided to give him a task he surely would fail at to help him be more humble. He told him that he was inviting many guests for a party, and he wanted Nathanial to find a gift that would “make the happy man sad, and the sad man happy.” He had two weeks until the party to get this gift.
Nathanial set out on his quest and searched the entire kingdom with no luck. Finally he went to an old shabby part of Jerusalem where there was a market. On an old rug a man was selling some items. He asks the owner what he’s looking for – a gift that can “make the happy man sad, and the sad man happy.” The owner smiled, giving him a ring with an inscription inside. Nathanial buys it and rushes back to the party, which has already started.
King Solomon and his guests see Nathanial and the King asks Nathanial what he has brought. Nathanial opens the bags and pulls out the ring and reads the inscription: Gam Ze Ya’avor. “And this too shall pass”.
More than anything the story in itself shows that even when our mission may seem impossible or that people put obstacles in our way, if we are meant to get there we will. Hashem orchestrates the world in an amazing way, precisely, and we must try to be accepting of this in the good times and in the bad. It’s a sanity check.
Even if the quest Nathanial was sent on seemed an impossibility, with effort and Hashem’s help, anything is possible. The message from all this is then not to give in to our problems, not to assume that our bumps in the road aren’t there to help us fly higher off the ground. With our effort and Hashem’s help, every problem gets fixed and every joy is a blessing.