Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz – Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?


Operation Inspiration


One of the great things about being a writer is that people share stories with you they’d like others to hear. It’s an opportunity to learn from the lives of others and that’s what this piece is about. The fellow to whom this happened prefers to remain anonymous, so we’ll just call him, “Yossi.”

Yossi’s wife needed a prescription refilled so he went to the pharmacy, only to find out that she needed a new prescription He called the doctor’s office but there was no way to get it done that day, which was Thursday. As it happened, the doctor didn’t get back to him until mid-afternoon on Friday, saying he’d sent it. Yossi hurried to the pharmacy, only to find out that they’d closed early!

He remembered that sometimes another branch of the pharmacy can fill prescriptions, so he called another location. He sat on hold for perhaps ten minutes, finally beginning to drive to the drug store by the time they picked up. They were quite busy but said they could have it ready in a few hours. As it was only two hours to Shabbos, he pleaded with the man on the other end of the line, explaining that the Jewish Sabbath was beginning soon. Was there any way they could make it ready sooner? The pharmacist made no promises but said he could try to have it ready in an hour.

Yossi hurried home, showered, and put on his suit. Then his wife told him she’d found a few pills from a previous refill, so he didn’t need to make himself crazy to go back before Shabbos. Relieved, Yossi called the pharmacy to let them know that though he appreciated their offer to help him, they didn’t need to trouble themselves. But there was a problem.

They didn’t pick up the phone! For a moment, Yossi figured he’d just give up, but a thought gnawed at him. He had requested a special accommodation because of Shabbos. What if the pharmacist had made himself crazy to help “this Jewish person,” and then he was a no-show? Wouldn’t that be a chilul Hashem? A lesser person might have shrugged it off as the drug store’s problem for not picking up the phone, but Yossi knows that the impression we make on people is sooooo important. Chilul Hashem is one of the worst aveiros a person can do, as it causes a decrease in the respect people have for HaKadosh Baruch Hu. He decided to drive the fifteen minutes to the other store.

When he got there, there was a long line. As one frum fellow got in line behind Yossi, he commented that it was getting close to Shabbos. Yossi agreed, and then suddenly, the tall man in front of him with white hair, wearing shorts and a tennis shirt, turned and said, “Well, if you really needed the prescription, you could pick it up on Shabbos, couldn’t you?” Yossi had just been “bageled,” as the expression goes. This man who didn’t look like he was in any rush to make Shabbos wanted the others to know he was one of their own.

Though at first Yossi only mumbled something about it not being so simple, he realized this happened for a reason. He struck up a conversation with the man and explained further that there had to be an extreme need for the choleh to pick up the prescription, and that he’d only come to the store so there would be no chilul Hashem involved. The man was impressed and that was that. Yossi was called next, and the pharmacist said, “I need another fifteen minutes.” Looking at his watch, Yossi knew he didn’t have the time. It was half an hour to Shabbos and he had a fifteen minute drive home.

“My wife found a few pills,” he explained, “but I came here because I’d asked for a favor. Take your time and I’ll pick them up tomorrow night.” He then asked about a second prescription, and whether it could also be ready after Shabbos. The man asked Yossi to wait a moment while he checked.

As he did so, one of the obviously religious Jewish women was called to the window next to his. She was told that there was a co-pay due for her prescription of twenty dollars. She seemed flustered. “Um, here’s five dollars,” she stammered, “and you can put $11 on this card…” her voice trailed off.

Silently, Yossi slipped his hand into his pocket and pulled out a few bills. Finding a $20 bill, he deftly slipped it onto the counter of the window next to his and smilingly whispered, “Have a good Shabbos!”

The woman was brought to tears and thanked him, then took her prescription and hurried out of the store. Yossi left without his prescriptions, but definitely NOT empty-handed.

The whole progression of issues, from the need for a refill, to the delay, to the early closing, were seemingly “bad” things. However, because Yossi was careful not to cause a chilul Hashem, he’d been able to make a Kiddush Hashem with the fellow in line as well as the pharmacist, and he was right where he was needed to help make this woman’s situation a bit easier.

It turns out one reason “bad things” happen to good people is because they’re the ones who know how to take advantage of the opportunities to do good things when they’re needed most. Yossi wanted more people to recognize this, so he asked me to share his story. Will you look for opportunities in “bad” situations? If you’re a good person, I bet you will!

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