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Nachum Ish Gamzu and the secret of turning pain into blessings


​Few stories in the Talmud are told in great detail as that of Nachum Ish Gamzu (Ta’anit 21a). As the teacher of Rabbi Akiva, the nickname Gamzu means “this too”, because no matter what hardships he went through in life, that was his motto, saying specifically Gam Zu L’Tova (“This too is for the best”).

​There’s a term in the Torah which serves no semantic function called את (pronouned “et”). This term has no meaning and serves to connect indirect objects to its verb. So great was Nachum’s brilliance that he was able to expound laws on every את term of the Torah.

​What can we learn from this mysterious sage?


The Story that Crowned Nachum

​Nachum’s story is pretty well known. Once the Roman emperor wanted to create more harsh decrees against the Jews. In order to stop him, the Jews decided to send Nachum who was a huge sage at the time with a very nice box of jewels. Nachum went and on his way stopped at an inn to sleep. The innkeeper however sensed that his guest was carrying a lot of valuables and sure enough, stole the jewels while he was sleeping. In order that Nachum would not notice the change, the innkeeper filled the box with sand.

​Nachum however did suspect something was different about the box and when he opened the box found the sand. Without skipping a heartbeat, he calmly said “Gam Zu L’Tova” (this too is for the best) and continued on his journey. Nachum entered the emperor’s palace and handed him the box with utmost simplicity. Sure enough, the emperor saw the sand and furiously shouted “are the Jews making fun of me?!”, threatening to kill all of them. Right then, our sages remark, Eliyahu HaNavi came dressed up as one of the soldiers and suggested the emperor “perhaps this is the sand that their forefather Avraham used to win the battle against the 5 kings”.

This intrigued the emperor, as his army was having a lot of difficulty conquering a certain enemy in one of the campaigns. He brought the sand to the frontlines, took a handful and threw at his enemies. A miracle happened, and the sand turned into arrows, annihilating them, just like it happened when Avraham Avinu used them.

Bring incredibly pleased with the gift, the emperor sent Nachum on his way with plenty of jewels and annulled the decrees.


Secrets of Gamzu

​Now, we all understand how the story of Nachum teaches us a visceral lesson of Emunah. However, let’s think a little deeper on what, at first glance, would’ve happened if Nachum had brought the emperor the jewels as he had intended. Would that have been as pleasing to the emperor? Maybe he already had so much in his treasuries that such a meager gift wouldn’t have accomplished anything! In fact, maybe the whole mission would’ve failed!

​This story teaches us that it is precisely because we go through difficult situations in which the light of Hashem is so concealed that our salvation can flourish. Had we not gone through it, not only we’d not have achieved a higher spiritual level, but maybe what we most desire in life wouldn’t have happened!

The Arizal teaches us that saying Gamzu גםזוwhenever something [seemingly] bad happens can be a powerful testament of emunah and one of the ways to sweeten the situation. The first 2 letters mean “also”, but the last 2 letters זו are nothing less than the following letters of the last 2 letters of the Holy Name יהוה when they are permuted. This means that זו is the more severe facet of the letters וה as they come right after them.

When we recognize that Hashem is always with us and that all He does is ultimately good, we say גם זו לטובה just like Nachum and, in doing so, we turn the זוinto וה. These 3 simple words are a very powerful Segulah to bring the solution to whatever difficulties we are experiencing in life. Whenever we go through some pain, difficulty or confusion, remember to say “Gam Zu L’Tova” and that will ameliorate things.

Nachum’s story teaches us in a very clear way that Hashem awards those with Emunah. It also teaches us that sometimes, what we are looking for is buried in the darkness we are facing. Nachum is buried in Tzfat, in the street called Gamzu after his nickname is a famous place for pilgrimages which we also visit for our Prayer Treks!

May his memory be for a blessing and may we derive inspiration from his Emunah!

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