At Mussar Kallah V, R’ Ephraim Becker said something that really resonated with me.
Of all the phrases in English that one could say — and mean what one says — which five words are hardest?
R’ Becker offered the sentences: “I’m fine. How are you?”
To say “I’m fine” and really mean it, one must have bitachon, belief that the A-lmighty is in control, and therefore that everything that happens in one’s life happens for a good purpose.
Whenever things are going well, R’ Becker said, a strange bird called a “Yeahbut” flies into the room. My wife made me a special dinner? The Yeahbut flies in, “Yeahbut usually I get home well after dinner time, and need to reheat a cold meal.” There is always some reason why the good isn’t perfect. Even the perfect vacation must end. The yacht one always dreamed of is great until someone you know comes by with a bigger yacht.
The only way to be truly content, to be “happy with what one’s lot”, is if one has bitachon. This imbues what we have with purpose, and what we don’t have — we also know that too is for a good reason. See this thought for Shabbas Nachamu for more on the connection between spirituality and happiness.
To really ask “How are you?” you have to care about the answer, and really want to know how the other person is.
Therefore, “I’m fine. How are you?” can only really be said by someone with a strong and healthy relationship with his Creator and with other people.
Five words that contain the core of the entire Torah…