29 January 2021

Rabbi Winston: Parshas Beshalach – Hashgacha Pratis

This week’s Perceptions is dedicated in the merit of Chaya Rivka bat Yocheved Kayla. May she have a complete and speedy recovery, b”H.

CLEARLY G-D had been messing with Pharaoh, big time. First, He gave Pharaoh the impression that the Jewish people were only going to take a three-day leave of absence, when in fact they were leaving for good. Why Pharaoh didn’t expect otherwise after 10 plagues is a mystery, but not one of the bigger ones.

Next, G-D had the Jewish people backtrack to the shore of the sea, to give Pharaoh the impression that they were lost and confused. Pharaoh took the bait and chased after them, setting up the final stage of the downfall of Egypt. All Pharaoh could do was watch in horror as the last of his army drowned in the sea, while the Jewish people again walked to freedom…b’yad ramah, with an “exalted hand.”

There are a couple of reasons for all of this, because clearly it was not merely to free the Jewish people. A single plague that wiped out the Egyptians would have done that, minus all the fanfare and chess moves. Clearly G-D was making a point, to the Jewish people for sure, and the rest of the world as well. 

The main message to the Jewish people, the Leshem explains, is that we are meant to live supernaturally. Everything about the Jewish people, from our origin to our future destiny is supposed to be beyond the realm of the natural…if we merit it. It was only those who separated themselves from Egyptian culture, and made a clean break from Egypt who got that far. Four-fifths of the nation died in the Plague of Darkness, because they wouldn’t make that break.

As for the rest of the world, the message was different. It said, “If you are thinking about hurting the Jewish people, you might want to reconsider. Certainly don’t assume that your perception of Jewish weakness is your ideal opportunity to implement your plan against them. Maybe G-D is only messing with you too, in order to set up your downfall, if not today, then tomorrow.”

This is what the Haggadah says, that many have risen up against us, only to fall in the end in one manner or another. And many will rise up against us, and they too will fall, one way or another, if not today, then tomorrow. 

One such enemy of the Jewish people was quoted as saying something to this effect: “When I considered the history of this small nation, and considered how they have survived despite the many efforts to destroy them, I can’t help but wonder if Providence indeed does favor them. But in case it is not true, I will try again…” And so Adolf Hitler, ysv”z, did try, and met with the same fate as all of his predecessors…Pharaoh…Nebuchadnetzar…Haman…Antiochus…Titus, etc.

“But,” a person may argue, “though they may have gone down in the end, they did considerable damage to the Jewish people and the world before that happened. What consolation was that for all those people, whom their evil hands did murder or maimed? What assurance is that for any of us wondering about the current rise in anti-Semitism, and what it might lead to, G-D forbid, in our generation?”

RECALL WHAT Yosef told his brothers back in Parashas Vayechi. They had worried that Yosef would take his revenge against them now that their father had died, and so they lied to preempt such action before Yosef had a chance. Then Yosef reminded them: 

“Don't be afraid, for am I instead of G-D?” (Bereishis 50:19)

If I wanted to harm you, would I be able? Did not all of you plan evil against me? The Holy One, Blessed Is He, however, designed it for good. So how can I alone harm you? (Rashi)

No one dies without G-D’s approval, or in a way of which He does not permit. When a person dies may be a mystery to us, and the way in which they die may give rise to questions, but it doesn’t change the rule. Even statements to the contrary, some of which are in the Talmud itself, must in the end fit with this rule. If they don’t, the problem is not the rule, it is our limited understanding of it.

One of the limitations of being human is that we are limited. The term “collateral damage” means that no matter how hard we try to avoid unintended targets, we can’t. As smart as we are, we can’t think of everything, and the more elaborate a plan is, the more likely we are to overlook something. We are not prophets, which means there are future consequences of our current actions we just cannot foresee. There are just too many unknowns in life, and not enough “knowns” to anticipate them.

But, as G-D’s ineffable four-letter Name declares, it is different for Him. “He was, He is, and He will be” all at once. All that exists and all that occurs is a function of His will, and nothing else. And every moment of every day He orchestrates all of it PERFECTLY to the very last detail and minutiae, no matter how imperfect any of it may seem to us. 

He’s the One with the perfect vision, not us

He’s the One with perfect control, not man.

Thus, there is no such thing as “collateral damage” by G-D. If it happens, it was meant to happen. If it doesn’t, it was not meant to be. If a person is affected by something for either good or bad, that was decided by G-D. If they are not affected, then that too was decided by G-D. Everyone else involved and all that occurred was just the part of the means He designed to implement His decisions. This is what Yosef told his brothers, and what the Torah is telling all of us, for the rest of history.

Putting all of the above together, we have the promise from G-D that any enemy of the Jewish people will eventually be stopped, and destroyed. In fact, it will be their own arrogance and anti-Semitic behavior that will, more often than not, lead to their destruction. It’s just a matter of time until it does.

And, we have to know, anyone who suffers because of them until their downfall, is not an unwitting victim. They are not just an innocent bystander, who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. As circumstantial as their involvement and suffering may seem to them, and us, it is not. It was planned and orchestrated by G-D, as mysterious as it may seem to be. The evil people were just G-D’s messengers of destruction until their time was up.

WHERE DOES that leave us? What input, if any, do we have into this equation? Where it always leaves us. We have a Torah. We have halachah. We have Gedolei HaDor to decide the halachah in new circumstances never addressed before. It is the one constant in every generation until, G-D forbid, we lose that too, like in the Holocaust, for example.

This is the way a person keeps in G-D’s good books. This is never a guarantee for protection from bad, because our judgments take into account far more than just our current lives. Tikun is for all of our reincarnations until the very last one. But it certainly is much better than being in G-D’s bad books for being careless about the will of G-D and living by it. 

The Talmud in Rosh Hashanah gives some good advice about “guaranteeing” a favorable judgment on Rosh Hashanah, especially if one might be in doubt if it is otherwise forthcoming. It says that one should obligate themself to the community, so that the merit of the community works in their favor. If the person’s personal merits are not enough to “win” another year of life, then the merits of the community they intend to serve after Rosh Hashanah will tip the scales in their favor.

Does a person outsmart the heavenly Bais Din by doing this? No. Rather, it applauds the person. Perhaps they should have to come to do this on their own without the fear of a bad judgment, but it is still a good thing to have done because of the fear of judgment. 

Does a person have to wait until Elul to make such commitments to earn favor from G-D? Certainly not. Nor should they. We see, especially now, how vulnerable we are all year round, how Divine judgment can visit a person at any time. Even the Talmud in Rosh Hashanah says that judgment is going on every hour all year round.

Therefore, it is not enough to simply go about your life oblivious to the judgment going on. In Egypt, when the angel was sent by G-D to kill Egyptians, the Jews had to stay indoors to avoid being included in the decree, even the righteous ones. During times of plague, everyone is at risk, and we have already lost many tzaddikim

No one can be given any guarantees against being affected by what is going on, but there are some things we can do to increase our merits for shemirah—Divine protection. Follow the Talmud’s advice and make yourself less dispensable to history by committing yourself to something important to G-D. 

You’re not pulling the wool over G-D’s eyes. 

You’re just allowing the situation to elevate you to a higher level of Torah commitment, which is exactly what G-D wants from us, at all times.

Melave Malkah

THIS BRINGS us to Amalek, who attacks the Jewish people at the end of the parsha. We begin the parsha by destroying one very deadly enemy, and end it by being attacked by another. What a giant step back from the splitting of the sea and the mann from Heaven!

Yet, as Rashi explains, we were not innocent bystanders. On the contrary, we created Amalek and drew his attack by asking:

Is G-D among us or not? (Shemos 17:7)

This verse happens to be quite kabbalistic, but the bottom line is that the Jewish people expressed doubt in G-D’s Providence. Despite all the incredible miracles G-D had performed for the Jewish people until that time, a temporary lack of water jolted the nation to doubt G-D’s commitment to their well-being. That brought on Amalek, whose very name alludes to such doubt.

This is the most important thing a person can work on in their life, absolute trust in G-D. This basically means two things. The first is the recognition that everything is from the hand of G-D, bar none. Nothing happens, no matter how mysterious or how seemingly diabolical, without G-D. Anything else involved is just the means to carry out His will.

The second thing is that all G-D does He does for the good, also bar none. We don’t like it? We’re afraid of it? It’s the opposite of what we think a “good” G-D would do? Perhaps. But that doesn’t change the rule. We can try to get around it, but that always just backfires in the end in one way or another. We’re dealing with Omnipotent and Omniscient, you know.

All of this becomes easier when we stop trying to have our cake and eat it too, and stop trying to make our lives as materially and emotionally comfortable as they can be. If a person is focused on personal rectification and maximizing their merit for the World-to-Come, then they will live according to Torah to the best of their ability. They will accept whatever Hashgochah Pratis that comes their way as from G-D, and good.

Most of what we go through is to this end anyhow. So, if a person works on this in the quiet and safe moments in life, they won’t need to learn them through the noisy and dangerous ones. May we all merit to reach such levels and be safe from all of our enemies, in whatever form they take. 

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