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Torah Attitude: Parashas Lech Lecha: Seeing one piece of the puzzle
Many events in the world, both in regards to individuals and nations, bring about questions to the human observer. G'd involved nine nations in order to benefit one single righteous person and his family. Abraham and his descendants were rewarded with two special mitzvot (commandments): the mitzvah of tzitzis and the mitzvah of tefillin. According to Halacha, all items possessed by a slave belong to the slave's master. "This is the way of G'd, to guard the money of even wicked people in order to pass it on to the righteous." "One [person] prepares it, so that the righteous wears it, and the money will be divided amongst the ones who are pure." Events that we do not understand why G'd allows them to happen, eventually turn out to be of benefit to the righteous.
Questions of worthiness
The situation in Israel is extremely serious. The terrorists are succeeding to terrorize the population, and parts of Jerusalem feel like a ghost town. We ask why would G'd allow that so many innocent people get killed and wounded. The truth is that many events in the world, both in regards to individuals and nations, bring about similar questions. It all boils down to the classic question, why do the righteous suffer, while the wicked have a good time? Why are the wicked successful in life and amass a lot of wealth? They do not seem to be worthy of their success and the riches they gather.
Abraham and four kings
We may gain a better understanding by analyzing an event in this week's parasha (Bereishis 14:1-24). The Torah relates how Amraphel, King of Shinar, with another three kings, went to war against a group of five kings led by Bera, King of Sodom, to crush a revolt that had been going on for thirteen years. It developed into a major war between the nine kingdoms. The outcome of the war was that the four kings were victorious. They took a lot of spoils and captured the inhabitants of Sodom, including Lot, the nephew of Abraham. When Abraham was notified that his nephew had been captured, he immediately gathered his men and went to free the captives. Abraham won in a miraculous battle, and freed all the captives and brought back the spoils that the four kings had taken. In retrospect we see how G'd involved nine nations in warfare in order to benefit one single righteous person and his family. Although there no doubt were other reasons for this war, and the suffering that it brought about was well deserved for the wickedness of these people, nevertheless, one of G'd's reasons for allowing this war to take place was to benefit Abraham.
Abraham's descendants' reward
The Midrash Tanchuma elaborates on this and says: "G'd said I will bring about a war between the kings of the world in order that Abraham eventually will come and receive all the spoils." However, Abraham, in his great modesty, refused to keep what was rightfully his and returned the spoils of war to its original owners. The Talmud (Sotah 17a) explains that in this merit Abraham and his descendants were rewarded with two special mitzvot (commandments): the mitzvah of tzitzis and the mitzvah of tefillin.
The slave and the Will
The Midrash continues and quotes a verse in Koheles (2:26), "To the man who is good, He gave wisdom … And to the sinner, He gave the urge to gather and amass [wealth], in order to give it to the one who G'd found to be good …" Says the Midrash, this verse is a hint to a true story about a father who left Israel and traveled to a distant country. He left behind his only son who devoted his life to studying Torah in Israel. When the father felt that the end of his days was near, he presented his slave with his Last Will in which he gave all his possessions to the slave. However, the Will stipulated that his son would have the right to choose any one item from the estate. After the father died, the slave gathered all the possessions and processed the administration of the estate. The slave returned to Israel with the Will in hand. He told the son that his father had died and presented him with the Will. One can imagine how the son was shocked. How could his father have disinherited him? Why would he leave everything to the slave? And why was he allowed to only choose one item? The son was at a loss so he ran to his rabbi for advice. The rabbi said to him, "Your father was a very wise man and knowledgeable in the laws of the Torah. He realized that if he did not write the Will, the slave would have taken everything for himself. But by giving everything to the slave, he ensured that the slave would carefully administer the Will. When you go to the Beth Din, and the slave produces the Will, tell the rabbis of the court that you choose the slave himself as the one item. In that way, you will acquire all of your father's possessions together with the slave. For the Halacha is that all items possessed by a slave belong to the slave's master."
The wealth gets passed to the righteous
The Midrash explains that G'd gave wisdom to the father how to organize his affairs. And to the slave, He gave the urge to administer the estate, so that it would be preserved for the son, the one who G'd found to be good due to his devotion to study Torah. Concludes the Midrash: "This is the way of G'd, to guard the money of even wicked people in order to pass it on to the righteous." In this way, G'd spares the righteous from having to spend the time and effort to amass and administer the wealth. While the son spent his time in Torah study, the slave was busy to take care of the estate for the son's benefit.
Just a custodian
The Chovos Halevovos (Introduction to Gate of Trust) also quotes this verse from Koheles in his discussion of how one should look at wealth. We can never know for sure, says the Chovos Halevovos, why G'd has blessed someone with wealth. One of the possibilities may be that he is just a custodian to look after it in order to pass it on to someone who is a worthy recipient. That it is what it says in Job (27:17), "One [person] prepares it in order that the righteous wears it, and the money will be divided amongst the ones who are pure."
G'd's master plan
In this Midrash we get a little glance at G'd's master plan, how everything has a purpose and ultimately every piece fits into the puzzle. With this insight we can better appreciate how events that we at first question why would G'd allow them to happen, eventually we may be privileged to see how they turn out to be of benefit to the righteous. Obviously, it is much more complicated when human lives are at stake. However, the day will come when all our questions will be answered. King David describes that this is exactly what will happen when Mashiach will come and gather the exiles. As it says (Tehillim 126:1-2), "Then our mouths will be filled with laughter, and our tongues with jubilation." Then, and only then will we be able to understand the just and righteous ways of G'd throughout the history of the world.
Wishing you and all the Jewish people a happy year filled with Divine protection and blessings for all our needs. A gemar vechatima Tova.
These words were based on notes of Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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