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Torah Attitude: Shelach: In G'd we trust

Summary

When one asks "how are things?", in general one hears one of two different responses. Both answers are correct. Realizing that we are only privileged to see a very small part of the total picture, we must accept that we have no way of understanding G'd's ways. It is very possible that things could be better, if we would have made better choices in life. Sometimes G'd allows us an insight to understand how He conducts the world. The sending of the spies was initiated by the Jewish people and not a commandment of G'd. A person who wishes to take a certain path will be lead to take that path. Since the Jewish people's trust was incomplete, this brought about the mistake of the spies with all the consequences that followed. If a person put his trust in anyone or anything but G'd, G'd will remove his special protection for this individual and make him dependent on whoever or whatever he puts his trust in. Depending on the level of trust of an individual, G'd will act toward the person as a helper, a saviour or a shield. There is a higher level of trust, where a person puts his trust in G'd, that G'd will take care of him, even if he does not put his effort into what he needs. The highest level of trust in G'd is, that even if a person does something for the sake of G'd that would endanger him, he still trusts that G'd has the ability to shield him from any harm. The more we choose to put our trust in G'd the more we will merit G'd's special protection.

How are things?

When one asks an acquaintance "how are things?", in general one hears one of two different responses. Sometimes the person will answer "it could not be better". If one questions "what do you mean by that" one will be told "well, if it could be better, G'd would make it better". Another person, when asked the same question, will answer "well, things could be better." If you give him an opportunity to elaborate, he will discuss the various problems and issues that he is facing at that time.

Both answers correct

The truth is that both answers are correct. A person is definitely affected by Divine decisions in every situation. Since everything G'd does is for the person's benefit and He only does what is best for the person, there is no doubt that under the given circumstances it could not really be better. In many instances, it is difficult for us to understand G'd's decisions. We see so much suffering around us: sickness, poverty, family problems, and so on. However, realizing that we are only privileged to see a very small part of the total picture, we must accept that we have no way of understanding G'd's ways.

Things could be better

On the other hand, it is very possible that things could have been better, if we would have made better choices in life, both on an individual level and on a communal level. Sometimes our situation is effected by recent actions that we did. At other times, as the Kabbalists explain, our lot in life is a consequence of choices made in a previous life that need to be rectified.

Doctor treating sick person

So we see that on one hand things could have been better if we had made better choices; on the other hand, we trust that under the circumstances G'd, in His great mercy, only does what is best for us. It is comparable to a person who is at fault for making himself sick and is being treated by a doctor for his sickness. Had he not made this wrong choice, he would not have been sick. But as he has a knowledgeable good doctor who treats him well, his situation improves, and it would be correct to say that under the circumstances his situation could not be better. Although in general it is very difficult for us to understand the ways of G'd, we believe what we say daily in Ashrei (Tehillim 145:17) "G'd is righteous in all His ways and pious in all His deeds." However, sometimes G'd allows us an insight to understand a little part of how He conducts the world.

Send spies

In the beginning of this week's Torah portion, G'd says to Moses (Bamidbar 13:2) "Send for yourself men, and they shall spy out the land of Canaan." At first sight it seems as if G'd is commanding Moses to send spies to investigate the situation in the land of Canaan. However, when Moses later relates this incident in his final speech to the Jewish people, a different picture emerges. Moses says (Devarim 1:22) "And all of you approached me and said 'Let us send men ahead of us, and they should spy out the land for us and bring us back words about the road we should ascend upon and the towns that we will come to you.'" We clearly see that the sending of the spies was initiated by the Jewish people themselves and not a commandment of G'd.

For yourself

Rashi quotes our sages (Talmud Sotah 34b and the Midrash Tanchuma para.5) who address this apparent contradiction. They explain that after the Jewish people approached Moses and requested to send spies, G'd instructed him and said "Send for yourself men" indicating that G'd was not commanding Moses to send them, but if he wanted to send the spies he was at liberty to do so. "Yourself" refers to Moses as if G'd said "it is up to you." The reason G'd gave permission to send the spies is based on the principal that when a person wishes to take a certain path he will be led to take that path (see Makkos 10b). The Midrash says that G'd exclaimed "I told them that the land is good. As it says (Shemos 3:17) 'I will bring you up from the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites to a land flowing with milk and honey.' I swear that I will give them an opportunity to err with the spies so that they may not inherit the land."

Incomplete trust

This is a classic example of how the choice of the Jewish people changed their situation. Had the Jewish people put their trust completely in G'd and His promise, they would have avoided having to wander 40 years in the wilderness, and would have entered the Land of Israel and taken possession of it without any warfare in a peaceful manner. However, their trust was incomplete and they felt that they had to investigate for themselves the situation of the land and how to conquer it. This brought about the mistakes of the spies with all the consequences that followed.

In G'd we should trust

The Chovos Halevovos (Duties of the Heart, Introduction to the Gate of Trust) explains that everybody trusts someone or something. However, it is like an insurance policy. A person will only be covered by the insurance company where he purchases a policy. In the same way, if a person puts his trust in anyone or anything but G'd, G'd will remove his special protection from this individual and make him dependent on whoever or whatever he puts his trust in. The real problem with this is, that no one has any power or ability to do anything unless G'd provides this person with the needed power and ability. Sometimes a person feels dependent on another individual because of that individual's influence. In other instances, a person relies on his own abilities, whether intellectual or physical. In all cases on may find that along the way the influence and abilities have been weakened and the person will not be able to achieve his ambitions or what he needs. Similarly, if a person relies on his own wealth, he may find that his wealth does not last forever. On the other hand, the person who puts his trust in G'd there is no weakening or diminishing of G'd's ability to protect him at any time. In his book, Belief and Trust (Chapter 1), the Ramban explains that trust is like the fruit from the tree of belief. Based on one's belief in G'd, one can benefit from the fruits of this belief, having complete trust in G'd's ability and readiness to look after the ones who believe in Him.

Helper, saviour and shield

The Vilna Gaon's son, Rabbi Abraham, writes in his commentary on the Siddur that there are many levels of trust that people have in G'd. In the beginning of Shemona Esrei we refer to G'd as a king who helps, saves and shields. Says Rabbi Abraham, it is dependent on the level of trust of every individual, whether G'd will act toward this person as a helper, a saviour or a shield. Most people who trust in G'd still feel that they have to make an effort to achieve whatever they desire. And with the help of G'd they will accomplish whatever they are trying to reach. When they make a good business deal they will express "today I made a good deal" and they will add "thank G'd" or "with the help of G'd". They feel that they themselves made the deal, but at the same time they acknowledge G'd's assistance to accomplish the deal. Corresponding to their level of trust in G'd they will merit G'd's assistance in their dealings. They conduct themselves somewhat according to the opinion of Rabbi Yishmael (Brachos 35b) who taught that a person should live in a natural way, putting in the effort needed to provide for himself and his family.

Higher level of trust

A more correct and higher level of trust is that the person understands that although he has to make an effort in a natural way, the success of this effort is totally in the hands of G'd. In this case, G'd will help the person so that his efforts will succeed. This is what Moses told the Jewish people in his final speech (Devarim 8:11-18): "Take care lest you forget Hashem your G'd And you may say in your heart 'My strength and the might of my hand made me all of this accomplishment.' And you shall remember Hashem your G'd, that it is He who gives you strength to make an accomplishment."

It is beyond Joseph

There is even a higher level of trust, where a person puts his trust in G'd that G'd will take care of him, even if he would not put his effort into what he needs. These people are on such a high level in their trust in G'd, that they feel that their personal effort is insignificant, and at the end of the day it is G'd who provides them with whatever they need. Very few people are able to live a life on that level on a constant basis. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai lived on this high level (see Talmud ibid) and was studying Torah with his son as they were provided for in a miraculous way. Such a person will express himself like Joseph who said to Pharaoh (Bereishis 41:16) "It is beyond me. G'd will respond to Pharaoh's welfare." Joseph did not put in any effort, at this point, to get himself out of the prison, where he was being kept. To the contrary, he expressed that he had no ability of his own and that everything was an act of G'd. It is interesting to note how the Torah expresses itself several times in regards to Joseph. It is not Joseph who succeeded with G'd's help, but as it says (ibid 39:3) "And whatever he did, G'd made it succeed in his hands."

Shield for Abraham

The highest level of trust in G'd is that even if a person does something for the sake of G'd that would endanger him, he still trusts that G'd has the ability to shield him from any harm. This was the level of trust we find by Abraham who let himself be thrown into the fiery oven by Nimrod. Corresponding to his high level of trust in G'd, we find that G'd said to Abraham (ibid 15:1) "Don't fear Abram. I am a shield for you."

G'd will be his security

The more we choose to put our trust in G'd the more we will merit G'd's special protection. On the other hand, the more we rely on ourselves and those around us, the more we will be dependent on our own and others' ability or lack of ability to fend for ourselves. The choice is ours. The bottom line is as we say at the end of Grace After Meals with the words of the Prophet Jeremiah (17:7) "Blessed is the man who trusts in G'd, and G'd will be his security."

These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.


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