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Torah Attitude: Parashas Shelach: In G'd we trust
This Torah Attitude is dedicated to Bradley Lichtblau on his birthday. May HASHEM bless him with all the best that life has to offer.
When we ask someone "how are things?", we will in general hear one of two responses. Both answers are correct. Realizing that we only 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 Jewish people initiated to send the spies. When we wish to take a certain path, we will be lead to take that path. The Jewish people's trust was incomplete, and that brought about the mistake of the spies with all its consequences. 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 a person's level of trust, G'd will act towards him as a helper, a saviour or a shield. There is a higher level of trust. When someone puts his trust in G'd, 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 when a person endangers himself for the sake of G'd and has complete trust that G'd is able to shield him from any harm. The more we put our trust in G'd the more we will merit G'd's special protection.
How are things?/
When we ask someone "how are things?", we will in general hear one of two responses. Sometimes the person will answer "it could not be better". If we ask "what do you mean by that?" we will be told "well, if it could be better, G'd would make it better". Another person will answer "well, things could be better." If we give him an opportunity to elaborate, he will discuss the various problems and issues that he is facing.
Both answers correct
The truth is that both answers are correct. A person is definitely affected by Divine decisions in every situation. Since G'd only does what is best for the person, there is no doubt in any given situation it really could not 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 only see a very small part of the total picture, we accept what we say in Ashrei (Tehillim 145:17): "G'd is righteous in all His ways and pious in all His deeds."
Things could be better
On the other hand, it is very possible that the situation could have been better, had the person made better choices in life. Sometimes our situation is effected by recent actions that we did. At other times, the Kabbalists explain, our lot in life is a consequence of choices we made in a previous life.
Doctor treating sick person
So on one hand things could have been better had we made better choices; on the other hand, we trust that in every situation, G'd, in His great mercy, only does what is best for us. It is similar to someone who is at fault for making himself sick and is being treated by his doctor. Had he not made his wrong choice, he would not have been sick. But as his doctor treats him well, his situation improves, and it is correct to say that under the circumstances his situation could not be better.
Sometimes G'd allows us an insight to understand a little part of how He conducts the world. We find such a case in the beginning of this week's parasha. The Torah relates how 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 instructing 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 Jewish people themselves initiated to send the spies.
Rashi quotes the 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 said "Send for yourself men." This indicates that G'd did not instruct Moses to send them, but allowed it. When G'd said "Send for yourself" he informed Moses that it is up to him. The reason G'd gave permission to send the spies is based on G'd's conduct to allow a person to follow the route that he chooses for himself (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 will not inherit the land."
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 not have had to wander 40 years in the wilderness. Rather, they would have entered the Land of Israel and taken possession of it without any warfare. However, their trust in G'd was incomplete, and they felt that they had to investigate themselves how to conquer the land. This brought about the mistakes of the spies with all its consequences.
In G'd we should trust
The Chovos Halevovos (Duties of the Heart, Introduction to the Gate of Trust) explains that human nature is to trust 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 protection from this individual and make him dependent on whoever or whatever he puts his trust in. The problem with this system is, that no one has any power or ability unless G'd provides him with the needed power and ability. Sometimes a person feels dependent on another individual because of that individual's influential position. In other instances, a person relies on his own abilities, whether intellectual or physical. In such situations one may find that along the way the influence and abilities have been weakened, and the person is not able to achieve his ambitions or what he needs. Similarly, if a person relies on his own wealth, he may find that his assets diminish. On the other hand, when someone puts his trust in G'd, there is no change or weakening of G'd's ability to protect him at any time. In his book, Emunah uBitachon (Belief and Trust Chapter 1), the Ramban explains that trust is like the fruit from the tree of belief. To the extent that one believes in G'd, one can benefit from the fruits of this belief.
Helper, saviour and shield
Rabbi Abraham, the Vilna Gaon's son, writes in his commentary on the Siddur that different people have different levels of trust 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 depends on the level of trust of every individual, whether G'd will act towards him as a helper, a saviour or a shield. Most people who trust in G'd still feel that they have to put in their effort to achieve whatever they need. They hope that with G'd's help they will accomplish whatever they are trying to do. When they succeed they will say "thank G'd" or "with the help of G'd" "I made a good deal". They feel that they themselves made the deal, but acknowledge G'd's assistance to accomplish it. Corresponding to their level of trust in G'd, they will merit G'd's assistance in their dealings. This is an acceptable approach as the Talmud (Berachos 35b) quotes from Rabbi Yishmael who taught that a person shall put in the effort needed to provide for himself and his family.
Higher level of trust
A more correct understanding of this level of trust is when the person realizes 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, there is a better chance that G'd will help him and see to 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 accomplish."
It is beyond Joseph
There is a higher level of trust. This person looks at G'd as his savior and feels secure that G'd will take care of him, even if he does not put any effort into what he needs. These people trust G'd on such a high level 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 this way (see Talmud ibid). He was studying Torah with his son and 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." At that point, Joseph did not make any effort to get out of prison. 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 when a person endangers himself for the sake of G'd, and has complete trust that G'd is able 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 your shield."
G'd will be his security
All of these people trust G'd, but G'd will respond to each one according to his level of trust, either as a helper, a savior, or a shield. The more we put our trust in G'd the more we will merit G'd's special protection. On the other hand, if we rely on ourselves and those around us, 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 notes of Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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