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MIRACLE AND NATUREFor with a strong hand Hashem took us out of Egypt. (Shemos 13:16)
Excerpts from my seforim Trust Me! and Chizuk!
The following is based on the Ramban's commentary on the Torah.
On numerous occasions, the Torah stresses that the commandments are reminders of the Exodus from Egypt. Clearly, then, there is a dimension of the Exodus that bears on the entire Torah. First we need to understand the following preface: Only a few generations after Creation, man began to take up with idolatrous and heretical beliefs. The heresies took on many forms (most of which are still prevalent even today to some extent). Some claimed that the world always existed and that there is no Creator. Others denied that He can be aware of daily occurrences or that He is involved in human affairs. Still others claimed that even if He is involved, there is no reward and punishment. (See my sefer Fine Lines of Faith and Mission Possible!)
The Exodus refuted all of these notions. It showed that God is in full control of nature and that nothing and no one can prevent Him from executing His will. Through His prophets, He communicates with man, and He brings into existence whatever He desires. In order to emphasize these points, Moshe repeatedly told Pharaoh that the plagues would demonstrate God's sovereignty.
This message of the Exodus, so basic to our belief and existence, must be reiterated constantly to ensure genuine internalization. Therefore, we wear it on our person in the form of tefillin and recall it when we perform the commandments. We are zealous in the performance of all commandments - the seemingly minor ones as well as the obviously major ones - because every mitzvah serves to reinforce our faith and commitment. We gather in synagogues and pray aloud to strengthen this conviction, proclaiming before Him, "We are Your creation!"
The overt miracles of the Exodus seared into our consciousness the fact that God rules His universe, and that the only difference between nature and miracles is that we are accustomed to what we call Nature and startled by whatever appears unnatural.
* * * Don't Say: Would Have, Should Have, Could Have
Transcribed from a lecture by Harav Moshe Wolfson, shlita, Mashgiach of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath
HaRav Moshe Wolfson, related the following story: Once after Kiddush Levana, the Oleka Rebbe, a talmid of the Ba'al Shem Tov, turned around to his talmidim, and said, "I want to tell you, my dear talmidim, what I just saw in Shomayim. A neshama must come down to this world and do all the 613 mitzvos, to do what it is supposed to do, and fulfill its mission. If not, it has to come down again. That is the worst thing that can happen to a neshama. A neshama would rather go to gehinom than come down to Olam Hazeh again - because it is a big risk. Most people fail! (Rav Wolfson noted that coming down into this world again is like running across Ocean Parkway against a red light.) But the neshamos keep coming down again, and again.
"So the neshamos decided to make a demonstration. They all came to the malach Duma, who is in charge of the neshamos in Shomayim, and they said, 'It's no use. What does the Creator want from us? He keeps sending us down. We spend our seventy, eighty, or ninety years in Olam Hazeh, and we go to the grave, and we go up to the Beis Din Shel Maaleh, then they send us down again. Up again, down again. Mission not accomplished. It's no use, there's no end to it; there's no purpose in it! What do they want from us?!'
"The malach Duma said to them. 'I cannot answer you. I will send you to my superior.' They went to the malach who was higher, and they demonstrated. He also told them, I will send you up above, to a still higher malach. Higher and higher they went, until they reached the malach who is in charge of all the malachim. He told them, 'I will send you to the Ribono Shel Olam Himself. I do not know what to answer you.'
"So they came to the Ribono Shel Olam and they said, 'Father in Heaven. What is the purpose of it all? We keep coming down again. We are not getting anywhere.'
"So the Creator told them, 'I will tell you what. You go down again in this world, and if you're going to do aveiros… we'll arrange something (as long as it wasn't done rebelliously). However, one thing I want you to do: have emuna, believe. Believe that everything that happens is from the Ribono Shel Olam. However, there is one condition: the emuna should be of a higher degree. You should never use the word "would." Meaning, never say, "If it would have, it should have, it could have…"'"
Rav Wolfson went on to explain. For example, Mr. Levi comes home from Shacharis, and he has a business appointment. This appointment means that he can make a lot of money. He comes home and breakfast isn't ready. His wife hurries and makes breakfast, which he gobbles up and hurries to the train, which he misses. With this, he missed his appointment, and because of that, the business deal fell through. So he comes home and tells his wife, "If you would have made me breakfast on time, I would have made a lot of money. But because of breakfast I missed the appointment." That means he has an imperfect emuna. Why? Because he should know that being successful in this business venture depends solely upon hashgacha pratis from Shomayim.
Every tiny incident that happens in this world depends upon hashgacha pratis from Shomayim. There is an individual supervision to such a degree that it is mind-boggling. No computer that has ever been invented that can understand the hashgacha of the Ribono Shel Olam. The Ba'al Shem Tov said that if a blade of straw falls from the wagon, it is min hashomayim (Heavenly determined) exactly where it should fall, and exactly which end of the straw should point this way, and which end should point that way. Everything is hashgacha pratis. There is nothing that isn't exactly the way the Ribono Shel Olam dictated that it should be. When I go into the grocery store and buy a loaf of bread, it was determined in Shomayim which kernels of wheat should go into which loaf of bread, and which person should eat it. Everything is hashgacha pratis from Shomayim.
So if someone says, "I should have done this, I could have done this, if only I would have done this…" that already is a blemish in emuna. It is not perfect emuna.
If you are supposed to be successful from a certain business endeavor, the Ribono Shel Olam will control everything so that you should be successful. And if not, you're going to miss the train. One should be in the habit of saying, "Everything the Merciful One does is for the good" (Brachos 60b), and, "gam zu letova - this too is for the good" (Taanis 21a). There is nobody in the world who cares for me and loves me, not my parents, not my grandparents, not my rebbe, as much as my Father in Heaven. He provided for me since I was born. He put together a mother and a father for me. And I had to be born specifically through this mother and father, in specifically a certain month, in a certain week, in a certain day, in a certain hour, in a certain moment so that it all fits into my mazal in Shomayim. The Ribono Shel Olam has a special mission, a special job, a special calling for each individual. Everything that happens in a person's life, everything that happens in a person's day, everything that happens in a person's moment is all with hashgacha pratis from Shomayim. So someone who really believes won't say, "would have…, should have…, could have…" He's happy with what the Ribono Shel Olam has sent him, and he thanks Him for taking care of him. In a certain way, he turns to the Ribono Shel Olam and says, "I thank you, Ribono Shel Olam for being my babysitter." This is what Dovid Hamelech said (Tehillim 131:2): "As a suckling child near his mother; my soul within me is as a suckling child." The Creator takes care of us like a mother takes care of her baby, and more so. Everything is with hashgacha pratis.
"So," said the Oleka Rebbe, "the Ribono Shel Olam told those neshamos, go back down to the world and if you make some mistakes, I will overlook it (as long as they were not done rebelliously). But have emuna. Know that everything is with a very detailed heavenly supervision, and the words "would have" should not be in your dictionary."
(Yochanan David, Yated Ne'eman (English edition), 14 Shevat 5753, p. 18.)
The Cohens are sitting Shiva. Once again, the door opens, and a group of people enters, having come to comfort the bereaved. They sit down opposite the mourners. As indicated by the downcast expressions of the mourners, the loss of their dear one is still fresh and painful. The visitors stare at the mourners, and a heavy silence prevails. At last, one of the visitors softly asks, "How did it happen?"
The mourners feel a need to unburden themselves of the inner tensions caused by the events that led to the death. They describe their experiences in great detail.
This scene is familiar to anyone who has ever fulfilled the mitzvah comforting the bereaved. The remainder of the discussion, though, develops in a number of various ways. Let us listen to this one:
"How much time passed until the ambulance arrived?" one of visitors asks.
"Well, the city is repairing the pipes in the area, and one side of the street was closed to traffic. Precious moments passed while the ambulance tried to get through. Finally, it took an alternate route, and arrived at the house across the street."
"Who knows?" sighs one of the mourners. "Had they done resuscitation a few minutes earlier, they might have saved him."
A visitor asks, "Were there no warning signs prior to the attack?"
"Yes," replies one of mourners, "the day before the attack, he complained about a pain in his chest. We didn't think it was serious, because he had quite often made similar complaints, and the doctor who had examined him then said that there was nothing to worry about. If we had only summoned a doctor a day before, perhaps he would still be alive today."
They no longer seemed like mourners, but like a panel of judges in court. Their faces reflected their remorse and their terrible feelings of guilt over the death of their loved one. Of course, they had done nothing wrong, and had no intention to harm him. Had they acted one way, or perhaps another way, yes, then.... Had they told the ambulance driver, over the telephone, to take an alternate route…. Had they called the doctor the day before....
Nor are others totally innocent. Had the city covered ditches within a reasonable amount of time, and not left them open for weeks after the pipe had been laid... then....
Their soul-searching stopped the moment the Rav entered the room. They made a place for him beside the mourners, and he sat down and immersed himself in thought, while everyone waited to hear what he would say. A few moments of silence passed.
Realizing that the Rav was waiting for one of the mourners to open the conversation, the brother of deceased said, "We are still in a state of shock over the loss. But what pains us most is our fear that perhaps we are responsible for his death."
Then he continued to enumerate the measures they could have taken, and which might have saved the life of their beloved one. "This weighs heavily on our consciences, and gives us no rest," he concluded with bitterness and pain.
The words of the mourner seemed to light a spark in the Rav. He listened intently, and when the mourner dolefully finished speaking, the Rav began:
"Every loyal Jew believes and knows that the fate of every human being is decreed on Rosh Hashana. Whatever occurs to a person throughout the year was determined on Rosh Hashana. Ploni dies, God forbid. Almoni is run-over by a car, one person wins a fortune, the house of another burns down. Everything happens according to the plan determined at the beginning of the year by the One Who grants life to all living beings.
"That is what we say in the prayer "Unesaneh Tokef" which describes the justice of the Days of Awe: 'who will live, and who will die... who through water, and who through fire, who through suffocation and who through stoning.' All this is decreed in advance.
"Yes, the fate of the man who fell from a height and the fate of one who was trapped in a fire, that of one who drowned at sea, and that of one whose digestive system ceased functioning and died of starvation in a hospital, were ordained on Rosh Hashana.
"Those who ask the bereaved, 'What caused your loved one's death?' should not pin the cause of the death on the simple answer they receive. The reasons the mourners offered are not causes, but rather descriptions of the wherewithal and the manner in which Hashem carried out His decree. True, Ploni died from a heart attack in a distant settlement, and the first-aid station with the proper life-saving equipment was miles away. Yet if he had lived directly opposite the station, he would still have died at the very moment decreed by Heaven. Living near a first-aid station or far away from one are also circumstances determined by Hashem. The outcomes, though, are the same: a man ends his life at the exact moment decreed by Heaven, not one second earlier, nor one second later.
"Understanding this principle is not as simple as we think, for our thinking is generally confounded by a common misconception, which takes the form of the claim: Do you mean to say that one must do nothing? If everything is decreed from Above why call an ambulance? Why call a doctor? Anyway, our efforts won't help.
"When a fire breaks out, I am obligated to take every possible step to extinguish it and to behave as if it is I who is in charge. Yet when I begin to assess the damage, I must fully acknowledge that not a splinter was burnt unless Hashem decreed that it be, and that not one shoelace was spared as a result of my efforts. This principle, which seems self-contradictory, is difficult for many people to grasp. If a committee to organize a 24-hour-a-day ambulance service in my neighborhood was formed, I would assist it to the best of my abilities. I would thereby be fulfilling the mitzvah to save lives, and every activity to further this goal would be considered part of the mitzvah. However, when examining a specific case, after it had taken place, if I asked myself whether Ploni was truly saved because of the constant presence of the ambulance in the neighborhood, I would not answer affirmatively. Instead, I would say that I was a good shaliach, and served as a go-between to execute the Heavenly decree that Ploni should live, and that his time to die had not yet arrived. "This double explanation applies in every area of life. Generally, we assume: Shmerel is rich, and everyone knows that he became wealthy because he is diligent. When he hears about a business opportunity, he rushes to the scene, takes speedy action, and earns a fortune. Berel, who is poor, is a batlan, and perhaps lazy too. When he learns that a profit can be gained, he dillies and dallies, allowing precious opportunities to slip through his fingers.
"Yet the Chofetz Chaim rejects this line of analysis, and says that diligence and laziness are not the reasons that one is wealthy and the other poor. The true reason one is rich and the other is poor is that Heaven has willed that so it be. As a result, Hashem grants he who was destined to be rich both the opportunities to amass wealth, and the character traits which will enable him to become rich. One who is destined to be poor, however, is born with lead in his bones, and as a result bungles every opportunity to earn a pretty penny.
"The reasons are not to be confused or interchanged with causes. Laziness and batlanus are not the causes of one's poverty, but the outcomes of the Divine decision that one must be poor. The decree that one be poor is the reason, too, that he was granted such character traits. Ploni died not because the ambulance arrived too late, but because Hashem brought about its delay, so that his death would occur at the precise moment decreed by Heaven. As long as the people caring for him were not negligent and acted according to the dictates of common sense, then all their guilt feelings are not only extraneous, but also contain an element of disbelief in Divine hashgacha. Yet even though people do not die because a doctor was not summoned, or an ambulance was delayed, this does not absolve us from our obligation to summon a doctor or to offer a patient our utmost assistance. It is not easy to be a Jew, for one must be level-headed, and think on two different planes at the very same time, never confusing or exchanging one for the other. Appreciating the true value of life can be expressed only by turning in prayer to He in Whose hands are the lives of every living being."
Shema Yisrael Torah Network