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WHEN YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND HASHEM'S WAYSGod spoke to Moshe and said to him, "I am Hashem. I appeared to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Ya'akov as E-l Shad-dai, but with My Name Hashem I did not make Myself known to them." (Shemos 6:2-3)
Adapted from a talk given by Moreinu v'Rabbeinu Ha-Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, shlita, cited in Trust Me!
The criticism leveled here by Hashem against Moshe Rabbeinu is quite perplexing. We find that Ya'akov Avinu questioned Hashem in a similar manner when he said: "Why have you caused this evil to me!?" (Bereishis 43:6) Taken at face value, this statement seems to imply that Ya'akov had some sort of complaint against the ways of Hashem. Basically, he was saying, "Why did you, my sons, have to do evil by telling the man [the Egyptian viceroy] that you have a brother? Terrible misfortune has befallen me as a result." Yet the Sages don't take Ya'akov to task for this. Indeed, the harshest criticism we find concerning Ya'akov's consternation is that he made "an idle statement" (Bereishis Rabbah 91:10). As the Midrash states, quoting the Almighty, "I am busy making his son ruler over Egypt, and he asks, 'Why have you caused this evil to me?'" (ibid.). This is amazing! It would seem that Ya'akov's plaint was much more than an idle statement: it was a charge directed against Hashem. The Almighty is the source of all good. He does only good, and ultimately there is no such thing as evil. To question Divine Providence is to deny Hashem's goodness. Yet Chazal label Ya'akov's words as merely "an idle statement." However, when Moshe Rabbeinu made a seemingly similar complaint, he was severely criticized. What is the difference between the statements of Ya'akov and Moshe?
He'aras Panim and Hester Panim
In order to answer this question, let us first turn to a statement of the Prophet Yeshayahu, who rephrased Ya'akov's complaint in the following way: "Why do you say, O Ya'akov, and declare, O Yisrael, 'My way has been concealed by Hashem'?" (Yeshayahu 40:27). In his work Da'as Tevunos, the Ramchal explains that the Almighty's revelation of Himself can come either in the form of he'aras panim (lit., "shining countenance"), wherein we clearly see His dealings with us, or in the form of hester panim (lit., "hidden countenance"), wherein everything is concealed and He seems to have forsaken us. At a time of hester panim one may fall into the error of thinking that there is no God. But of course, He is still there, only His face is hidden: it is disguised by the mask of "nature," which in reality is nothing more than one of the avenues through which He relates to us.
In the future everything will be clear to us. Even when tragedy strikes, there will be no berachah of "Blessed is the true Judge." Rather, we will see the good behind everything and say, "He is good and bestows good." Currently, however, we cannot discern the good that is inherent in everything, and so we recite "Blessed is the true Judge" over misfortune.
Blessing the Bad, Blessing the Good
Often when I visit people who are in mourning, I offer the following thought to comfort them:
We read in Scripture: "Hashem has given and Hashem has taken away, blessed is the name of Hashem" (Iyov 1:21). In this verse, we see that Hashem (which stands for the four-letter name of God, that denotes the attribute of Divine mercy - see Berachos 60b) first gave. This is understandable, for giving is an act of kindness and mercy. But how are we to comprehend that it was Hashem (the merciful) who took away? Taking away is not merciful; it is an expression of Divine strictness and judgment, which emanates from one of God's names - Elokim. Moreover, at the end of the verse, we are enjoined to make a blessing on the taking as well as the giving. But how can we bless something that seems to be totally bad?
Consider the following case. When a person receives news that his father has passed away and he has inherited a large sum of money, he makes two concurrent blessings. Over the inheritance, he recites, "He is good and bestows good," and over his sorrow for the deceased, he recites: "Blessed is the true Judge" (Berachos 59b). How can he make these two blessings at one and the same time? Don't they contradict one another? If he is feeling sad over his loss, how can he feel joy over the inheritance to such an extent that he is required to make a blessing over it?
The answer is that both emotions are real and do not contradict each other. In order to understand this, let us consider a person who needs surgery. When the doctor starts to make an incision, it hurts terribly. But despite the pain, the patient is happy, because he knows that the surgery is necessary for him to get better. How much more is this so when the surgeon is his father. In such a case, the patient knows with utmost certainty that the cutting is solely for his good.
When we encounter a condition of hester panim, it seems bad to us, as if it comes from a source other than the Divine wellspring of all goodness. At one time this brought about the mistaken philosophy that there are two Divine powers (Heaven forbid). However, we know that the Almighty is the source of everything, and ultimately, everything is good, even though we may not always be able to sense it from our perspective. In reality, there is boundless good hidden within the evil. Therefore, although we make the blessing "Blessed is the true Judge" on the bad, and thereby acknowledge that we cannot always perceive the positive aspect of an event, we believe that everything happens for our benefit.
Concealment and Contradictions
With this idea in mind, let us return to our original question: why did Chazal castigate Moshe Rabbeinu for his statement, but not Ya'akov Avinu for what he said? Perhaps the answer is as follows: When Ya'akov made his statement, he was questioning why Heaven was dealing with him in a way that seemed bad from a human perspective. "Why has my way been concealed by Hashem?" This was termed an idle and foolish thing to say. Nevertheless, it wasn't in the category of questioning Hashem's ways. Ya'akov was just bewildered over why the Almighty was relating to him in a concealed fashion. Although Ya'akov knew that everything was for the best, he just didn't understand why things had to proceed in a hidden fashion. Sometimes, however, the appearance of evil is so overwhelming that it is impossible to come to grips with it. This is especially true when Hashem's initial relationship with a person is in a revealed fashion but He subsequently relates to him in a hidden manner. Moshe Rabbeinu received a direct command from the Almighty to go to Egypt and redeem the Jews. He was under the impression that Hashem would be with him and everything would proceed smoothly and quickly. He was convinced that no harm could result from his actions. However, he soon found that because of his actions, the situation of the Jews had deteriorated to an intolerable level - and it was all his fault. His question was not simply about why the Almighty was acting in a concealed fashion. Rather, he was questioning the apparent contradictions that had arisen as a result: "If You wanted to take Your people out later, why did You have me come now? I shouldn't have been sent to Pharaoh until it was the right time! My actions on Your behalf have resulted in the very opposite of what You intended. A doctor can give the patient a bitter medicine, but at least it heals him! But in this case, it only aggravated the illness! If the time of the redemption hasn't arrived yet, why did You send me prematurely (which only made the situation worse)?" (see Ramban). Moshe was disturbed by the contradictions engendered by the concealment, and not by the concealment itself.
One Question - Or Thousands?
The Chofetz Chaim once noted that the world doesn't understand how we can believe in God. Moreover, people ask, who created the Almighty? It may seem as if they are asking one question. But in reality, one who doesn't believe in Hashem has not one question, but thousands. Who made the sun and the moon; who made the stars; who made man? And the list goes on and on. The Chovos Ha-Levavos writes that there are people who claim that the world did not come into existence by design. Rather, a chain of fortuitous events caused everything to come into being. This is a preposterous idea that immediately evaporates when exposed to the light of reason. How can an intelligent person believe such a thing?! Upon seeing a water wheel, for example, which was obviously constructed to facilitate irrigation, could a person possibly imagine that it came into existence by chance?
I have seen an article from Reader's Digest by a Dr. Sarnoff, who served as the president of the American Academy of Science at the time the article appeared. He writes that, based on his scientific knowledge, there are seven reasons why he believes there is a Creator. The informed opinion of such an eminent scientist is not to be lightly dismissed.
Look at the millions of galaxies that comprise the heavens, each of which encompasses billions of stars. Reflect upon the clockwork precision with which the universe runs. Closer to home, consider the development of a fetus, as it grows from a few tiny cells into a fully developed infant. How much wisdom there is in nature! When a person contemplates all this, how can he deny the existence of the Creator?
In Sha'ar Ha-Yichud (ch. 5), the Chovos Ha-Levavos writes that all the doubts a person may experience in this area are due solely to the machinations of the yetzer ha-ra. Common sense leaves no room for doubt.
In his Mishneh Torah, the Rambam rules that having emunah is a mitzvah. This means that a child of thirteen is obligated to have emunah. R. Elchonon Wasserman asked how a child so young can be expected to have emunah. Throughout history, R. Wasserman said, several of the world's greatest philosophers and thinkers have grappled with the concept and expressed doubts concerning belief in God. And the Torah expects a thirteen-year-old child to understand such a deep abstraction? He answered that emunah is obvious and simple; it is only the yetzer ha-ra which plants the seeds of doubt. It is within the grasp of anyone - even a thirteen-year-old child - to have emunah. Indeed, it is closer to the point to say that it's impossible for the unbiased intellect not to have emunah. It is only the yetzer ha-ra that blinds the eyes and creates denial. To an honest mind, it is obvious that there is a Creator.
However, even a sincere intellect can be disquieted when confronted by apparent incongruity. This happens in the private life of every individual. He feels tremendous conflict and is burdened by the discrepancies he perceives between what is and what he feels should be.
This was the difference between Ya'akov Avinu and Moshe Rabbeinu. Ya'akov wasn't bothered by the contradictions; therefore, his statement was labeled as merely "idle." To a person as great as Ya'akov, his emunah should have directed him to overlook the fact that he was being dealt with through hester panim.
On the other hand, Moshe Rabbeinu was bothered by the contradictions. His complaint was, "Why did You send me to take the Jews out, only to make the situation deteriorate through my actions? You sent me to deliver the Jews and then You had me do the opposite!" This was a charge against God's plan.
Life Is a Succession of Aliyos in Shul
The Chofetz Chaim related the following parable to illustrate this point:
A simple country farmer once had to go to the big city to conduct some business. On the Shabbos morning of his visit, he went to the city's imposing synagogue for Shacharis. The service was typical, albeit on a larger and more elegant scale than what the man was used to. However, one thing in particular caught his eye. During the reading of the Torah, the gabbai allotted the seven aliyos to people who were seated in all different corners of the shul. This struck the farmer as being very unorganized for such a large congregation. After the services were over, the country bumpkin went over to the gabbai and said, "My dear sir, I truly enjoyed davening here; but tell me, why did you give out aliyos to people from all over the shul? Wouldn't it make more sense to call the first row one week, the second row next week, and so on? That way, you would be able to call everybody up to the Torah in an orderly manner and make sure that everybody receives his turn."
The gabbai tartly replied, "Oy vey! You're here for one Shabbos and you think you understand everything?! If you had been here for a few weeks in a row, you'd understand there's a good reason I call people from all over the shul. Two weeks ago, a person on the first bench had a Yahrzeit, so he had to have an aliyah then. Last week, the son of the fellow behind him had a Bar Mitzvah, and so he had to have an aliyah. Then there's a man on the third bench who was sick for a few weeks and would have lost his turn with your system - while the fellow next to him is getting married in the upcoming week, and so I had to give him his aliyah now. If I were to follow your advice, nobody would get an aliyah when they needed it, and everybody would be unhappy."
The same is true of us, remarks the Chofetz Chaim. We come into this world for a mere 70 or 80 years, and we want to understand everything. But in order to truly appreciate what happens, we have to realize that there is a much bigger picture, and we have to put everything into the context of the entire universe, from the beginning of time until the End of Days.
The Contradictions Are Merely
Of course there are contradictions in life. But they are merely links in a giant chain of events. If we could put everything together - what happened yesterday together with what took place today and with what will occur tomorrow - the Almighty's plan for us would be revealed in all its clarity and splendor. The bottom line: one should not be disturbed by the contradictions in life. The strength of our bitachon and emunah is what gives us the merit to see the end result of this great chain.
Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
Yeshiva Gedolah Medrash Chaim
Rabbi Parkoff is author of "Chizuk!" and "Trust Me!" (Feldheim Publishers), and "Mission Possible!" (Israel Book Shop ? Lakewood). You can access Rav Parkoff's Chizuk Sheets online:
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