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"Then I shall remove My hand and you will see My back, but My face may not be seen" (Shemos 33:23).
The Chasam Sofer zt"l interprets this passage in a novel way. He says that Hashem told Moshe that only with hindsight, looking back at events that occur, can one recognize and understand His ways. However, before they develop fully, we cannot know what is going on and we are expected to trust in Hashem Who surely knows what He is doing.
The Sages describe one who is rushing to catch a ship scheduled to travel to a destination where he hopes to make a big business deal. On the way, he is delayed by a thorn in his foot. He curses his bad luck as he sees the ship pull out of the dock without him on it. Later, he hears that the ship sunk at sea and there were no survivors. Now he sings praises to Hashem Who was so kind to him and saved him from disaster!
I think that we all have had this type of experience, in one way or another. Hashem expects us to learn from these encounters and trust Him, the next time we are met with uncertain situations.
One of the major foundations of Judaism is that Hashem is totally involved in the world which He Alone created, and He guides it through Hashgachah Peratis (Divine Providence; Personal supervision and intervention). Our job is to cooperate with the Hashgachah as best as we can. Whether or not we understand why, we should take advantage of all opportunities the Almighty places before us, and, later, we will understand why; sometimes even in this world.
Rabbi Yechezkel Landau, author of the Noda BiYehudah, was the renowned Rabbi of Prague. One cold winter's night, he noticed a poor Gentile boy, crying and wandering through the Jewish neighborhood. The lad looked very distraught, and so the kindly Rabbi approached him and asked him what was the matter. Drying his tears, the boy began to pour out his heart to the man who was nice enough to be concerned for his plight.
"My father is a baker," he began. "Ever since my mother died and he remarried, my life has been a living Hell. They stay indoors, where it is warm, and bake all day. Then they give me a basket of bread and pastries and force me to go door to door, in freezing weather, selling their products. Woe to me, if I don't sell every last one. My stepmother is free to beat me badly for not fulfilling my mission properly.
"The truth is that I've gotten used to this, more or less. But today, a catastrophe occurred. After spending the whole day selling all of the baked goods, I prepared to finally go home when I realized that all of the money I earned is missing; either it was lost or stolen, I'm not sure. Now I am afraid to face them and receive the punishment they will surely mete out on me."
The Rabbi was pained at the abuse of the child and the suffering of a human being. "How much did you have?' he asked the boy. "Twenty gold pieces," he replied. Rabbi Landau immediately gave the boy the entire amount plus an extra dinar for himself. "Before you go home, go into a grocery store and buy yourself something to eat." The boy thanked the Rabbi profusely and ran about his way.
Many years passed. Rabbi Landau had long forgotten the kindness he had shown to a suffering lad. But the boy never forgot the stranger who had helped him in his time of need. It was past midnight, the eve of the Seventh day of Passover when a young man knocked on the door of the Rabbi of Prague. The Rabbi did not recognize his strange visitor but let him into his home.
"You may not remember me," began the unexpected guest, "but I have never forgotten you. Tonight I have come to repay you the kindness you bestowed upon me years ago when you gave me the money I had lost and saved me from my cruel parents. Now I have come to save you from them too.
"I'm sure you are well aware of the hatred the local priest has towards the Jewish residents of Prague. This year he came up with a diabolical plan to murder all of your People in one day. He is aware of the Jewish custom to eat bread as soon as possible after your Passover holiday. Since your bakeries have none yet, all of you buy a loaf of bread from the non-Jewish bakeries in town. The Priest called a meeting of all of the bakers, including my parents, and promised them absolution for all of their sins if they would poison those breads intended for the Jews of Prague. The deathly loaves will bring tragedy to your people unless you think of a way to save them. I put my own life in danger by coming to warn you but I knew that I owed it to you for the kindness you bestowed upon me when I was in trouble. And now I must leave quickly before anyone realizes that I am missing and I may be caught."
The stunned Rabbi thanked the boy from the depths of his heart and began to think of a plan to save the Jewish community. On the Eighth day of Passover, he called the leaders of the community for an urgent meeting. Within minutes, everyone was assembled at the Rabbi's home, curious as to the urgency of the call in the midst of their Yom Tov rest. Rabbi Landau told them that something terrible had happened and that they must summon the heads of all of the households to the main synagogue before the holiday ends. He stressed that they must be sure that every one of them attends this urgent gathering. The leaders of the community were even more anxious to know what was so crucial, but they rushed to do their Rabbi's bidding. Within an hour, the entire group waited to be addressed by their venerable Sage.
"My beloved friends," the Rabbi began with a trembling voice. "A terrible thing has happened. Actually, I am embarrassed to admit it, but I have no choice. Although the Rabbis are experts in the Jewish calendar, this year, somehow, we made a terrible miscalculation and we began the Passover holiday a day earlier. Thank G-d, we caught the mistake in time, and we are able to prevent a catastrophe from occurring. I called you all together to inform you that today is not the last day of Passover but next to last. Everyone is to observe another day and no one is to eat any chametz (leavened products) tonight, G-d forbid. Those who listen to the Torah, as espoused by the Rabbis, will save their lives from disaster, in this world and the World-to-Come."
The town of Prague was all abuzz. It was unthinkable that such a thing could actually happen. Another day of Yom Tov meant another day of not working and earning their meager living. But everyone knew that they must listen to the Rabbi no matter how uncomfortable the situation might be.
That night, the Gentiles of Prague set up stands in the Jewish neighborhood and waited for the unsuspecting Jews to buy their deadly goods. But to their great surprise, not one Jew came to buy a thing. They inquired as to this strange phenomenon, and were informed that the Rabbi had extended the Holiday for another day. The bakers complained to the Mayor of Town that the Rabbi had caused them a tremendous loss and should be taken to task for it. The Mayor summoned Rabbi Landau to immediately and presented him with the bakers' complaint. The Rav acknowledged his "guilt" and promised to pay for all of the products if they were brought to him immediately, in front of the Mayor. The bakers rushed to bring everything they had prepared for the Jews and displayed it before the Rabbi. Rabbi Landau then turned to the Mayor and argued, "If I am to buy all these food products, I should surely be allowed to inspect them first and make sure that they are edible, shouldn't I? The Mayor agreed that he certainly had that right. But the bakers began to tremble when the Rabbi suggested that they themselves each take a bite first. Against their will, they had to admit that the entire stock was poisoned, by instruction of the evil Priest.
Now, everyone understood why Hashem had sent the poor, Gentile boy to the Rabbi of Prague, so many years ago. The Rabbi had cooperated with the Hashgachah and had done what was right, and today he had saved his entire community from tragedy.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network