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The Lesson of Pesach
The Ramban z"l explains (Shemos 13:16) that there were three groups of non-believers. The first denied the very existence of G-d. The second conceded that He exists and did, indeed create the world, but they denied His knowledge or interest in what transpires here. The third admitted that He may know what goes on in the world but He is definitely not involved in it. He lives in His Heaven above, they argued, and He has nothing to do with the occurrences in the lower worlds.
When Hashem performs miracles and saves the oppressed from the hands of their oppressor, He proves His existence and ability, His knowledge of who is righteous and who is wicked and His involvement in the management of the world.
Therefore, Moshe told Par'oh, in the Name of Hashem, that the results of the Ten Plagues in Egypt were threefold: 1) "In order that you shall know that the earth is Hashem's" (ibid. 9:29), that He created it; 2) "In order that you shall know that there is none like Me in all the world" (ibid. 14), that He knows all that transpires here and is the Sole Ruler; 3) "In order you will know that I am Hashem in the midst of the land" (ibid. 8:18), that He is not confined to the Heavens above but supervises the worlds and is involved in all of their affairs through Hashgachah Peratis - Divine Providence.
These tenets of faith, declares the Ramban, are the foundations of the entire Torah.
Every year at the Seder, we review the story of the Exodus, in great detail, with our children and family, in order to establish and strengthen these principles in our minds and hearts. We may think that we already know them and that the constant repetition is unnecessary, but experience proves that this is not so. Though one may vocally proclaim his absolute belief, nevertheless, in time of trouble he is prone to forget that the absolute source of everything which affects him is Hashem. Rather than turn to Him and make amends, He foolishly deals with the matter at hand by himself, as if it were merely a natural event which happened to distress him.
Therefore the author of the Haggadah proclaims categorically: "And even if we are all wise, all understanding, all elderly, all knowledgeable of the Torah, we are obligated to relate the Exodus from Egypt; and everyone who expands upon the story of the Exodus from Egypt is considered praiseworthy."
In this vein, the mashgiach, Harav Hatzaddik, Reb Chatskyl Levenstein ztvk"l, would encourage his students to tell and listen to stories of Hashgachah, all year round. Anyone who had such a story to tell him found an open ear and an eager heart, ready, at all times, to strengthen and be strengthened in the foundations of Judaism.
In Yeshiva, I, too, encouraged students to come forward and relate their own personal experiences with Hashgachah. I added to their enthusiasm by telling them that someone I know was having a hard time settling in Israel. He contemplated returning to the Diaspora, but his conscience bothered him about abandoning the Holy Land. In desperation, he approached Reb Binyamin Hatzaddik, Rabbi Binyamin Zilber shlita and argued that it is written that "the whole earth is full of His glory" (Yesha'ayahu 6:3). "What, then, is the difference if I live in Israel or in the States?" he asked. "Hashem can be found all over."
Patiently, Reb Binyamin explained to him. "You are definitely right. Hashem is all over. And in the States too, if you look for Him, you will find Him. But the difference is that in Israel, if someone wants to ignore Him, he has to close his eyes and turn his back to Him! Because here, the Hashgachah is so visible."
I told our students that if they would not close their eyes and hearts obstinately, they would be amazed at all of the experiences they would have here which they should not mistakenly label "coincidences," but should recognize them for what they are: Acts of Hashem's Divine Providence.
Following is one of the many stories they told me. To be honest, I don't really remember the details (names of streets, bus number etc.), but the story itself is totally accurate.
It was a Shabbat Chofshit (a "weekend off" from yeshiva) and Moshe Katz ` was planning to spend it with his family in Petach Tikvah. He had never been there before, and his cousin had instructed him to take bus number 45 and get off at 30 Shlomo Hamelech Street, where they lived. It was late Friday afternoon when he boarded the last bus before Shabbos. But, to his dismay, when he asked the driver where to get off, he said that he didn't know.
After a while, he began to panic as he studied every street sign the bus passed and found nothing familiar, and he began to envision himself spending Shabbos alone, in the park. Finally, he asked a woman on the bus with him if she knew, by any chance, where he should get off for 30 Shlomo Hamelech Street. The woman looked out the window and told him that, "by coincidence," this was exactly the stop he had to get off at. He was very grateful and quickly descended.
But as the last bus drove off, he examined the scene and found that there was absolutely no indication that he was anywhere near Shlomo Hamelech Street, number 30 or any other number for that matter.
Totally alarmed, he found a phone booth, and, as the sun began to nearly set, he called his cousin and expressed his disappointment at not being able to find 30 Shlomo Hamelech Street. His cousin was shocked. "Who ever told you that our address is 30 Shlomo Hamelech Street? We live at 55 Hertzl Street! Where are you anyway?
Through his tears, our hero looked around him and described to his cousin where he was situated. His cousin screeched with surprise. "Dummy, you are standing right outside of my house. Come in fast. We all are waiting for you."
At the Shabbos table, Moshe related his experience of obvious Hashgachah Peratis to his family. "That woman told me to get off at the wrong place; but it turned out to be the right place after all," he told them in amazement. They replied that the story was even more astonishing than he imagined, because in all of Petach Tikvah there was no street by the name of Shlomo Hamelech at all!
Let's open our eyes and our hearts to see Hashem's Hand guiding us, every single step of the way. Then we'll truly be happy in this world and in the World-to-Come.
Shevi'i Shel PesachHashem took the Israelites out of Egypt and split the Reed Sea for them, in order to drown their adversaries in it. This was a Divine expression of His love for His People whom he had chosen from amongst all of the nations of the world. Indeed, in Shir Hashirim (the Song of Songs), Shlomo Hamelech describes the affection and devotion Hashem has for us, which does not diminish even when we are not as loyal to Him as we should be.
"Behold, you are beautiful, my love; behold, you are beautiful; your eyes are doves" (Shir Hashirim 1:15). Rashi brings the interpretation of the Sages that Hashem retains His love for us even after we have sinned, encouraging us to return to Him. But what is the deeper meaning of the comparison of the Jewish People to a Dove?
The following moving story is related in the fabulous book, Ish Tzaddik Hayah, about the fabulous man who loved every single Jew, Reb Aryeh Levin ztvk"l.
Towards the end of his life, the Chief Rabbi of Moscow, Reb Chaim Berlin zt"l, son of the Netziv ztvk"l of Volozhin, lived in Jerusalem. On Shabbos, he would read from the Torah, and people would come to his shul just to hear the beautiful way he chanted the words with deep devotion. But especially on Pesach, when he read the Shir Hashirim, the shul was always packed with people who came to hear his emotional recitation of the indissoluble bond between Hashem and His beloved children. But the Rabbi's emotions always peaked when he read, crying profusely, "Behold, you are beautiful, my love; behold, you are beautiful; your eyes are doves."
His devoted student, Reb Aryeh Levine, once asked him why he was always especially moved when he read that verse. The Rabbi then told him the following story.
"One day, when I was Rabbi in Moscow, I was visited by a Jew who asked to speak with me in private. At first I was concerned that he might be in trouble with the Russian authorities and wanted to discuss it confidentially. But, to my surprise, his 'secret' was that his wife gave birth to a son and he wanted me to come on the eighth day and circumcise him as I had done so many others. I asked him what the big secret was. Many Jews perform this great mitzvah publicly, with great joy. He then told me his sad story.
"'I live in an exclusively non-Jewish neighborhood where no one knows that I am Jewish. I run a big business, providing them with their religious needs. Obviously, if they were to know that I am Jewish, I would lose all of my business and perhaps even my life. Therefore, I came today, not only to invite you to circumcise my son, but also to seek your sage advice. How can we do this without anyone knowing about it?'
"I realized that this was not going to be a typical bris, performed with many guests, all rejoicing in the covenant of the new-born with Hashem. I suggested to the father that he be the sandak, who would hold the child on his lap while I would circumcise him, and together we would do the job alone.
"'Impossible, Rabbi,' the father exclaimed. 'I am very queasy and I faint at the sight of blood. If I hold the baby during the circumcision ceremony, I'll tremble so much that he'll probably slip off of my lap.'
"I told him that if that's the case, he should do the following. First of all, he should give his non-Jewish servants the morning off, so that they won't witness the religious service. Secondly, he should invite the Jewish doctor, whom the non-Jews also use, to come on the eighth day, and he should tell his neighbors that the baby needs a minor operation. I will come with him and we will perform the ritual together. Then the doctor will come to visit again a few days later so that no one should suspect what really took place.
"On the day of the bris, the father sent someone to bring us to his lavish home on a street I had never visited before, nor had any Jew. His house showed no signs of being Jewish. On the contrary, it was full of all types of Christian articles and statues. We performed the ritual in a corner where there were no religious artifacts and, before I left, I asked the father to come visit me again in three days to tell me how the child was feeling.
"Three days later, the father showed up and offered me ten rubles, since he was sure that I had summoned him in order to get paid for my work. When I refused to accept it, he offered me more, convinced that I wasn't satisfied with the amount he had suggested. I explained to him that I never take money for performing such a great mitzvah and that I had invited him for a totally different reason. I wanted to understand why he had undergone such self-sacrifice, endangering his entire status and perhaps even his life, to circumcise his son, when it was obvious that he was totally estranged from Judaism.
"To my surprise, the fellow began to weep. With his head bent, he spoke slowly and deliberately. 'I know very well, my dear Rabbi, that I have distanced myself considerably from my roots. Often I am deeply saddened by this recognition, but in my present situation I doubt if I will ever be able to really return.' At this point, he began to cry without restraint. After he calmed down a bit, he continued.
"'I also imagine that because of my position, this newborn son of mine will be even more estranged than I from Judaism. Because I at least grew up as a Jew in a Jewish home; but he will never even recognize any Jewish sign. Nevertheless, Hashem's ways are remarkable, and somehow, someday, he might chance upon the Jewish lifestyle and it may find favor in his eyes. Perhaps the unquenchable spark of Judaism may be aroused within him and he may have a desire to live like a true Jew. Therefore, I decided that I do not want to block that road back to his roots before him; something which may very well occur if he is not circumcised. So I overcame all of my own obstacles and I made a super effort to have him circumcised so that that window of opportunity should always be open for him should he ever desire to come back home!'"
Reb Chaim's eyes filled with tears again as he finished telling this emotional story to his beloved student. Then he added his own interpretation.
"I always wondered how the Sages explained the verse praising Israel's beauty as referring to after they sin. What could be beautiful about a Jew after he has sinned? But, as a result of this incident, I came to understand it. The key is at the end of the passage, 'Your eyes are doves.' The Talmud teaches us (Bava Basra 23) that the dove will never go so far from her nest that she cannot return. She constantly looks over her shoulder and ascertains that she can go back whenever she wants to. So it is with a Jew. Although he may have become completely estranged from Judaism, he always endeavors to keep the way clear for him, or at least for his children, to return to his own nest. This is the beauty of the Jews in all circumstances. How lucky we are to be among them."
Shema Yisrael Torah Network