Hashem’s Ways Are Just
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As a child begins to develop, he familiarizes himself with his surroundings through his senses. When he begins to learn the fundamentals of faith, however, the opposite is expected. Now his thinking should not be based on his senses at all. We are not permitted to paint any picture of Hashem for ourselves, nor conjure up any image in our minds, as our parsha states: "for you did not see any likeness on the day Hashem spoke to you: (Devarim 4:15). Someone once told me that when he davens, he imagines to himself that Hashem is a light. This is not permitted either, for it is forbidden to view Hashem as anything that is perceptible or tangible.
Chazal tell us that the pasuk: "accursed is the man who will make a graven or molten image, an abomination of Hashem, a craftsman's handiwork, and emplace it in secret" (Devarim 27:15), is not limited to one who actually creates the image, but even imagining any type of shape or picture is included in this curse, G-d forbid. "Hashem" is a very abstract concept and is thus beyond our understanding. The term "Kel elyon" has many implications, one of them being that He is above any understanding we could possibly hope to attain. One of the principles of our faith is "I believe with complete faith that the Creator Blessed is His Name, is not physical and is not affected by physical phenomena and that there is no comparison whatsoever to Him". We cannot conceptualize the A-lmighty - neither in the physical sense nor in the intellectual sense. We do not understand the meaning of Hashem thinking, the meaning of Hashem being merciful, consulting, or changing His mind. Any expressions we use to explain and describe this are terms we have borrowed from our own limited experience in order to assist in our comprehension.
This then explains the revolution that needs take place in the thought processes of the child as he gets older. In early childhood he discerns for himself concrete concepts such as the nature of a bed; a mother; or milk. Then he suddenly comes across an idea that is totally abstract and he realizes that the senses that he had relied upon until this point had actually been misleading.
Avraham Avinu witnessed the sun rising and setting and it was therefore clear to him that there must be One who orchestrates this world. We may not be able to see and feel Him, but our intellect demands realization of His existence. Not everyone is able to arrive at this conclusion on his own the way Avraham Avinu did, yet we must make an effort to recognize our Creator by acknowledging His brilliance that is evident in the human body. Avraham Avinu acknowledged the presence of a Creator through his perception of day and night, light and darkness, the sun and the moon, and the rest of the creation. The galaxy as well as the human body is awe-inspiring. We cannot help but realize that there is a power beyond what our senses can comprehend.
Whether a person arrives at this conclusion on his own or it is taught to him, what he is seeing is only a fraction of reality. What he sees before him, are the infinite capabilities of Hashem, as the Rambam writes: the power of Hashem's rule in this world is limitless. The scope of the world is awesome. Hashem is not bound by this world, which is vast beyond anything we can imagine, nor by any of the other worlds He created. He is above and beyond all that is physical and spiritual combined. He can change anything, as we saw in Egypt and when He brought down manna in the desert, turned the sea into dry land, and the light into darkness. Man only sees a small fraction of reality. Which part of it? That Hashem is not bound by any constraints - there is far more to Him than what we are capable of seeing.
A thinking person also sees the phenomenal good Hashem does for us. I feel His wonderful acts of chesed with each and every breath that I take. "Were our mouth as full of song as the sea ... we still could not thank You sufficiently, Hashem our G-d and G-d of our forefathers, and to bless Your Name for even one of the thousand thousand, thousands of thousands and myriad myriads of favors that You performed for our ancestors and for us". I am only speaking of myself, but it applies to the entire creation: "You open Your hand, and satisfy the desire of every living thing" (Tehillim 145:16). His goodness is infinite: "He gives nourishment to all flesh, for His kindness endures forever (Tehillim 136:25). Each species receives precisely what it requires. For example, the fish receive their air through a different medium than I, therefore Hashem gives them what they need and gives me what is appropriate for me. So, in addition to seeing Hashem's infinite power, we also see His infinite kindness.
There is a third area that is not always so obvious, this is the justice of Hashem. Each verdict is totally fair - every creature gets what he deserves. Hashem's power may be unlimited, but He does not exercise any of it without due cause. To us this is not always so clear, we often see: "righteous people for whom things are bad and wicked people for whom things are good" (Brachot 7a). It often appears to us that "the earth is delivered into the hands of the wicked" (Iyov 9:24), G-d forbid.
If we just think a little bit we will see how obvious it is that the world must contain an element of "righteous people for whom things are bad and wicked people for whom things are good". If this were not the case, there would be no free choice. Imagine if anyone who ate kosher would be guaranteed health and longevity, and all who observed Shabbat were to become wealthy (as Chazal promise us), while at the same time those who partook of non-kosher food or violated the Shabbat were to die instantly. Would the choice not be obvious? What test would man have? Just as a mentally stable person would not suddenly pick up a gun and shoot himself in the head nor swallow poison, so too a mentally healthy person would not desecrate the Shabbat.
Perhaps some "scholar" will to get up and say: "it was not Hashem Who accomplished all this" (Devarim 32:27), but the laws of nature dictate that there are thirty-nine activities that if done on Shabbat lead to instant death. He would not be bothered by his not understanding the specifics of how this law of nature works, after all there are many things that we do not fully understand. In fact, there are many laws of nature whose existence was known before any explanation was available. This scenario would also remove from man his free choice. Would one steal from an area displaying signs of protection warning of an electrified fence? His reason for not stealing would not be out of righteousness, but out of fear of being electrocuted, but he would not entertain the notion of stealing. If all we saw was the prospering of the righteous and the suffering of the wicked, we would be left with no choice. To preserve our free choice, there must remain cases of "tzaddik vera lo, rasha vetov lo". Thank G-d, this is not true in every case, but the necessity of it is one reason why we are not always aware of Divine justice.
The prophets were very troubled by this concept of "tzaddik vera lo, rasha vetov lo". Moshe Rabenu, the master of all prophets prayed to Hashem: "make Your way known to me" (Shmot 33:13), it was precisely this idea that he was referring to. Why does this particular righteous person suffer, while another, Baruch Hashem prospers? Is the Jewish nation not better than all the others, even if we sin at times? We have had many good times, but there have been periods in which the other nations fared better. The period of the first Beit Hamikdash was one in which the Jewish people flourished - the Divine Presence dwelled among us. The reigns of David, Shlomo, Chizkiyahu, and Yehoshafat were very positive times for the nation. There were however many difficult periods in our history. We have a hard time understanding this - why are the Jewish people downtrodden among the other nations?
Until today, people ask where Hashem was in Auschwitz. Auschwitz witnessed endless "Kiddush Hashem"! This was probably the most considerable "Kiddush Hashem" since Akeidat Yitzchak! Jews gave up their daily ration of bread to be able to learn Torah, and with tremendous self-sacrifice they aided the old and weak. Even among the Kapos there were those who died "al Kiddush Hashem". Many took great care to observe Shabbat and not to eat chametz on Pesach even when there was no other food (we thank G-d, can find the most "mehudar" matzot hand and machine, as well as many other products that are Kosher for Pesach). When there is not even Kitniyot available, and certainly no Matzah - neither Shmura nor non-Shmura, one is faced with a very difficult test of whether or not to eat chametz on Pesach and despite this Jews died rather than eat chametz. There was a dispute among the poskim of the time regarding whether the Holocaust should be considered a "shaat hashmad" in which the principle of "yehareg ve-al yaavor", one must be killed rather than transgress, applies to each and every Mitzvah. No matter how one views it, the Kiddush Hashem during the Holocaust, as well as in Communist Russia as well, was nothing short of amazing.
The other nations as well as many fools among us, still ask where Hashem was in Auschwitz. Why do they ask this? How did they not see Him there? From the point of view of the other nations, what went on there was one colossal "chillul Hashem". We speak of a Jew who died "al Kiddush Hashem", for example during the period of the Crusades. To us, the fact that this Jew refused to violate the precepts of the Torah and would rather die constituted a great Kiddush Hashem. But from their perspective? What Kiddush Hashem was there? Did any of them repent? Quite the opposite, they proclaimed "our hand was raised in triumph" (Devarim 32:27). They gleefully claimed that they were uprooting the Jewish religion from the world, G-d forbid. They were taking vengeance for "that man"! Thus, they viewed the entire incident as a "chillul Hashem", even if to us it was a Kiddush Hashem.
We see that even the tiny five hundred by five hundred amot corner of the world that belongs to the A-lmighty - Har Habayit and the Beit Hamikdash - was destroyed by the Romans. Any foundation that the Romans did not manage to destroy, those Yishmaelites are busy demolishing today. We are seeing a fulfillment of "destroy, destroy to its very foundation" (Tehillim 137:7).
We do not always see Hashem's justice immediately, but despite this, we know that it exists. Our parsha spells this out explicitly: "You must know that Hashem, your G-d - He is the G-d, the faithful G-d, Who safeguards the covenant and the kindness for those who love Him and for those who observe His commandments, for a thousand generations:" (Devarim 7:9). Do not expect to see the righteous prosper immediately. Hashem has time, the tzaddik will not perish, and the A-lmighty "lives forever and endures to eternity". It is possible that a tzaddik will only be rewarded after a thousand generations.
Chazal tell us that had Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov realized all their reward in this world, we would have no merits on which to live, for we live from the power of the mitzvoth performed by the forefathers and their later generations. The merit of all the tzaddikim is what protects us. This is spelled out in our parsha: "Who safeguards the covenant and the kindness for those who love Him, and He repays His enemies in his lifetime to make him perish" (Devarim 7:9-10). Hashem is "the faithful G-d" (ibid.), and therefore rewards the wicked for any mitzvoth they may have done. The difference is that they are rewarded immediately in this world. The reward they receive in this world, however, is at the expense of their share in the Next World. "'He shall not delay for His enemy' (ibid.), for His enemies He does not delay, but for the righteous He does delay" (Eruvin 22a). "In his lifetime He shall repay him" (ibid.), he repays him (the wicked) in this world.
The story is told of a Jew who was always running after honor. It was this imaginary honor that ultimately caused him to leave the faith. This "meshumad" was once riding on a glorious chariot through the streets of the city. An old friend met him and inquired: "where is your 'olam hazeh'?" The "meshumad" was a bit taken aback, "my 'olam hazeh'? Do you not see the horses and chariots?" The friend responded: "you fool, the horses and chariots are not your 'olam hazeh', they are the small portion of 'olam haba', you have earned by virtue of your having performed a few mitzvoth!"
Where is the justice here? I can understand that one does not deserve any share in the next world for the mitzvoth he did not do, why should he not be rewarded with even a small share, for the mitzvoth that he did perform? Why is he paid in this world in order that he uses up his reward and by doing so lose his place in the Next World? The answer lies in the verse: "You open Your hand, and satisfy the desire of every living thing". Hashem gives each person what they desire. The mind of the righteous is intent on spirituality, so Hashem provides him with a share of the next world which is all spiritual. The next world is totally a "Kiddush Hashem", learning the ways of Hashem, plumbing the infinite depths of the Torah, and more. The wicked person is not looking for spirituality, he seeks the physical, material world with all its impurities - he is looking for "olam hazeh". Each person is paid in the currency he desires, there is therefore no use in paying him in coins of the next world coins, and he has no use for them.
Chazal relate the following story (Vayikra Rabba 12:1). A man was constantly drunk, so much so that he would spend all his earnings. His sons felt that if he continued in this way, he would blow away all his life savings and would not leave them with any inheritance when he died. They elected to do the following: to give him very strong wine until he fell asleep drunk. They then took him and placed him in the cemetery, hoping that when he would awaken from his sleep and find himself in a cemetery he would repent and change his terrible ways. What did Hashem do? A group of wine merchants passed by and heard an uprising in the town. They thought to themselves in fear "who knows what is happening there", afraid that if they brought their merchandise into the town, they would be robbed, they decided that the safest place for the wine was the cemetery - after all there is no living creature there! The father awoke to the sight of the wine and rather than repent began to drink (I do not know whether or not he first recited the bracha "borei pri hagafen", perhaps he was not obligated, for we are not permitted to make brachot in a cemetery). In any event, he began to drink. The sons came and found the father drunk as usual. They then realized that "There is neither wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against Hashem" (Mishle 21:30).
Why did Hashem send wine? What else could he have given him, a "chiddushei haRitva"? He would have just sold it for the equivalent in wine. If that is the case: "what is the point in exchanging bags?" (Ketubot 110a). Why must he be given a "chiddushei haRitva" in order that he sell it for wine, give him the wine directly, is this not what he wants? If he cannot be paid with anything else, pay him with wine! This is an example of: "to satisfy the desire of every living thing".
Similarly, lehavdil, a store owner can accept payment in dollars or in shekels. Man determines for himself what type of payment he wishes - in spiritual coinage or in physical coinage. The righteous wish to be paid something spiritual - they cleave to Hashem even if once in a while they err. They are therefore punished in this world for their errors, and they then can receive their portion of the next world, but the wicked, who are totally insulated in that which is material, are rewarded in this world which is all physical.
This is not always readily apparent, but after a while it becomes more obvious. Chazal tell us "'regarding this (the victory of Sichon over Moav) the poets would say: 'come unto Cheshbon' (Bamidbar 21:27), the poets ("moshelim") - these are the ones who rule over their desires, 'bou cheshbon' - come let us make an accounting of this world, weigh in a Mitzvah's loss against its gain and a sin's gain against its loss" (Baba Batra 78b). In this vein, Chazal explained the remainder of the psukim in that section. What is "al ken" "regarding this", regarding what? What does the story of this battle have to do with Chazal's "drashot", why because of this war will the poets say that we must make an accounting of this world?
I think the answer is clear. What did the newspapers report immediately following this war? "Sichon won a major victory over his adversaries". What a victory! What do we know? The only reason Hashem saw to it that Sichon defeated Moav, was not for Moav's sake, but for the sake of the Jewish nation. This was an intermediate stage that was to help the Jewish people settle this area (after they were to capture it from Sichon). This way they could capture the land without violating the prohibition of "do not oppress Moav" (Devarim 2:9). "Regarding this" - regarding the war Sichon fought against Moav, the poets will say 'bou cheshbon' - come let us make an accounting of this world". From this war we can conclude, that even if we see the wicked prosper: "When the wicked bloom like grass and all the doers of iniquity blossom" (Tehillim 92:8), it is only for the purpose of: "to destroy them till eternity" (ibid.). The accounting of the world we are discussing, of course, is in the long term. "Understand the years of generation after generation" (Devarim 32:7), we cannot immediately understand what is taking place. It is only after many generations that things begin to fall into place.
At the end of all the generations, all will see the exact accounting. They will see how Hashem deals with the other nations: "I shall intoxicate My arrows with blood and My sword shall devour flesh, because of the blood of corpse and captive, because of the earliest depredations of the enemy" (Devarim 27:42). Rashi tells us that the other nations' accountability will be from the beginning of the attacks against the Jewish people. They will be held accountable for each time they shouted "Jude". The judgment for one who shouted "Jude" will not be as harsh as for one who actually slapped a Jew in the face. Even if two people shouted "Jude" their punishments may differ. One may have done so out of burning hatred, and one may have been taught that that is what you do when you see a Jew, Hashem will make an exact accounting with each and every person. When the other nations see how exact and fair the judgment is, they will see that nothing in this world happens by chance. Their reaction will then be: "O nations - sing the praises of His people" (ibid. 43). Onkelos explains that even the other nations will sing Hashem's praises for the incredible level of precision, how: "the judgments of Hashem are true, altogether righteous" (Tehillim 19:10). Today we must rely on faith to believe that Hashem is fair and exact, in the future we will be able to discern this for ourselves.
We certainly are righteous in comparison with other nations. It is for this reason that we are judged on a higher standard: "Hashem, deals strictly with those round about Him even to a hair's breadth" (Yevamot 121b), therefore we do not readily see how much better we have it than the other nations. We may not see it now, but we know that in the end we will hear: "O nations - sing the praises of His people". The other nations will be accountable for everything, for the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash and for destroying its foundation.
All Yeshivot are about to recess for "bein hazmanim" - a very surprising "minhag". Why was this time specifically chosen for this break? Chazal tell us that when the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed, Hashem waived their transgressions of the three cardinal sins of "Avoda Zara, Giluy Arayot, and Shfichut Damim", He did not however forgive them for "bitul Torah". As we are told "Yerushalayim was destroyed only because they diverted the schoolchildren in it from their Torah studies, as it states: 'to pour fury on little children in the streets' (Yirmiyahu 6:11)" (Shabbat 119b). Should the opposite not be true? Should Tisha B'Av not give us more energy to be able to sit by our "shtender" and learn more? What is the "heter" for this "bein hazmanim"? Because they feel more strength needs to be garnered in preparation for Elul and the Yamim Noraim. This "heter" by the way is "dchuya" (which one should try their best to avoid) and not "hutra" (which is permitted "lechatchila"). Had we been able to have a non-Jew fulfill "bein hazmanim" for us it would have been better! Being that this is impossible, the Jew must do it himself. But as much as possible, we must find time to learn. A small amount of learning will not be harmful to one's health. With Hashem's help we should be able to return strong and healthy for Elul.
Reciting the Shma in its proper time, too is not dependent on being in Yeshiva. I think this time should be taken advantage of to learn "bkiut" in various areas. The Yeshiva demands that the students learn "b'iyun", learning the sugyot with more depth. In one zman, even with all our b'kiut, we can perhaps manage to complete one Massechet. The Shas however is far greater one does not have the opportunity to study all of it while in Yeshiva. Another area one may not devote sufficient time to in the Yeshiva is Tanach. Hashem did not give us twenty-four books of Tanach in order that they should remain on the shelf, rather we must master them. It is known that the Gr"a would not accept anyone to his Yeshiva who did not more or less possess a mastery over Tanach. Today, if most Yeshivot were to institute such a policy, they would have to close their doors! In any event, study of Tanach is highly recommended. It's a good book! I do not need to give it a "haskama", Hashem has already done that. What about Mishnayot? Should we not at least have some idea of what each Massechet is about? After that one can review them two and three times. The Shas is big enough that it will occupy a good part of our time. A person should then go through the Rambam, as well as the entire Shulchan Aruch. Thank G-d there is plenty to learn. While in the Yeshiva there is not time to cover everything, we spend more time on sugyot, therefore "bein hazmanim" is a perfect opportunity to spend more time in "bkiut".
The Gemara tells us: "a man should always divide the years of his life into thirds: spending a third in Scripture, a third in Mishna, and a third in Talmud" (Kiddushin 30a). The Rambam rules this way as well (Hilchot Talmud Torah 1:11). Rabenu Tam claimed that this does not apply to us, because Talmud Bavli contains all three: "what does the name Bavel mean, R' Yochanan said: it is saturated ('balul') with Scripture, saturated with Mishna, and saturated with Talmud" (Sanhedrin 24a). I have always found this ruling of Rabenu Tam difficult to understand. It is true that many psukim and Mishnayot are quoted in the Gemara, but does the Gemara contain the entire Tanach? One can have mastery over the entire Shas without knowing how many years Amatziah king of Yehuda lived (Melachim II 14:17). This pasuk does not appear anywhere in Shas. The same may be said for other psukim. Not all Mishnayot appear in the Gemara. Most Mishnayot have Gemara expounding on them, but many do not. Although many of these Mishnayot are quoted in other Gemarot, many are not. How then can we absolve ourselves of the obligation to learn Tanach and Mishna by simply studying Talmud Bavli?
This is quite a comprehensive program for the three weeks of "bein hazmanim". We cannot manage all this in three weeks, but try we must. Learning while on the road is very difficult, we do not have the same books at our disposal. In the Yeshiva, we can open the Rashba, Ramban, and R' Chaim. During "bein hazmanim" not all these books are available and one does not always have the desire to learn in depth. One certainly does not take his library with him on the bus. It is thus of the utmost importance to take advantage of the time, when traveling to study some b'kiut.
Before I entered the Ponovezh Yeshiva, an older man z"l advised me that prior to entering the Yeshiva, I should go over the entire Shas with Rashi only - without Tosafot, in order that I have some idea of what is written in the Shas. To this day I owe him a debt of gratitude for this piece of advice. If we complete the Shas, we can then study Rambam which is also a good book. There is so much to learn!
One thing we must be very careful of, particularly when outside the walls of the Yeshiva is guarding our eyes. It is almost impossible not to stumble in this area. Despite having been guilty a hundred times, we must try as we can not to transgress a hundred and one times. One who tries and fails, so he failed. One who does not even attempt to overcome this temptation is "one who denies one law" (Chullin 4b). Rabenu Yona says of such a person that he has thrown off the yoke of his Master, and does as he pleases (Shaarei Tshuva 1:6).
Bein Hazmanim is also a good opportunity to fulfill the Mitzvah of honoring one's parents. In the Yeshiva, the concept of honoring parents is much deeper - the father and mother receive much merit from the son studying in Yeshiva, although they do not see the reward in this world, as we have mentioned earlier. Bein Hazmanim, however, is an opportunity to fulfill this Mitzvah in such a way that the parents reap "nachat" from their offspring in this world - and not only after one hundred and twenty years.
With Hashem's help may we return properly prepared for Elul, in order that our learning during Elul prepare us to be written and sealed for redemption and salvation together with the entire Jewish nation and together with Yerushalayim whose status is very worrying (let us hope we will not have to change the name of the Yeshiva to something like "El Borak"), and together with the Beit Hamikdash whose foundation is being destroyed. May the entire House of Israel merit a true redemption and "The fast of the fifth month ... shall be for the house of Yehuda a time for joy and happiness for us and the entire house of Israel" (Zecharia 8:19). Amen.