A Divine Presence of Mind
Mt. Sinai was smoking, because G-d came down on it in fire. The smoke
like the smoke of a furnace; the whole mountain trembled. (Shemos 19:18)
Yesurim (suffering) is such a part of life; no one is free from it. It
doesn't affect everyone equally or at the same time, except during major
crises such as wars, G-d forbid. But, everyone pays their dues at some
time in their life, and if not in this incarnation, then in another.
There are different purposes for yesurim. The main purpose, according to
Kabbalah, is called tziruf v'libun (refinement and whitening). Everyone
knows that yesurim has the capacity to make people stronger and refine
them, and it tends to act as a vehicle for purification (whitening) of
their soul. True, yesurim can, G-d forbid, break a person, but that is
only in extreme situations, when that itself is the necessary tikun for
Thus, the Talmud, when addressing the issue of yesurim writes:
Rava, and some say, Rav Chisda says, "If a person sees that sufferings
have come to him, let him examine his conduct, for it says, 'Let us search
and try our ways, and return unto the L-rd' (Eichah 3:40). If he examines
and finds nothing [objectionable], let him attribute it to the neglect of
the study of the Torah, as it says, 'Happy is the man whom G-d
disciplines, and whom You teach from Your Torah' (Tehillim 94:12).
Hence, yesurim is a mode of communication between Heaven and man. It is
first and foremost an excuse to do a Cheshbon HaNefesh (Soul Accounting).
It is difficult for us to know if our present state of Torah observance is
the most that is expected from us, from our Creator's point of view. We
can be underachieving and losing valuable opportunities to maximize our
portion in the World-to-Come, so the yesurim become a Divine wake-up call
to re-examine our level of mitzvah performance.
Personally, that would be enough information for me. I know that there are
plenty of reasons for yesurim just based upon my mitzvah performance. Not
that I don't try, and sometimes I try very hard. It's just that, like
everyone else I know, I have a yetzer hara that still holds sway with my
body. So, when I get yesurim, the first thing I do is take a look at my
actions and try to find something I can work on and improve.
Hence, I cannot relate to what the Talmud says, "If he examines and finds
nothing [objectionable], let him attribute it to the neglect of the study
of the Torah." I only WISH I could make such a claim with confidence, and
be right about it. However, few as they may be in the world, there are
some people who can, and so for them their yesurim may be a function of
not spending as much time on Torah as they ought to.
On such a level, one would certainly be called a Gadol b'Torah (Great in
Torah). The lives of such spiritually-great people would be exemplary, and
bittul Torah would amount to not having their eyes in a Torah book, or at
least their minds in a Torah thought, at a moment in time when they were
not involved in some other more pressing mitzvah. Indeed, there is one
Gadol b'Torah here in Jerusalem, to whom I used to ask my shailos, whose
eyes would be back in his sefer every time I paused to collect my thoughts.
What a level to live on! But why?
Whom the L-rd loves He corrects. (Mishlei 3:12)
The answer to this question lies in the continuation of the Talmud's
". . . If he did attribute it [thus], and still did not find [this to be
the cause], let him be sure that these are sufferings of love, since it
says, 'Whom the L-rd loves He corrects' (Mishlei 3:12)." (Brochos 5a)
The Talmud is saying that, if the person suffering can claim with surety
that he has no sins, and does not waste any time when it comes to learning
Torah, and yet he still has yesurim, then it is yesurim shel ahava
(suffering of love).
But what more is there than Torah? We recite daily:
These are the things that a person benefits from in this world, but the
principle is saved for him in the World-to-Come; they are: honoring one's
father and mother, acts of living kindness, coming early to the Bais
HaMidrash in the morning and evening . . . but the study of Torah equals
Even still, it seems, Talmud Torah is only a means to a higher end, and
the key is in Rashi's explanation:
The Holy One, Blessed is He, troubles him in this world to increase his
reward in the World-to-Come, more than his merits.
And, that is all that counts, in the end. Amazing as it seems, for this
world is so elaborate, it is only a very elaborate stage. It would be
great to have an Olam HaBah meter, something you can carry around with
you, like the ones that measure radiation. Instead, this one you could
carry into ANY situation, happy or sad, exciting or boring, secure or
fearful, and measure its Olam HaBah potential.
For, as the Talmud says:
There are some who acquire the World-to-Come in a moment, and there are
some who do so after an entire lifetime. (Avodah Zarah 18a)
And, a single moment can come and go in the blink of an eye, and with it,
the chance to earn one's portion in the World-to-Come, or at least to
greatly expand it. That's why "Whom the L-rd loves He corrects," and why
He gave Torah to us in the first place: to train us, for:
G-d's purpose in Creation was to bestow of His good to another . . . Since
G-d desired to bestow good, a partial good would not be sufficient. The
good that He bestows would have to be the ultimate good that His handiwork
could accept. G-d alone, however, is the only true good, and therefore His
beneficent desire would not be satisfied unless it could bestow that very
good, namely the true perfect good that exists in His intrinsic
nature . . . His wisdom therefore decreed that the nature of His true
benefaction be His giving His created beings the opportunity to attach
themselves to Him to the greatest degree possible. (Derech Hashem 1:2:1-
And, that is why He gives us yesurim: to wake us up from the illusion for
which we have fallen. A sin is just the result of a person trying to enjoy
the World-to-Come in this world. Yesurim says, "Wake up! A sin is a poor
and wasted attempt at realizing future paradise in the present."
And, even if the person has come to this realization, and can maintain it
on a daily basis, he may come to think, "I am there. I can afford to slack
off a bit here and there and still benefit from the good I do." Says the
yesurim, "Not true. If you have a spare moment to fill with Torah, you
have a spare moment to enhance your portion in the World-to-Come.
Otherwise, why live it?"
But, there is a level beyond as well, the level of yesurim shel ahavah.
The person does every mitzvah, and with the proper intention, that comes
his way. He already fills every moment with Torah learning that he can.
So, what is left? To do so with the extra burden of yesurim is like
running up a hill while carrying someone. It is more taxing and therefore
more beneficial, spiritually-speaking, and quite theoretical for most of
Regardless, the goal is the same for all of us, and the reason why G-d
even bothered to come down on Har Sinai to talk to man. He had a gift to
give us, the World-to-Come, and it came with instructions. Following the
instructions can be extremely taxing, but the reward for doing so, on
whatever level we can, will be well worth it, forever.
"G-d stands in the Divine Assembly" (Tehillim 82:1)
The term "Shechinah" (Divine Presence), is a common one, at least in the
Torah world. It can refer to different levels of Divine revelation, to
that at Har Sinai in this week's parshah, or in the sense of G-dliness one
feels while living in Eretz Yisroel, or during prayer. Regardless, it is
an awesome sense, depending upon the level to which one is able to feel
it. There is no question that when one feels "spiritual" he is feeling an
aspect of the Shechinah, but it is distant from actually feeling like
a "vehicle" for the Shechinah.
The Talmud discusses some of the ways that "cause" the Shechinah to
descend upon people, so-to-speak:
How do you know that if ten people pray together the Divine Presence is
with them? It says: "G-d stands in the Divine Assembly" (Tehillim 82:1).
And how do you know that if three are sitting as a court of judges the
Divine Presence is with them? For it is said: "In the midst of the judges
He shall judge" (Ibid.). And how do you know that if two are sitting and
studying Torah together the Divine Presence is with them? It says: "Then
they that feared the L-rd spoke one with another; and the L-rd listened
and heard, and a book of remembrance was written before Him, for them that
feared the L-rd and that thought upon His name" (Malachi 3:16) . . . And
how do you know that even if one man sits and studies Torah the Divine
Presence is with him? It says: "In every place where I cause My Name to be
mentioned I will come to you and bless you" (Shemos 20:21) . . . To [a
gathering of] ten the Divine Presence comes first, but to three, it comes
only after they sit down. (Brochos 6a)
Why these things in particular? First and foremost, they represent the
idea of bringing kedushah into the world, which automatically draws the
Divine Presence down. More than this, they represent our effort to become
partners with G-d in running Creation, and raising it to higher spiritual
levels. Chillul Hashem, the profanation of G-d's Name, comes from the
word "challal," which means an empty area. Certain acts chase away
kedushah, and therefore, chases away the Shechinah, resulting in greater
However, when we do anything that leads to greater justice in the world,
or greater spirituality, starting with ourselves, then we have acted as G-
d Himself does, and this prompts Him to join us in our efforts. It is for
this that we were created, and it is this specifically, that earns us
reward for the World-to-Come. And, it is this, we shall see, b'ezras
Hashem, what leads to enhanced Hashgochah Pratis, something we all need,
and if we're truly in touch with life, we want as well.
Having discussed something about the Divine Presence, we can now discuss
something about Divine Providence, otherwise known as Hashgochah Pratis.
Hashgochah Pratis, like everything else in life, has extremes and all
kinds of levels in-between. The best-case scenario is prophecy, on the
level of Moshe Rabbeinu. Unlike other prophets, Moshe Rabbeinu was able to
converse with G-d just about any time he wanted, and more importantly,
while remaining conscious. All the rest of the prophets had to wait for
the call, and could only receive their communication while in a dream
Nevertheless, as long as man is physical, there will always be some
limitation on Hashgochah Pratis, if only to preserve free-will. Indeed,
Moshe Rabbeinu asked G-d to show him the intricacies of Divine Providence,
so that he could understand, in advance, confusing situations such as why
bad things happen to good people, or good things to bad people. (Brochos
The Talmud says that he was not granted that particular request, and the
following account makes this point:
Rav Avin, the son of Rav Addah, said in the name of Rebi Yitzchak: "How do
you know that The Holy One, Blessed is He, puts on Tefillin? It says: 'The
L-rd has sworn by His right hand, and by the arm of His strength'
(Yeshayahu 62:8). 'By His right hand,' this is the Torah, as it says, 'At
His right hand was a fiery law' (Devarim 33:2); 'And by the arm of his
strength,' this is the Tefillin, as it says, 'The L-rd will give strength
unto His people' (Tehillim 29:11). And, how do you know that the Tefillin
are a strength for Israel? It is written, 'And all the peoples of the
earth will see that the name of the L-rd is called upon you, and they
shall be afraid of you' (Devarim 28:10)." And, it has been taught: R.
Eliezer the Great says, "This refers to the Tefillin of the head."
And, later it says:
"And I will take away My hand, and you will see My back" (Yechezkel
33:23). Rav Chama ben Bizana said in the name of Rebi Shimon
HaChasid, "This teaches us that The Holy One, Blessed is He, showed Moshe
the knot of the Tefillin [on the back of His head, so-to-speak]." (Brochos
For, as G-d told Moshe earlier, no man can see the face of G-d and live,
for to understand Hashgochah Pratis in advance, and even at the moment,
takes away the possibility of free-will, and the chance to earn reward in
the World-to-Come. That abrogates the purpose of Creation, and therefore,
technically speaking, the purpose of one's existence. Therefore, no man
can live with that level of knowledge.
However, to see G-d from the back, that is, Hashgochah Pratis in
hindsight, after the fact, is not only possible, but it is also a
privilege. That is why there is a reference to the Tefillin knot, which is
in the shape of a Dalet, as in the Dalet of the word "Echad" in the Shema.
Only for the person is whose mind is on G-d is One can understand
Hashgochah Pratis, even after the fact.
Not only does that not take away from one's free-will, but it even alerts
a person to the potential free-will available to be used. Indeed, that was
the reason for the entire Sinai Experience in this week's parshah: to
reveal to mankind just how G-dly he can be, and just how far the Shechinah
is prepared to meet us "half-way" in all holy matters. As the GR"A
revealed, when it comes to the holy matter of Geulah Shlaimah (the Final
Redemption), may it come speedily in our time.
Have a great Shabbos,
Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.