RECENTLY I HEARD a scientist describe how remarkably the brain is set up to give a child immeasurable potential to do almost anything they want in life. They said, “Mother Nature has done a remarkable job at setting up the brain, etc.”
Mother Nature? Who is she? Where does she live? Where are her headquarters?
Naaaaaa, she’s not a person…and she’s certainly not a god. She’s…she’s…what we call the thing responsible for something only God could have done, but we don’t want to say God did it. She’s a person’s way of acknowledging that something other than man is responsible for the universe without having to consider what we don’t know, what we don’t appreciate, and certainly what we don’t want to serve.
It may sound safe, but it is not safe at all. How would you feel if someone referred to you by someone else’s name? How would you feel if you were supporting someone and they referred to you with someone else’s, or something else’s name? Wouldn’t you feel like cutting them off, cold turkey?
Of course, God doesn’t work that way. The Gemora says that He brings disaster to the world once every 70 years to rid the world of the mamzerim, children born from most of the relationships forbidden by the Torah and which are punishable with excision or capital punishment. But He also allows it to kill non-mamzerim as well, so that no one will notice what He is really doing.
Why not? Wouldn’t it be better if people knew that God follows up on the things He forbids in the Torah? That would put the fear of God in them and stop people from sinning. If He covers up His response to sin, won’t that just embolden people to keep sinning…to keep attributing His masterful work to some imaginary monarch of the forest?
Yaaah, but He lets it happen anyway. Why? For people like Pinchas ben Elazar ben Aharon HaKohen. For people to have a chance to do this:
Pinchas ben Elazar ben Aharon HaKohen has turned My anger away from the Children of Israel by his zealously avenging Me among them so that I did not destroy the Children of Israel because of My zeal. (Bamidbar 25:11)
God could zap anyone He wants at any time He wants, and people would learn to fear Him. But where’s the fun in that? God’s not after obedience. He’s after relationship, and any good relationship produces obedience on its own. When you love someone, you respect their rules. If you really love them, then their rules become your own rules, if only to reflect the love you feel for them.
And though there have not been a lot of Pinchases throughout history, the few that have risen have made it worth it for God to suffer the insults of outrageous fortune, including letting Mother Nature take credit for His handiwork.
Correction: I will be speaking at the Gate of Unity Summit Tuesday, July 19, 6 pm Israel time, b”H, not July 18.
THE DAUGHTERS OF Tzelofchad are the other reason. They weren’t jealous for God, but of those who had a portion in Eretz Yisroel. Their father, who would have inherited a family portion in Eretz Yisroel was given capital punishment for breaking Shabbos at the end of Parashas Shlach. Brotherless, it seemed as if their family inheritance was going to go to another relative instead.
Chazal make it clear that the Bnos Tzelofchad weren’t only interested in having a place to live. Anyone they would have married would have given that to them. It was their love of Eretz Yisroel that drove them to make a claim in the land to Moshe Rabbeinu, which was validated by God Himself right in the Torah.
The truth is, the Gemora says, the actual halachah that Bnos Tzelofchad brought out was destined to be told by God to Moshe Rabbeinu. But God held off telling it to him to give the Bnos Tzelofchad their day in the sun, the opportunity to show how much all of us should love Eretz Yisroel. Like Pinchas right before them in the parsha, they were zealous about something God cares very much about, and their action was considered to be taking action on His behalf.
There is another element to this discussion. Chananyah, Mishael, and Azariah, descendants of the Jewish royal family had been taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar and brought back to Babylonia. Eventually, Nebuchadnezzar set up a huge golden statue and ordered everyone, including all the ministers and courtiers of his entire empire to assemble around it. Chananyah, Mishael, and Azariah were there as well. It was announced that all present would have to fall on their faces before the statue and that anyone who disobeyed would be burned to death in a furnace.
Everyone complied, except of course for Chananyah, Mishael, and Azariah. Infuriated, the king had them thrown into a fiery furnace, where they were miraculously saved by the angel Gavriel. When Nebuchadnetzar, along with the myriads present, witnessed the spectacle for himself, he praised the three instead and criticized all the other Jews who had bowed down to the idol. “You have a god like this,” he chastised them, “and you bowed down to an idol instead?!”
The only thing is that the three were supposed to have died in the fire that day. At least that is what they had been told by Daniel. He had told them, on behalf of God, that if they went into the fiery furnace, a miracle would not happen for them and they would die. When the miracle did happen for them, they were just as surprised as everyone else there.
They didn’t wonder what went wrong.
They wondered, what went right?
The answer is Avraham and Haran.
Not too far from where Chananyah, Mishael, and Azariah were tested was Ur Kasdim, the place where Avraham long ago had been tested by Nimrod in the same way, and saved in the same way. He had rejected Nimrod as a god, and entered the fiery furnace to die instead to make his point.
When Haran, Avraham’s brother, saw Avraham emerge from the furnace unscathed, he decided to follow suit once he assumed that a miracle would happen for him as well. It didn’t, and he was burned alive. He hadn’t understood that the key to such a miracle was in willingly going to your death to sanctify the name of God, just as Chananyah, Mishael, and Azariah had done. Ironically, you have to be willing to die to live.
Sometimes. The truth is, the Midrash says that Avraham was going to be burned alive that day and would have, had it not been that Ya’akov had to eventually be born from his son, Yitzchak. So, it wasn’t just Avraham’s willingness to die for God that saved his life. It was his future grandson that did that. And that’s not a merit that too many people have had over the years, which is perhaps why their self-sacrifice was not enough to get them the miracle they needed to survive. Now what?
THE TEN MARTYRS answer that question. They died Al Kiddush Hashem, even though they had the power to avert the situation altogether. It was only because the angel Gavriel told Rebi Yishmael that their deaths were necessary to save the world that they allowed themselves to be tortured and killed by the Romans. History had required it and they had complied in the most noble way possible.
The Gemora recounts that the son of Rebi Yehoshua ben Levi, Rav Yosef, became ill and momentarily died (Pesachim 50a). Once he recovered, he told his father the following:
Rav Yosef added: And I heard that they were saying in that world…“Those executed by the government enjoy such an exalted status that no one can stand in their enclosure.”(Pesachim 50a)
Rav Yosef referred to the Ten Martyrs. While on the other side, he heard certain secrets about this world and the next one, one of which was the result of dying for the sake of God with a full heart. Such a person is the closest possible to God in the next world, and everyone else cannot reach that level. Nothing is more meaningful than this in the next world and therefore, in this world.
This is what the mishnah is trying to prepare us for with this:
This world is like a corridor before the World-to-Come. Rectify yourself in the corridor to be able to enter the banquet hall. (Pirkei Avos 4:16)
What does this mean? I have a story that makes the point.
Once I had to travel from New York to Los Angeles to speak and was booked on a redeye flight to arrive early the next morning. Concerned that I would be overly tired the next day, I used my points to book business class so I could at least sleep. I usually don’t sleep well on planes, and I thought that a reclining seat might help with that.
Part of the deal was better food, which makes a big difference when it comes to Glatt Kosher food. An upgrade from a TV dinner is usually pretty impressive since it has to kind of match the upgrades the non-kosher eating folk gets.
Once the dinner service began, it was clear that everyone was going to be eating well that flight, restaurant-quality food on real dishes. The meat looked really good, and I wondered what I would be getting.
They finally brought me my tray, which was quite large in size but consisted only of a dairy meal of bagels, lox, and cream cheese. I contained my surprise and tried to look content, but I really wasn’t. As I surveyed my tray, I thought to myself that it was good enough, especially since I love bagel, lox, and cream cheese. There were some great side dishes and a nice desert. It wasn’t as fancy as everyone else’s dinner, but I decided it was all I needed and happily ate.
By the time I was finished, I was more than content. I reclined in my chair while I waited for my tray to be cleared away. I was tired and wanted to sleep already. Stomach full, eyes closed, I could hear the clanging of cups and cutlery in the background as the staff removed the empty trays. That’s when a stewardess said, “Mr. Winston, your dinner.”
What? I opened my eyes to a whole new tray of food placed in front of me, this one filled with all kinds of fancy meats, rolls, implements, you name it. Apparently, my first main course had only been my appetizer. This was my main entree, and all I could do was stare at it, wondering how much of it I could consume before causing the plane to fly at a lower altitude. I was proud of myself that I had been happy with my previous portion, but now I wondered how much I would have to send back to the kitchen. If only someone had told me earlier what to expect…I had eaten my fill in the “corridor” when much better had waited for me in the “banquet hall.”
Ain Od Milvado, Part 9
TRUST IN GOD is the ultimate measure of how real a person is with Ain Od Milvado. It doesn’t just reveal how much a person sees God behind all that happens. It also reveals how much a person believes that God can do anything.
A person might argue and say, “I believe God is behind all that occurs. I believe God can do anything He wants. I just don’t believe that He will do anything I want! Why should He? For me, not relying upon God is not a statement of what I think God can do for me, but of how unworthy I am that He should!”
What are we talking about here? No one can expect God do to everything they want for them, especially if it is something meaningless or selfish. Sometimes He might just do it to teach us a lesson or two, but usually not. Why waste merits on the small stuff and insignificant stuff?
We can only be talking about legitimate needs, those things that God would agree we need. It can be something small but important, or it can be huge, like a major personal redemption of some sort. It can be a momentary thing or something long-lasting. If we have done our part to accomplish what we must, even if that may still fall short, then bitachon—trust in God says rely upon God for the rest—regardless of our personal worthiness.
The Leshem says that the bitachon itself is the merit to having a miracle happen when we sincerely need one. He says nothing stands in the way of bitachon, meaning that if a person truly believes in their heart Ain Od Milvado, it will trigger the miracle. His words, not mine.
The operating words here are “really believes.” I’ve seen many people (including myself) profess to have bitachon, only to act in just the opposite manner when tested by divine providence. That shouldn’t surprise us since the Chovos Levovos says that bitachon is really a middas tzaddikim, something only the righteous have mastered.
That doesn’t mean that a less righteous person can’t rise to the occasion and reach that level, if only for a moment. But if it is the right moment, it can bring that miracle we so desperately need. The countless stories of such miracles happening for people who did rise to the occasion testify to just how true this is.
But why wait for such moments, especially since we don’t always recognize on time, and miss an opportunity to reach such a level and invoke such a miracle.
Ain Od Milvado. From the moment you wake up in the morning until the moment when you go to sleep. It’s not a level to reach from time to time, but a way of life from start to end.