As Moshe beseeched G-d to restore His closeness and intimacy with the
Children of Israel after the Sin of the Golden Calf, he appealed for a
greater insight into the G-d's ways. "And now, if I have indeed found favor
in your eyes, make your ways known to me that I may know you..."
The Talmud (Tractate Yevamos 7) expounds that Moshe
sought to answer the question that has been asked throughout the
generations: Why does bad befall the righteous and why do the evil
experience good fortune? In general, we find ourselves looking at others
and wondering why one businessman succeeds and another - by all appearances
equally astute, equally kind, and equally righteous - fails. We are even
more unnerved when the one who fails is more virtuous. We are frustrated,
even angered, by the apparent injustice of it all.
The Chofetz Chaim (1) pondered the visit of a traveler at a guesthouse. In
the morning, as the guest prepares to leave and return to his travels, he
berates the proprietor for the furniture arrangements around the residence:
the heat is too close to the beds, the closet and dresser are on the wrong
walls and numerous other such criticisms of planning decisions. The owner
replies, "My dear guest, you have never been here before and you came to
spend one evening. You expect to be able to intuitively understand all the
rationales for the decisions I have made in establishing this inn, and to
then submit the requisite corrections for all that you believe I have done
wrong? Your limited experience does not equip you with the breadth of view
to make substantive recommendations that I should implement."
Rabbi Kagan explains that we in our lifetimes are travelers. In the
spectrum of history we are here for a few fleeting moments, yet we insist
on having all the answers. Were we to live for a span of centuries with an
awareness of every event, conversation and experience in people's lives we
might begin to understand the sequence of events. We would see the family
blessed with generations of wealth - funds they used so selflessly for
chesed (kindnesses), tzedaka (charity) and beautification of mitzvah
observances - lose it as an opportunity to strengthen their G-d
consciousness. Meanwhile, the family that lived so faithfully through
generations of poverty finds itself grappling with the reality of an
unexpected windfall. But without the generations of perspective and the
knowledge of the minutiae of the lives of all the involved parties, there
is no way for us to even begin to contemplate why G-d presents each person
with his lot in life.
This reality is not only relevant to viewing other people's lives, but is
germane to appreciating the travails of one's own existence. Rabbi Avrohom
Pam (2) related the story of a Jew who, in spite of having lived his entire
life in dire poverty, remained steadfast in his faith, and prayed with
intense concentration. Someone once overheard this man reciting the morning
blessing, "Blessed are You...who has provided me my every need," with great
joy. Asked the passerby, "Can you really say that your every need has been
provided for? You are among the poorest of the poor!" The man replied, "Can
one really know, on his own, what his particular needs are? If G-d has made
me poor, then obviously this condition is necessary for me to fulfill my
purpose in life. Poverty is what my soul needs, and I have been granted
this in full measure!"
Man has immense difficulty relinquishing control over aspects of his own
life, no less conceding a complete lack of control of the circumstances of
his life and those around him. But there is one facet over which we DO have
complete and absolute control: our response to those circumstances. Every
person's affairs are personally tailored by the Master of the Universe to
facilitate the growth he needs to maximize his spiritual potential; our
responses determine the growth we glean from each of these experiential
opportunities. The more we focus on our charge and trust G-d to manage His
realm, the greater we will grow and the happier we will be.
Have a Good Shabbos!
(1) Rabbi Yisrael Meir HaKohen Kagan of Radin; 1838-1933; author of basic
works in Jewish law, philosophy and ethics and renowned for his saintly
(2) 1913-2001; for some six decades, as Rosh Yeshiva/Dean of Yeshiva Torah
VoDaas in Brooklyn, New York, he was an anchor for thousands of students
deeply attached to him with strong bonds of love; he was known for his
outstanding diligence in Torah study, as well as for his work on his
character and his study of mussar.