The Good, The Bad, and The Ready
Moshe went and spoke these words to all of Israel. He said to them, "I
a hundred and twenty years old today; I can no longer go out and come
in . . ." (Devarim 31:1-2)
Welcome to 5766.
As I stood before my employer, I realized all of a sudden how tenuous my
position was. There I was, trying to justify my existence, trying to gain
the confidence of my boss so that he would see fit to re-hire me. My past
performance did not necessarily guarantee me a position at the firm in the
upcoming year, and I have to say, I was very nervous.
And, to make matters worst, I had to present my budget for the upcoming
year. I had to justify my expense account and walk out with a decision
that would assure me the necessary funding to do my job and do it well.
Item by item, I had to explain why I thought it was important for my
performance in the upcoming year.
It was exhausting, and in the end, when I finally finished my appeal and
closed the door behind me, I felt as if the trial was only really
beginning. After all, if at any point in time during the upcoming year I
did not live up to my agreement, I could lose my job or at least lose my
expense account. I definitely had my work cut out for me.
Who is my boss? G-d. What is my job? Another year of life. What is the
expense account? All the resources I will need in the upcoming year to be
able to perform mitzvos and maximize my performance as a G-d-fearing Jew.
When was the interview? It will be, b"H, this coming Rosh Hashanah, and
safely assuming that I am not righteous, and praying that I am not evil
either in the eyes of Heaven, throughout the Ten Days of Repentance.
It's more than just that. When Shakespeare said, "All of life is a stage,"
he probably didn't know just how true his statement was. Though life seems
to be quite random with countless moving parts that seem to work
independently of each other, the truth is that everything, down to the
smallest detail and including the largest one, has been perfectly scripted
and well-synchronized. And all of it, without fail, is working towards a
singular and Divine master plan for Creation.
G-d is the playwright, and the casting director Who is responsible for
casting all the parts, the director and the producer. He wrote the play
long before we were born, and had in His Mind exactly who He would need to
play the part perfectly at precisely the right time. Day after day He
searches for and finds just the right person and situation to play the
role that He designed as part of the overall plot for Creation.
There are heroes and villains, and billions of "seconds." The question is,
who will get which part? To be in a supporting role is no big deal; being
alive makes one a part of the play just like that, even if one is just an
extra playing a tribesman in some remote part of the Amazon. And, being a
world leader in a major role, does not make one a hero if he or she leads
us in a direction that runs contrary to Torah and its goals for the Jewish
What people don't realize is that they have been in training and rehearsal
for their parts in the play since they were very young. As each decision
helped to mold the person into being who the person was becoming,
literally defining the part that person is destined to play in the master
plan of Creation, the Talent Scout of all talent scouts has been watching,
taking note of all the talent in the world He has created, and casting
the "actors" for His premier performance.
However, it is really on Rosh Hashanah (and for the "in-between people"
the entire time of Aseres Yemai Teshuvah) that most of the auditions take
place. That is, when we pass before G-d and try to prove how our talents
justify our being part of His main cast, especially as a hero and not as a
villain. Then, if we have trained well enough over the years, and have
been successful enough to zero in on what it is G-d looks for in a star
character, we may be fortunate enough to land a main part in the Final Act
of the play called, "Creation and Its Ultimate Fulfillment."
Thus, Yehoshua merited to replace the great Moshe Rabbeinu who had
completed HIS part on exactly the 120th year of his life, right to the day
and to the exact moment.
Moshe summoned Yehoshua and said to him before the eyes of Israel, "Be
strong and courageous, for you shall come with this people to the Land
that G-d swore to their fathers to give them . . ." (Devarim 31:7)
The world seems to be divided between those who think they are great and
are doing wonderful things, and those who think they are mediocre doing
somewhat unimportant things, at least unimportant to the world at large.
It is not an even split, and there are some in-betweens, but those are the
two extremes though it is possible for both groups to be wrong about
themselves and their deeds in the eyes of G-d.
The most important thing is to know there is a game plan for Creation,
which is why the Torah was given to reveal. Not knowing the game plan is
like being on closed-circuit TV without knowing it: you go about your
business as if no one is watching while all kinds of people are watching
you. Instead of putting up your guard and remaining alert, custom-
tailoring your actions to convey the right impression to those watching
you, you do just the opposite being off-guard.
Then there are the people who know their lives are making a difference,
for better or for worst. They sit in places like the White House, 10
Downing Street, the Kremlin, and even in the Knesset in Israel. They make
decisions that impact millions, if not billions of people, in ways that
even they can't reckon, and even they can totally miss the point of life
in this world.
They have leading parts in the play, but the production is more like
Candid Camera. They are a central focus, but as far as they are concerned,
the camera might as well be hidden in the bush. They act as masters at
their own game when in fact, unwittingly, they are pawns (extras), BIG
pawns in G-d's Master Plan for Creation.
As you may recall, to have free-will a person requires three beliefs:
1. A person must believe in G-d, which means he believes in Objective
Truth, a single opinion about life in this world that applies to all of
mankind. Without this level of belief, principles in life become a matter
of opinion, and opinions are the result of subjective perspectives. It is
virtually impossible for a person to be "free" of his own opinion since it
is usually the only way he relates to reality. On the other hand, when
there is an objective reality to which one can compare his own
perspective, it becomes possible to see flaws in one's own arguments about
2. A person must believe that G-d has communicated that Objective Truth to
mankind, which is tantamount to believing in Torah from Mt. Sinai. If we
do not have access to Objective Truth, then we are back to square one
again regarding being "free" of our own subjective realities, to which is
otherwise like being virtual slaves.
3. A person must know about and understand the existence of an internal
yetzer hara (evil inclination). Without this type of knowledge a person
can only assume that all inner voices are his own, and therefore they are
to be obeyed. Ignorant of this third point, even G-d-fearing people can
rationalize sins and find justification for doing them. The first chapter
of the classic work of Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, "The Path of the Just,"
is "Watchfulness." Watchfulness of the yetzer hara, the biggest con-artist
of history, designed to trick us in order to make us smarter, better, and
more righteous. You can't negotiate with a partner you don't know about or
believe in; you can only be his victim, as billions seem to be in every
generation. There are ten "gates" in Rabbi Luzzatto's book, designed to
help a person become righteous, and some say, to become a prophet. The
first gate assumes that the reader already believes in the first two
points, and begins the chapter with the this third idea.
As we pass by the Greatest of Casting Directors during the Aseres Yemai
Teshuvah, this is what is being evaluated. Each "actor" on the stage of
life is being graded in terms of these three beliefs, and where one stands
with respect to each belief determines what kind of part one plays in
Apparently, Yehoshua bin Nun, whose very name alludes to the Nun Sha'arei
Binah, (the Fifty Gates of Understanding) apparently scored very high on
the test. Hence, he was given such an important role of being the Moshiach
Ben Yosef of his generation.
But I will surely have concealed My face on that day because of all the
evil that it (the Jewish nation) did, for it had turned to gods of others.
This, of course, is the concept of Hester Panim - the hiding of G-d's face
from man, and comes from the Hebrew words: haster astir panai. Thus,
whereas once we merited to actually hear G-d speak and witness His
miracles in a way that could not be disputed, after Hester Panim took
affect, we were left only with a world that resembles an airplane on auto
But is it an all-or-nothing mode? In other words, because G-d hides His
face from mankind, does it mean that no man, not even a righteous person,
can see His hand in history? This certainly seems to be the basis of the
Our Rabbis taught: When Rebi Yosi ben Kisma fell ill, Rabbi Chanina ben
Teradion went to visit him. He said to him, "Chanina, my brother, do you
not know that this nation has been placed in power by G-d Himself, for she
has destroyed His house, burned His Temple, killed His pious ones, and
caused His good ones to perish, and still continues to rule! Yet, I have
heard that you sit and study Torah and gather crowds in public with a
Torah Scroll resting on your lap!"
He replied, "Mercy will come from Heaven."
"I am trying to be sensible," continued Rebi Yosi, "and you say, 'Mercy
will come from Heaven'!? I would not be surprised if they burn you
together with your Torah scroll!"
Rebi Chanina then asked, "How am I as far as the World to Come is
Rebi Yosi asked, "Have you no merits at all?"
He answered, "I once mistook the Purim Seudah charity money for the
ordinary charity money [both of which I was responsible for] and
distributed it to the needy [compensating for the loss from my own
Rebi Yosi said, "If that is the case, let my portion be with you and my
fate similar to yours."
They said it was not long before Rebi Yosi ben Kisma passed away and all
of the Roman notables went to his grave and delivered a great eulogy in
his honor. Upon returning, they found Rebi Chanina ben Teradion sitting
and occupying himself with the Torah, publicly gathering assemblies, and
keeping a scroll of the Law by his chest. Immediately they took him,
wrapped him in the Sefer Torah, placed bundles of branches around him and
set them on fire. They then brought tufts of wool, which they had soaked
in water, and placed them over his heart so that he should not die
quickly. His daughter exclaimed, "Father, that I should see you in this
He replied, "If I alone was being burned it would have been too hard to
bear. But now that I am burning together with the Sefer Torah, He who will
have regard for the plight of the Torah will also have regard for my
plight." (Avodah Zarah 18a)
Talk about Hester Panim! Here a righteous man was risking his life for
Torah and mitzvos, and the evil people responsible for destroying the
House of G-d were able to torture one of G-d's heroes to death! A touching
story it is, but a terrible tragedy nevertheless, and one that could
easily intimidate others from being so bold at a time of great spiritual
need, and make others wonder if G-d really runs the world!
It seems as if Hester Panim, when it operates, it does so for everyone
equally - or does it?
G-d saw that the light was good, and G-d separated between the light
the darkness. (Bereishis 1:4)
G-D SEPARATED: He saw that the wicked were unworthy of using it (the
light); He therefore set it apart for the righteous in the Future Time.
On the level of Pshat, it sounds like the Ohr HaGanuz (the Hidden Light of
Creation), which is the light of Torah, which was hidden away, out of the
reach of the evil of history until such time as evil is completely
eradicated in Yemos HaMoshiach. From both, the Torah's and Rashi's
explanation, accessing the Ohr HaGanuz seems to be an all-or-nothing
reality: either it's available for everyone or it's available for no one.
However, explains the Leshem, this is not the case:
He [G-d] made a separation in the illumination of the Light, that it
should not flow or give off light except for the righteous, whose actions
draw it down and make it shine. However, the actions of the evil block it,
leaving them in darkness, and this itself was the hiding of the Light.
(Sha'arei Leshem, p. 133)
Indeed, the above story of Rebi Chanina ben Teradion concludes like this:
His students called out, "Rebi, what do you see?"
"Parchment is burning," he replied, "but the letters are soaring
Was he making it up? Was he simply delirious? Or did he have a vision on
another level of reality, on the level of the Ohr HaGanuz, a level free of
the Hester Panim that seemed to have shrouded the vision of everyone else
around him, with the following exception.
"Open your mouth," [they begged him] "so that the fire can enter you!"
He replied, "Let Him who gave me [my soul] take it away, but no one should
The Executioner then said to him, "Rabbi, if I raise the flame and take
away the tufts of wool from over your heart, will you bring me to Eternal
"Yes," he replied.
"Swear to me."
He swore to him, after which he raised the flame and removed the tufts of
wool from over his heart, and his soul quickly departed. The Executioner
then jumped into the fire.
And, lest someone think that the rabbi was wrong and so was the
executioner, the Talmud concludes with:
A Heavenly Voice exclaimed: "Rebi Chanina ben Teradion and the Executioner
are going to Eternal Life."
Thus confirming that, yes, Rebi Chanina ben Teradion, in spite of the
severe degree of Hester Panim affecting the entire world in his time, was
able to access the Ohr HaGanuz and see the hand of G-d even at such a
time. This resulted in a phenomenal level of Kiddush Hashem to such a
degree that even the Roman executioner was forced to abandon his hostile
way of life and surrender his life to the Ultimate Truth.
And here you have the main criterion upon that which the Master Playwright
bases His decision on when deciding who will do what, when and where in
His epic production. Here you have the theme of the Aseres Yemai Teshuvah,
the question that echoes throughout these days of awe, when we are given a
chance to audition, not just for another year of life, not just for a
reasonable budget for the upcoming year that takes into account the cost
of living, but also for a starring role in the only production that has
ever, and will ever make a difference.
Have a great and productive Shabbos Shuva,
Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.