God told Moshe," Speak to the Children of Israel and tell them that when
you come into the land . . . (Vayikra 23:9-10)
Everything is Hashgochah Pratis, Divine Providence. As the Talmud states, a
person doesn’t even stub his finger unless it is decreed first in Heaven
(Chullin 7b), and even a blade of grass doesn’t grow without an angel, or
“mazal,” on behalf of God, telling it to grow (Bereishis Rabba 10:6).
The only question, therefore, is not if something is the will of God . . .
A mazal has been established for each person regarding his life and
sustenance, from the time he was born until the end of his life. Each
person’s is different from another [person’s]. All of it is based upon God’s
hidden guidance, a function of the “Mysteries of the Merciful One” which are
not revealed to any living being. It is the basis of why good or bad can
occur for a righteous person, which Moshe Rabbeinu asked to understand when
he said, “Make Your way known to me” (Shemos 33:13). According Rebi
Meir, his request was not fulfilled, since God answered him, “I will be
gracious to whom I will show favor, and I will be merciful to whom I will be
merciful” (Brochos 7a). (Sefer HaKlallim, Hakdamah, Os 13.)
. . . but what that will is based upon how it has been expressed in what has
occurred. That is where debate arises and often becomes heated.
Prophecy, of course, makes all the difference in the world. Even though most
of it was to prophets in a sleep mode and often spoken in riddles, still,
the prophets seemed to have been able to get a handle on the Divine message
well enough to tell us, the people, something meaningful about what was on
the mind of God at the time.
Not that we listened anyhow, which is why, we are told, we lost the right to
prophecy. This has forced us to muddle through history and at great expense
to our nation and the world in general, as the Talmud warns:
All punishment comes to the world for the sake of the Jewish people.
We were designated to be the “light unto nations” (Yeshayahu 42:6), and
evidently when we go dark so does the rest of the world.
Without prophecy we are left with only hester panim:
They shall be devoured, and many evils and distresses will occur to them,
until they will say that day, “Are not these evil things happening to us
because our God is not with us?” And I will surely hide—haster astir—My
face—panim—that day, because of all the evil they have done by turning after
other gods. (Devarim 31:17)
What this means, practically-speaking, is that God goes about His plan for
history without our knowledge. When we have merited it, God has shared His
plans for mankind with us in advance:
God said, “Shall I conceal from Avraham what I am doing?” (Bereishis
The advantage of this is obvious. It means that either we will have advance
knowledge of what God plans to do, allowing us to, perhaps, improve the
situation, or it will at least give us an understanding of what has happened
if we do not.
However, it does not seem as if it is all or nothing, either prophecy or
complete hester panim. According to the Talmud Heaven still leaks
information to mankind in one of several ways, such as through a Bas Kol, or
He further said to me, “My son, what sound did you hear in this ruin?”
I replied, “I heard a Divine voice, cooing like a dove and saying, ‘Woe to
the children, on account of whose sins I destroyed My house and burnt My
temple and exiled them among the nations of the world!’ ” (Brochos 3a)
Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said, “Every day a Heavenly Voice emanates from
Mount Chorev, announcing: ‘Woe to them, the people, because of the affront
to the Torah.’ ” (Pirkei Avos 6:2)
There is also something called Ruach HaKodesh, which literally translates as
“Holy Spirit,” a term improperly “borrowed” by other religions. In Tanach,
the source of the concept, it means that an individual, usually because of
personal merit or on behalf of the Jewish nation, has been endowed by Heaven
with “extra” spiritual or physical capabilities, or both:
And a spirit of God was upon Yiftach, and he passed over Gilead and
Menashe, and he passed over Mitzpeh of Gilead, and from Mitzpeh of Gilead he
passed over [to] the children of Ammon. (Shoftim 11:29)
With such a holy spirit a person is able to know things beyond the knowledge
of ordinary men, do things beyond the ability of even above average people.
In short, Ruach HaKodesh allows its recipients to do miraculous things, even
if they are subtle enough to be overlooked by others. When they had a hunch
about something it was far more than simply an inarticulate gut feeling.
Once upon a time it was even clear who had been blessed with such Divine
assistance. For example, Rashi’s super-human commentary on Tanach and the
Talmud made it eminently clear to just about everyone that he had been
helped by Heaven in his hugely important task. The same can be said about
individuals of similar spiritual stature, such as the Rambam and the Ramban,
and how much more so the generations that preceded them.
In more recent times it has been less clear who has had Ruach HaKodesh, how
much of it they have received, if they still have it, and how reliable it
has been. Claims of it, there have been many. Stories of it, and of the
supernatural feats it has allowed its recipients to do, there are plenty,
especially by their followers. Authentication, on the other hand, has been
difficult and often controversial to the point of violence on occasions.
So, where does that leave us today? That is an excellent but sorry question,
and often one whose answer depends upon whom one follows and what one knows.
We have a concept called Emunas HaChachamim, literally, belief in the wise
man, which means that we must place our complete faith in our Torah leaders
and what they say and teach.
This is obviously easy to do when what they instruct fits into our vision of
what we should be doing, but much more difficult to do when it does not. The
premise is that, being Torah giants and God-fearing Jews (two crucial
criteria for achieving this level of leadership), their vision of God’s “big
picture” is far more complete than ours, and therefore, their decisions will
be far more accurate even they do not make sense to us.
Secondly, being leaders of God’s holy flock, they are entitled, on behalf
the communities they lead, to Divine assistance in whatever capacity is
necessary. An average Jew also gets Heavenly help from time-to-time, but not
on the level of such Torah leaders. And, if they are ever “wrong,” the
reasoning goes, it is not because of their own lacking, but because of the
people for whom they make their decisions (Brochos 32a; Maharsha, Gittin 56b).
Then there is Divine Providence itself. Dovid HaMelech wrote:
This is from God, that which is wondrous in our eyes. (Tehillim
Since everything is from God, as mentioned previously, we have to assume
that what Dovid HaMelech meant is that whatever is “wondrous” in our eyes is
overt Divine Providence, that is, an example of God stepping into history
and the affairs of man. Whatever has occurred it is about more than just the
day-to-day running of Creation, which God tends to do in a more covert,
The only problem is, there is wondrous, and then there is wondrous. For
example, Rav Eliyahu Dessler, zt”l, wrote:
It is hard to label our presence in the Holy Land now as the beginning
of the redemption. It is, however, a great kindness on God’s part. After the
extreme destruction of six million of our brothers, we have the opposite
extreme of our nation settling in its own state in the Holy Land. We must
learn and take faith from this. Woe to him who will reach the Judgment Day
still oblivious to this obvious reality! (Michtav M’Eliyahu, Part III
Rav Dessler died in 1953, only five years after the formation of the State
of Israel, long before it became what it is today. If it was wondrous then,
what it has become since then, given all of the spiritual and physical
development over the last six decades?
For other components of the Jewish population the only wondrous thing about
the current Jewish State is that it has been able to get away with its
existence. They saw nothing Godly in its formation, and they see nothing
miraculous about what it has accomplished since then. If they could, they
would reverse that part of Jewish and world history.
And then there are the millions of Jews in-between these two very different
points of view and therefore are probably more opinions about the matter
than there are actual Jews living. As the saying goes: “One Jew, three
opinions,” or something like that. Just kidding.
So, now where does that leave us, especially at this time of year with Yom
HaAtzmaut, Israeli Independence Day, coming up once again? It’s the time of
year that brings out the “Zionists,” religious and secular, and the
flag-burning anti-Zionists, also religious and secular, and plenty of groups
in-between. Oh, the confusion of it all.
What do I personally believe, and how do I fit it together with everything
said thus far? That, b”H, will be the subject of next week’s Perceptions,
Parashas Behar, the Torah portion which “happens” to contain the words:
I am God your God Who took you out of the land of Egypt, to give you
the land of Canaan, to be God to you. (Vayikra 25:38)