July 23, 2024
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The Gemara quotes Rebbe Akiva who taught that a person should always be accustomed to say: “Whatever the Merciful One [i.e., Hashem] does, He does for the best.” The Gemara then proceeds to cite a personal account of Rebbe Akiva who was once traveling, and when he reached a certain city, he requested lodgings, but no one provided him any. Rebbe Akiva said, “Whatever the Merciful One does is for the best.” He went to a field to retire for the night, taking along with him a rooster (to wake him from his sleep), a donkey and a lamp. But then, a wind came and blew out his lamp, and then a cat came and ate his rooster, and finally, a lion then came and ate his donkey. Not only did no one provide a place for him to sleep, thus having to go to some field, he also suffered these losses. Yet, Rebbe Akiva reacted by saying again, “Whatever the Merciful One does is for the best.” Later, that very night, an army came and captured the city. In retrospect, it became clear that if his lamp would have remained lit, the army would have spotted him. Likewise, had his donkey brayed or his rooster crowed, the army would have heard the noise and come and capture him (Gemara Berachot with Rashi’s commentary).

From this story we can perhaps learn a powerful idea, namely, that suffering and setbacks could be a blessing in disguise, and that essentially, distress and hardships could be classified as good, as it could be one’s very salvation.

In last week’s parsha, as per Hashem’s instruction, Moshe went to Pharaoh in an attempt to redeem Am Yisrael. Pharaoh didn’t just refuse, he also increased the burdens of Am Yisrael’s current workload, making them work even harder. Moshe reacted to this by saying, “My Lord, why have you done evil to this people…?” Seemingly, Moshe thought that what Hashem had done was bad. The parsha concluded with Hashem responding to Moshe, “Now you will see what I shall do to Pharaoh…”

Our parsha begins with, “Hashem spoke to Moshe and said to him, ‘I am Hashem….’” Rashi explains that Hashem was essentially responding to Moshe’s earlier claim (“why have you done evil,” etc.) and was rebuking him.

What is the intention of Hashem saying to Moshe, “I am Hashem,” and how does this address Moshe’s claim?

Rav Yerucham Olshin quotes the Vilna Gaon who explains that a person should always be accustomed to say, “Whatever the Merciful One does, He does for the best,” for everything [Hashem does] is good and not bad. This is what Hashem was essentially imparting to Moshe when He responded to him by saying, “I am Hashem.” Hashem was making the point that even though the act appears to have stemmed from Hashem’s name of, “aleph,” “lamed,” “hey,” “yud,” mem” (which is used when Hashem manifests Himself through the attribute of strict justice), however, the thought of it has stemmed from Hashem’s name of “yud,” “hey,” “vav,” and “hey” (which is used when He manifests Himself through the attribute of mercy). Hence Hashem’s response to Moshe of, “I am ‘Hashem’” (using the latter name). Rav Olshin explains that Hashem was teaching Moshe that even when Hashem relates to us with His attribute of strict justice, the thought from which the act stems from is really from His attribute of mercy. Hence, “everything [Hashem does] is good and not bad,” for even when Hashem may act towards us with justice, that’s only regarding the act itself, but really, the it originates from Hashem’s attribute of mercy, like a father for his child.

It perhaps emerges from here that Moshe only took into account the external—the way things looked, and he therefore perceived it as bad. Hashem responded that that which Moshe seemingly perceived as bad, was really a good in disguise; it was a good that was—so-to-speak—covered up in difficulty and pain.

So what is the good that is being referred to here?

By the Brit Bein Habetarim, Covenant of Parts, (in Parshat Lech Lecha) Hashem informed Avraham that his descendants would be in servitude and oppressed for 400 years. Yet, Am Yisrael was freed after 210 years! What happened to the other 190? Rav Yitzchok Zev Soloveitchik brings that the harshness of the servitude completed the 400 years (Chiddushei HaGriz Al Tanach V’agadah, Bo). Hence, it seems that the extreme degree of pain and distress they experienced under slavery—the qualitative experience of slavery—made up for, or amounted to, an extra 190 years of slavery. Based on this, Rav Soloveitchik explains when Hashem said to Moshe, “Now you will see what I shall do to Pharaoh,” Hashem was essentially intending to say that now that their slavery conditions have worsened and became more strenuous, this will enable their salvation and redemption, for through this will the 400 years be “completed.”

Rav Olshin thus explains that is the good that Hashem was referring to. Hashem was showing Moshe that this wasn’t evil, but just the opposite—this was a full-fledged act of goodness in order to expedite their geula and freedom! For through the increased hardships of the slavery, they will merit to leave 190 years early. Says Rav Olshin, it emerges from here that the grueling hardships of the slavery were literally part and parcel of their redemption (Yerach LeMoadim, Pesach, Maamarim, 22).

One might have perceived it was bad, while in truth perhaps, it was an act of goodness clothed in—and carried out in a way that may have looked—bad. What could have been perceived as evil was actually facilitating their geula and was part and parcel of their very salvation. Perhaps this can provide an understanding into the words of Rav Yerucham Levovitz (Da’at Chochma U’mussar 4:4) who says that, “distress is also the salvation.”


Binyamin is a graduate of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchok Elchanan, and of Wurzweiler School of Social Work.

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