April 21, 2024
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April 21, 2024
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By Rabbi Reuven Taragin

Over the past weeks, we studied the first of the 13 principles, which recognizes Hashem’s control over all occurrences. This week, we will see how this principle applies to the actions and decisions of man as well.

Though we have free choice and make our own decisions, Hashem steers the results of these decisions and even implants ideas that influence them.

 

Steering the Result

Yosef made the first of these points when he reconciled with his brothers at the beginning of parshat Vayigash. The Ba’al HaTanya explains that he encouraged his brothers to avoid anger (Iggeret Hakodesh 25) or sadness (Iggeret Hakodesh 11) for having sold him into slavery because Hashem had turned the slavery into a shlichut (mission) to sustain the family (Bereishit 45:5) and (eventually) develop them into a great nation.

Yosef sharpened this point again in parshat Vayechi. After Yaakov’s death, the brothers feared that Yosef would take revenge. Yosef’s response to their pleas for mercy was, “Am I in God’s place? You intended it for the bad, but God intended it for the good,” (Bereishit 50:19-20). The brothers had negative intentions, but Hashem had positive ones and steered Yosef’s fate in a totally different direction. Yosef felt responsible to carry out these heavenly intentions. Revenge was irrelevant.

 

What Hashem Tells Us

Dovid HaMelech took Yosef’s teaching a step further. When he was on the run from Avshalom, Shimi ben Geira cursed and stoned him. Dovid’s general, Avishai, offered to kill Shimi to avenge the affront to Dovid. Dovid responded that “Hashem is the one who told Shimi to curse.” (Shmuel Bet 16:10, see also Shemirat Halashon (Sha’ar Hatevunah 8).) The Zohar (2:107b) writes that David Hamelech achieved ultimate atonement through this statement. Avishai saw Shimi cursing; Dovid saw Hashem operating behind the scenes. There is an interesting linguistic connection between this story and that of Yosef and his brothers. The Ba’al HaTurim (Bereishis 50:19) points out that the word “ha’tachat” appears in both stories. The only other place the word appears in Tanach is within Yaakov’s recognition of Hashem’s role in childbirth (Bereishit 30:2). Both Yaakov and Yosef use the word as part of a phrase that emphasizes Hashem’s role behind the scenes of this world.

As opposed to Yosef who saw Hashem’s Hand in determining the results of our decisions, Dovid saw Hashem as behind the decision itself! Though Shimi made the decision to curse Dovid, it was Hashem who put the idea in his head. The Baal Hatanya explains Dovid’s words this way. (Iggeret Hakodesh 25, see also Onkelos (Devarim 8:18) for an earlier source of this (general) idea.)

 

Address to Sender

The Sefer HaChinuch (mitzvah 241) uses Dovid HaMelech’s words to explain the issur (prohibition) to take revenge against someone who wronged us. He explains that revenge is foolish (see also the Rambam (Mishna Torah, Hilchot Deot 7:7) who preceded the Sefer HaChinuch in describing revenge as foolish) because one who recognizes that Hashem is behind their suffering—even when it emanates from the actions of other people—realizes that Hashem is the one they should be channeling their frustration towards.

Dogs often bite the stick their owners use to direct and discipline them. They do not realize that the stick is merely a tool in the hand of their owner. Taking out our frustration on the person who hurt us is both senseless and misguided. We should remember that Hashem is the true origin of the (thoughts that inspire the) actions of others against us. (See also the response of Lulianos and Papus to Turyanus (Talmud Bavli, Masechet Taanit 18b) and the Chazon Ish’s comment (Emunah u’Bitachon 2).)

 

The Message of Megillat Esther

This idea is the message of Megillat Esther. Though the storyline seems driven by the decisions of the megillah’s central characters—(mainly) Achashverosh and Haman—the result is completely contrary to their intentions. This occurs because of Hashem’s involvement behind the scenes. Understandably, the Gra used to encourage those looking for chizuk in emunah to study Megillat Esther.

The Maharal (Ohr Chadash, page 59) sees this as the significance of the Gemara’s assertion that the term, “ha’melech” (without the name Achashverosh) in the megillah actually refers to Hashem (Esther Rabbah 3:10). Though Achashverosh is the one who took action, Hashem is the one who planted the ideas and drove the events. The Maharal (Ohr Chadash, page 72) uses this idea to explain the significance of the Gemara’s assertion that Achashverosh was a rasha from beginning to the end of the megillah (Talmud Bavli, Masechet Megillah 11a). We should not think that Achashverosh’s decision to save the Jews reflected a change of heart. He was wicked straight to the end; Hashem was the one responsible for the change. (See also Or Dovid (Rav Dovid Dov Meizlish, printed in 1990) which uses this idea to explain the opening phrase of the megillah.)

It was Hashem who inspired Mordechai to charge Esther with saving the Jews; gave Esther the idea to invite Haman to the meal with Achashverosh; arranged for Haman to encounter Mordechai upon exiting the meal; gave Haman’s advisors the idea of erecting gallows to hang Mordechai on; kept Achashverosh up at night nervous about a potential plot against him; convinced Haman to visit Achashverosh unannounced; gave Achashveirosh the idea to test Haman’s ambitions and convinced Haman to unabashedly express his royal ambitions.

Reflection upon the Purim story reminds us that, though Hashem does not (generally) perform open miracles, He directs behind the scenes—not only nature, but also man’s decisions. Though we make our own decisions, Hashem steers the results of these decisions and plants ideas that help us decide.

Embracing this perspective yields a fundamental attitude shift. We should remind ourselves that what happens to us—including the actions of other people—actually emanates from Hashem. May this help us internalize, reflect and respond properly to the events we experience each day.

* Writeup by Rafi Davis


Rav Reuven Taragin is the Dean of Overseas Students at Yeshivat Hakotel and the Educational Director of World Mizrachi

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