May 22, 2024
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In our last piece, we saw that Hashem’s directorship of the world also applies to the actions and decisions of man (as natural occurrences). Hashem steers the results of people’s decisions and even implants ideas that influence them. This realization should impact our view of how others interact with us.

This week, we reflect upon how this should affect our view of our own lives and decisions. Though we make our own decisions, we should realize that Hashem determines the results and influences the decisions.

B’ezrat Hashem

Each day we set and realize many goals. As these goals seem naturally within our grasp, we assume that we accomplish them on our own. We set our mind to something we are capable of accomplishing and we succeed in doing so. In truth, though, our success hinges on Hashem’s consent and assistance. To internalize this, one should say “im yirtzeh Hashem, if Hashem wills it” when expressing the intention to accomplish something and “b’ezrat Hashem, with Hashem’s help” when speaking about how to do so.

The Shelah (Bamidbar 9:23) derives this idea from the Torah’s recurring emphasis on the words “al pi Hashem, at Hashem’s command” when describing the travels of the Jewish people through the desert. The Jews were commanded to move when the cloud moved, stop when it stopped and stay as long as it stayed. This was meant to teach them, and us, that our travels and actions (even when we don’t have a cloud to follow) are all done “al pi Hashem.”

What We ‘Chance’ Upon

In addition to determining our success, Hashem also determines the direction our decisions take us. An excellent example of this is the turning point of Megillat Rut. Rut and Naomi were in dire straits. They returned from Sdei Moav empty-handed and alone. Rut goes out to collect gleanings from the fields and (somehow) arrives in the field of Boaz, a relative of the family. Boaz demonstrates care and compassion for Rut and serves as a redeemer for both her and Naomi. He marries Rut and they together bear a son who offers their (otherwise decimated) family a future.

How did Rut get to that particular field? The megillah describes it as “va’yiker mikreha,” literally, “her chances chanced upon it.” This language that highlights “chance” makes the reader wonder whether this really happened purely by chance. The emphasis on chance intimates that what might seem like chance was actually much more than that. She arrived there because she was meant to—because Hashem wanted her to.

We find support for this understanding of the word “mikreh” from the way it is used in Sefer Bereishit—as a reference to Hashem’s directorship. Eliezer uses the term when he asks Hashem to help him find the right wife for Yitzchak, “hakreh na lefanai, grant me good fortune” (Bereishit 24:12). Yaakov (dressed as Eisav) uses the term to explain how he returned so quickly with food for Yitzchak, “hikreh Hashem Elokecha lefanai, God granted me good fortune(Bereishit 27:20). Chazal say that that’s how Yitzchak knew that it was Yaakov and not Eisav. Though the term mikreh means chance, the Torah uses it to connote Hashem’s involvement behind the scenes.

This is why the letters of the Hebrew word mikreh also spell the words “rak meiHashem, only from Hashem.” We would say in English, “Don’t say ‘coincidence,’ rather ‘Ka-incidence.’” Things that seem to happen by chance actually emanate from Hashem.

Rashi (Devarim 25:18) sees this as the deeper meaning of the Torah’s description of Amalek as “asher karcha ba’derech, who happened upon you on your journey” Rashi associates the word “karcha” with “mikreh” and explains that Amalek attributed occurrences to chance. This made them the nemesis of the Jewish People, who attribute “chance” to Hashem.

Hameichin Mitzadei Gaver

Chazal linked this idea to the pasuk of “MeiHashem mitzadei gaver, the steps of man are from God” (Tehillim 37:23 and Mishlei 20:24), that we reference each morning in the bracha of “ha’meichin mitzadei gaver.” Man chooses which way to walk, but Hashem determines where our steps lead and why we are going there.

To help us appreciate this idea, the Baal Shem Tov gave a mashal of a person traveling to an important business meeting. He rides his horse for many days, hoping to arrive as soon as possible. At the end of each day, he feeds the horse whatever hay he happens to find along the way. Not knowing any better, the horse thinks the purpose of each day’s trip is to find him the hay he eats at day’s end. In truth, the goal of the trip is to arrive at the master’s intended location; the hay is a mere facilitator of that larger, more meaningful goal.

The same is true with our lives. We think we head to places to accomplish our own goals. We spend much of our time thinking that we are meant to be eating proverbial hay. In actuality, Hashem has other plans. We are headed to places we don’t realize for purposes we never considered. In the words of Mishlei, “Ve’adam mah yavin darko, Man does not always understand his own path” (Mishlei 20:24).

Where Our Ideas Come From

As we saw last week, Onkelos (Devarim 8:18) takes this idea a step further. Not only is the result in God’s hands, but even the ideas we consider emanate from Him. When we say “Ata chonen l’adam da’as, You, Hashem, give man wisdom,” we mean more than just the faculty of wisdom; we mean the actual ideas. We should realize that although we make our own decisions, the ideas we consider come from Hashem.

Rav Tzadok HaKohen (Tzidkat HaTzadik 40) and Rav Kook (Orot HaTeshuva Perek 16) saw this realization as part of the teshuva, repentance, process. Though we make and are responsible for our decision to sin, we should realize that, on a deeper level, our sins are also part of Hashem’s plan. Hashem would not have allowed our sins to take place if they did not fit His overall storyline.

God and Me

To explain the relationship between our choices and Hashem’s Will, Rav Kook distinguishes between our consideration of the future versus the way we look back on the past. In the present, we should be careful to make good choices that lead us toward the correct future; once we have made the decision, we should look back and realize that everything that occurred was Hashem’s Will.

Many others make this distinction between our plans for the future and our view in retrospect.

Rav Yechiel Michel Feinstein (Rav Moshe Feinstein’s nephew) had a daughter who suffered from a very serious case of asthma. The family had a number of machines available at home to help in the event of a serious asthma attack. One time, she had a serious attack and they were not able to find any of the machines. Sadly, she died within a few minutes.

During the shiva, mourning period, the family felt guilty and responsible for her death. Rav Yaakov Galinsky, who came to console the family, said that he had a tradition (from the Mashgiach of Lumz Rav Moshe Roshenshtein) that our hishtadlut, effort, is only relevant in the present for the future. We are not meant to regret what happened in the past; instead, we should realize that everything is part of Hashem’s plan.

The Brisker Rav expressed this idea in a sharp way. He explained, “If I lost money in the street because I had a hole in my pants and I tell myself that I’m a fool for not having it sewn up earlier, it’s considered kefira, rebellion.” We should realize that we lost the money because Hashem wanted us to lose the money. Obviously, when we get a hole in our pants, we should sew it up. In retrospect, though, we defer to Hashem’s control of the situation.

May our understanding of our responsibility to do our part by choosing and acting wisely not keep us from recognizing Hashem’s central role in our lives.


*Writeup by Joshua Pomerantz

*Rav Reuven Taragin is the dean of Overseas Students at Yeshivat Hakotel and the educational director of World Mizrachi.

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