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12 Shevat 5764 - February 4, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
A Middos Workshop: It Was Meant to Be . . . Or Was It?

Based on the shiurim of Rav Dovid Siegel

Part III

The first part noted the basic question: As believing Jews, we know that everything which happens to us is min haShomayim -- Divine Providence straight from Hashem. At the same time, we are held accountable for our actions. How do we accept responsibility for the decisions we make while forfeiting control over the paths that our lives take?

One important point noted is that in truth everything that happens in the world advances Hashem's underlying purposes in the world: to reveal His glory. Even those who intend to oppose Hashem, the reshoim, ultimately advance Hashem's goals -- in suffering their punishment, for example.

The second point noted is that Hashem has chosen to mask His continued operations in the world under the cover of teva, a natural order that persists and appears to govern how things work in the world. Those who study nature but do not relate it to Hashem's underlying Hashgochoh, will never fully understand what is going on.

The second part noted that there are two levels of Hashem's will: an inner rotzon and an outer one. According to the inner rotzon Hashem always wants us to choose for the best, but according to the outer one He wants the world to run along natural lines. Shidduchim are an area in which all the elements come together.


Hashgochoh Protis vs. Bechiroh

Let us consider another dimension of preordained accomplishment and its interplay with free will. A momentous incident with the great Netziv sheds light on this issue.

When the Netziv was a young boy, he did not display excellence in diligent Torah study. At the age of eleven or so, he overheard a critical conversation between his parents. They were discussing the proper course for their young son's future. They seriously considered sending him do to an apprenticeship so that he would at least become a proper, observant shoemaker. Full-time Torah learning seemed out of the question for their son.

When the young Naftoli Hersh heard his parents' words, he was so shocked that he decided to buckle down immediately. After years of diligent study, he became one of the leading gedolei hador.

Later in life, he said that if he had become a shoemaker, he would have faced an unexpected encounter at the end of his life. When he would arrive in Shomayim, they would show him a picture of a venerable sage and ask him if he recognizes him? He would respond in the negative.

Then they would show him the sefer Ha'ameik Sheiloh, the masterwork on the She'iltos that he wrote. He would look at it in amazement and comment that he could not even follow the intricate discussions in the sefer.

Then they would show him the other seforim he had written, which would be just as unrecognizable to him.

Finally, they would open up to the title page, point to his name, and say, "This is what you were supposed to accomplish in your life. This sage was meant to be you, and these seforim were intended to be yours."

Indeed the Netziv was forever grateful to his parents for their discussion, which led to his turnaround.

At a young age, the Netziv faced a choice. Upon hearing his parents' conversation, he could have either continued on the path he had taken up until then, or have taken stock and changed. Hashem arranged that he would hear that dialogue, but it was up to him to choose to do the right thing. True, he was meant to become a legendary talmid chochom and author, but he could have ruined it.

What is Hashgochoh Protis?

What exactly is Divine Providence? How do we know if and when we are experiencing it? How do we qualify for it? And how do we respond it to it?

Rule number one is that Hashem is generally interested in everything every Jewish person does, and he brings about circumstances to help them achieve their best. Usually, Hashem operates behind the scenes in order to allow us the possibility of free choice, as we explained above. However, there is an exception to this norm, namely, when we bring Hashem to the foreground. In other words, when we focus on Hashem's involvement in our lives, we then qualify for His Hashgochoh protis.

Sefer Tehillim tells us, "Hashem tzilcho al yad yeminecho." Hashem is your shadow on your right. Of course, Hashem is not a shadow. The posuk is telling us that Hashem relates to us as a shadow relates to the one who casts it, and thus responds to us in accordance with our relationship with Him.

So, Hashgochoh protis means that Hashem responds to us in direct proportion to our degree of focus on Him. Hashem cares about everyone, but how much He reveals His involvement in our lives depends on us.

If we have a general feeling for Hashem, then we will have a general relationship with Him. But if we look to bring Hashem into our lives, His relationship with us will become much more personal.

Another factor in Hashgochoh protis is the degree of kvod Shomayim it will produce. Often Hashem will utilize natural circumstances to assist His devout in their pursuit of kvod Shomayim. For example, if a rav is giving a shiur, he will usually need to research various sources. If the rav is generally careful to utilize his precious time for Hashem's sake, then Hashem will help him find the appropriate seforim and the right pages in them with almost no effort. But if the rav uses his time less carefully, he may not find the page he needs or even the right sefer.

Hashem tells us in parshas Bechukosai, "If you go with Me by chance, I will go with you by chance." If we view our life's occurrences as happenstance, Hashem will reflect our attitude. But if we truly factor Hashem into our whole life, He will be there and we will sense this.

A prerequisite for earning Hashgochoh protis is our worthiness. If our conduct is not up to par, we do not deserve a close relationship with Hashem. Another factor is our attitude, our willingness to have a positive view of life. However, we should always keep in mind that even if we do not sense Hashem's closeness, He is still there. We simply have not yet earned the right to feel His involvement.

The Ramban tells us that people who live outside of Eretz Yisroel generally do not sense Hashem's personal involvement, because Hashem conducts His affairs there through very complex channels. But in Eretz Yisroel, there are absolutely no channels. Those who open their eyes will be privileged to sense their direct relationship with Him all the time.

The Hashgochoh Protis of Bechiroh

As we know, Hashem tests all people, from the simple to the sage. Rav Dessler zt'l explains that each of us has a unique point of free choice, nekudas bechiroh. What we have already tackled is no longer a challenge, while other areas are beyond our capabilities. In His great wisdom, Hashem knows the exact point to test us, wherein we are truly challenged and can succeed. This spot constantly fluctuates depending on previous choices we made.

Chazal also state, "Ein Hakodosh Boruch Hu bo beterunia im habrios." Hashem does not come at us in a whirlwind. In other words, Hashem only gives us challenges we can undertake.

Every day, we face choices custom-made for our unique spiritual status. With this in mind, we realize that Hashem is with us every day of our lives. Hakodosh Boruch Hu has granted us the privilege of life so that we can achieve our utmost, and He sets up circumstances accordingly. It is up to us to take note of the Hashgochoh protis of our life choices and to choose properly.

In essence, Hashgochoh protis is happening to us all of the time. Our level of commitment and interest in seeing Hashem's involvement will determine how aware we are of it.

The Hashgochoh of Onesh and Nisoyon

When a person sins, he deserves to be punished. The pain of Gehennom, the ultimate punishment, is so great that the Ramban tells us that one moment of Gehennom is worse than whatever Iyov experienced. To our great fortune, Hashem has ways of eliminating that experience. When we merit it, Hashem will exchange our punishment for a relatively minor discomfort in this world. This is called kapporoh. Incidentally, this exchange is better than any rate on the black market.

Hashem generally relates to us in the form of middoh keneged middoh. So, if we sincerely review our actions we should find the connection. However, if we see difficulties coming our way and do not find a direct correlation with any particular misdeed, then we can chalk it up as a general kapporoh. And if we accept something this way, it will in fact serve as such, irrespective of what its real intent was.

Sometimes we may find ourselves facing a challenge that seems almost unbearable. This is called a nisoyon and is a greater level than the average test of bechiroh. At certain times Hashem calls on us to stretch beyond what we believe are our capabilities. Nisyonos expose our personal capacity and, in fact, expand it. They reveal to us how much we can accomplish.

This is not regarded as a terunia, a whirlwind, because Hashem knows that we can succeed. If we find ourselves unexpectedly experiencing something too difficult to believe that we could accomplish, then we should realize that Hashem is talking to us. He is giving us a golden opportunity to focus on His involvement in our lives and to increase His relationship with us. With this focus, Hashem will reveal Himself even more in our lives.

Practical Applications

Now that we have extrapolated on these lofty ideas, how can we apply them to our everyday lives? Let us take some examples of common incidents and consider how to view them.

What about that open gas valve that did not cause any harm, although the window was painted shut? What is our response? Generally, if there was no major result of this mishap, then we should simply thank Hashem that gas has an aroma. What we should not do is blame our spouse for a poor paint job.

Let's take another common occurrence in a family setting. Rifkala, age seven, ran into the dining room and crashed into the beautifully set table. An expensive china plate fell to the floor and smashed into a hundred pieces. What should we do: shout at Rifkala for her clumsiness and break her self- esteem? Of course not. The appropriate reaction is to reassure Rifkala that it is not important. It is only glass. We can ask Rifkala to help clean it up, and we may ask her to be more careful next time.

Now that we have dealt with Rifkala, we may delve into the Hashgochoh protis of the situation. Well, I actually controlled myself and did not show anyone furious feelings. In addition, Rifkala learned that her feelings are more important than a piece of china. These are certainly beneficial results.

Should I look for more? It depends. If the plate was near the edge of the table, the story is over. But if the plate unexpectedly rolled across the table, I may continue my lesson. Why does Hashem want me to be missing one piece of china? Maybe this presents me with an opportunity to feel a lack in my life, which I can then relate to a feeling of yearning for the Beis Hamikdosh.

The incident happened because of a child's clumsiness, but how does this affect me? It is a chance to learn something. Rather than being a source of pain, the dish is a vehicle to challenge me and to grow from its lesson.

Unless the loss of a possession was very large, we should not blame ourselves. We can simply say it was bashert and consider what lessons we may gain. If there has been a significant financial loss, we may take into account the possibility that our finances may not be in order.

The idea of bashert is complex, the subject of much contemplation by great sages. We know that Hashem is intimately involved in our lives and directs them in ways that aid our personal growth. At the same time, He allows us to make choices.

Ultimately, Hashem wants us to choose the shortest path that is both good for us and reveals Hashem's glory. Should we choose poorly, Hashem directs all variables to reveal His glory anyway. We hope to have the wisdom to make the right choices at every fork in the road of our lives.

Click here for Part I.

Click here for Part II.

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