Saturday, May 25, 2024

Real Emunah Vs. Paroh's Waiting Game

Rav Don Segal once retold a story he heard from Rav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler zt”l. During World War II, in England, a group of bochurim were sitting around during bein hasedorim discussing the war situation. As can be imagined, the topic was foremost on everyone's mind and people never tired of theorizing about every possible development and outcome. Rav Dessler, who was in England at the time, walked into the room to hear one bochur saying how if a certain general would be able to take a given area, he would surely be able to push on easily from there. A second bochur conjectured that this would hold true only if they found a way to neutralize the more advanced tanks being used by the opposing army.

Rav Dessler smiled and gently reminded the bochurim that regardless of who looks weaker or stronger in our eyes, in the end, the outcome of everything – including wars – is in the Hands of Hashem.


One boy, nodding his head and acknowledging the truth of Rav Dessler’s words, said, “Avadeh. Uber mir redden doch un dem. Of course the rebbe’s right. We’re only discussing what would be if not for that fact.”


This almost-comical statement reveals something that is perhaps buried in the psyche of many of us. We are ma’aminim bnei ma’aminim, believers and children of believers. We truly understand, beyond any doubt, that Hashem runs the world and calls the shots. He makes everything happen and can make anything happen, regardless of how things look to us at the time.


At the same time, though, perhaps somewhere deep in our subconscious mind, we sometimes feel as if there is a certain leeway, a certain natural way in which things will probably take place – of course, barring any intervention by Hashem. As if Hashem isn’t taking care of everything in the first place.


Mir redden doch un dem.


We run our lives as if there is an “un dem,” as if there is a natural and supernatural, as if the “natural” isn’t also G-d’s direct Hand, subject to change at will.


There is a joke told about a family looking into various prospective suitors for their daughter. The name of one particular individual comes up, a young man who comes highly recommended. The only possible drawback is that the fellow seems to be somewhat “high maintenance,” drawn to many finer accoutrements of life.


Wishing to know if the boy had thought out how he would live his future life, the father of the girl had the shadchan set up a preliminary meeting between him and the young man.


During their meeting, the father inquired gently as to the young man’s future plans.


The boy explained how he hoped his wife would be willing to work to help support the home.


“And what if something happens and she can’t work?” the father asked. “If she gets laid off or laid up or something else comes up, would you look into cutting down on expenses?”


The young man waved away the father’s concerns. “Nah. I don’t believe that’s necessary,” he spoke with confidence. “Hashem will surely help.”


Later, after the meeting, the mother of the girl asked her husband how the meeting had gone. The father smiled and explained that it actually went quite well. “Put it this way,” he told his wife. “I only just met the boy and already he refers to me as G-d!”


People who repeat this joke to ridicule those who truly live with bitachon – insinuating that were it not for this or that person assisting them, the recipient’s bitachon would be misplaced – are dead wrong. At the same time, when we tell ourselves to have bitachon, to rely on Hashem, are we really looking towards Him for help? Or do we say what we know is true, while our actions reveal that deep down we’re still caught in the false notion that if we don’t take this or that action, our salvation would be unable to reach us?


We must constantly remind ourselves that there isno “un dem.” There is no such thing as, “Hashem will surely help, but ‘in the meantime’ we have to accept this questionable job or enter that less-than-ideal business environment, ‘until’ Hashem’s salvation comes.” Hashem is here with us now just as He will be with us later. Sure, he asks of us to make hishtadlus, to go through the motions of helping ourselves, but He doesn’t actually need our “help.” If something isn’t good for us, He doesn’t need or want us to do it. There is no “un dem.” There is no “until then.” Hashem can help us now and always, and we can rely on Him completely.


This is not an easy level of bitachon to reach. Moving from knowing that Hashem can and does take care of everything to living that way is surely the work of a lifetime. Pesach, however, brings us an opportunity to heighten our awareness of these truths and move upwards in life. Taking something from the Yom Tov to keep with us after it passes is, after all, the reason Hashem gave us these days in the first place.


What does Pesach have to do with all this?


Paroh’s very fall from might to dust, and our rise from slavery to freedom, hinged on this awareness.


The Aruch Hashulchan (Orach Chaim 429) explains that if we think about it, Paroh’s behavior seems to defy all logic. He suffered through one crushing plague after another, his entire kingdom was being reduced to rubble, poverty and crushing defeat in front of his eyes, and yet he refused to let the Jews go.


If we could say that, regardless of how painfully the plagues hit him, Paroh simply refused to acknowledge that the plagues were the Hand of Hashem, we might understand how he could remain stubborn. As bad as the plagues were, if they were not the Hand of Hashem but rather some wild inexplicable occurrences, then Paroh had no reason to heed G-d’s warning to let His nation go.


This, however, was not the case. After makkas borod, the 7th plague, Paroh acquiesced and acknowledged that “Hashem hatzaddik va’ani ve’ami horsha’imHashem is right; I and my nation are the evil ones” (Shemos 9:27). He clearly recognized the Hand of Hashem and admitted that he was powerless to stop Him.


Yet, after makkas arbeh, the 8th plague, Paroh had the temerity of “vayigoresh osam” (Shemos 10:10). He summarily dismissed Moshe and Aharon from his presence. After the next plague, makkas choshech, Paroh went to an ever greater degree of chutzpah, telling Moshe and Aharon (ibid. 28), “Al tosef ra’os ponai.” Or, in the vernacular, “Get out of my face.”


As evil as Paroh was, we would think that he had to have been thinking something to have had the gall to act the way he did. He’d acknowledged that the plagues were G-d’s doing. He knew he was powerless to stop them. Whether he felt like giving in or not, he had to know that he had no choice in the matter. Hashem was calling the shots, and refusing Him would simply result in personal and national suicide.


Had Paroh simply lost his mind? Had he become suicidal?


The answer is that Paroh was employing a typical delaying tactic. He knew that, at the present time, there was no way for him to win against Hashem. Rather than give in, though, he was trying to buy time. That is why he chased Moshe and Aharon from his presence and later forbade them to see him. He hoped that by not seeing them, he could push off the ultimate moment of submittal, of giving in, of telling them that they’re free to go.


Why would Paroh wish to buy time? What could possibly help him later that couldn’t help him now?


We know that the Egyptians worshipped the sheep. The mazel of Chodesh Nissan, the sign of the zodiac, is the teleh, the sheep. The Aruch Hashulchan tells us that Paroh hoped that with the arrival of Nissan, when the sheep’s constellation would be dominant, the Egyptians would somehow be able to overcome the clear Yad Hashem. He knew that the plagues were Hashem’s doing. He’d acknowledged as much clearly after the 7th plague. Moreover, he’d seen firsthand that Hashem’s Hand was omnipotent. G-d was all-powerful.


Still, Paroh maintained a faint glimmer of hope that, come Nissan, the Egyptian sign would somehow help them out of their mess. He couldn’t fight Hashem in any way now, but he was trying to push off the final battle until later.


We know, of course, that Paroh’s hope was senseless. While mazolim may have powers, those powers were given to them by Hashem. Hashem controls the zodiac as He controls everything else. This is why Hashem chose this particular time – after Moshe was chased from Paroh’s palace for the last time – to give us the mitzvah of Kiddush Hachodesh. Hashem told Moshe, “Hachodesh hazeh lochem rosh chodoshim” (Shemos 12:2). This month, the very month whose constellation favors Paroh and which he awaits in hopes of salvation, this very month will be the month of your salvation.


On Pesach, Hashem demonstrated that everything, “bashomayim mima’al ve’al ha’aretz mitochas,” from the heavenly signs to every earthly power, is subservient to Hashem’s will. There is no “un dem.” There is no escape clause. There is no exception to how, when or where Hashem can assist us, His beloved children.


Although this is something that, as believing Jews, we always knew, Pesach is a time to internalize the lesson. Paroh acknowledged Hashem’s Hand, yet he refused to bring that realization to its proper conclusion. Klal Yisroel, on the other hand, witnessed – through awesome and wondrous events – how Hashem is always in charge and always looking out for our wellbeing.


As we celebrate the miracles which brought us out of slavery and into G-d’s loving embrace, we reaffirm our belief that there is no exception to the rule, no power on earth which stands in the way of Hashem’s will. There is no natural and supernatural. There is but One G-d over all. Never do we have to give in even one iota – whether it be in regard to what type of job, business, education, living or working environment, etc. we enter – with the thinking that “until” Hashem helps us, this is what we must do. Hashem is there for us through every month of the year, every constellation, every situation and every challenge. There is no “un dem.”


Though the mazel teleh may have boded well for the Egyptians, it was specifically during Nissan that Hashem redeemed us. All year round as well, regardless of the circumstance or prognosis, Hashem is right there at our side.


He is waiting for us to join Him.



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