By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
והיה היום הזה לכם לזכרון
The Sefer Ha’Chinuch says that some might wonder why Hashem gives us so many mitzvos that are for the purpose of remembering the redemption from Mitzrayim? But, really, says the Chinuch, it is quite basic: a person is impacted and influenced by what he does. The more you are involved in something through your concrete actions, the more those actions will influence you in your heart. By having so many mitzvos – throughout the year – that reinforce to us the foundation of our redemption from Mitzrayim and everything that it teaches us, the more that foundation becomes an inherent part of our consciousness, of who we are.
In this context, it should be mentioned that a person needs to choose his/her profession carefully. Because the reality is that what you are involved with – in concrete action – on a daily basis is going to have a profound impact on who you are, and what you feel and think.
A person can be completely evil, but, if for some reason he starts involving himself in actions of good deeds – of mitzvos and maasim tovim – it will eventually filter into his heart and transform him into a good-hearted person. And the same is true the other way around. A person can be a wholesome tzaddik – pure in mind and heart – but if, for some reason, he starts getting involved in frivolous endeavors, it can ruin his purity of heart. The actions will affect him.
Don’t let your yeitzer hara tell you, “Ah, what does it matter what exactly you do to make money, you already have worked on yourself for a long time to become a good person, and a job is just a means to making money, not to make you into a tzaddik!” Don’t let him get away with fooling you into thinking that your job won’t have an impact on your ruchniyus. It’s not true. Many fine bnei Torah have fallen tremendously because they did not realize how much actions can and do impact one’s heart.
(From Rebbetzin Twersky)
The Gemara in Maseches Shabbos (118b) says that someone who says Hallel every day is a blasphemer. The Maharal, in Gevuros Hashem, explains this based on the Gemara in Avodah Zarah that describes how the non-Jewish philosophers asked the Chachamim, “If the Creator despises avodah zarah, why does he tolerate it?” The answer the Chachamim gave is that idolaters worship the sun, the moon, and the constellations. Hashem is not going to destroy his world because of the sinners, rather those fools will eventually have to deal with the consequences of their actions.
This, explains the Maharal, is saying that Hashem runs the world with a specific order which we call natural law. Hashem is not going to do away with tevah just because there are sinners who abuse it.
Someone who says Hallel every day, though, is demonstrating that he does not believe that there is any existence of natural law whatsoever. Hallel was enacted for miracles, and his saying it every day shows that he believes that Hashem conducts the world purely through a hanhagah nisis, a supernatural, ever-miraculous providence. But if that
would be the case, then there would be no room whatsoever for Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu to tolerate avodah zarah. One operating under such an erroneous assumption would have no answer to the charge of the non-Jewish philosophers, and could come to the conclusion that the tolerance of avodah zarah is because of an inability, chas v’shalom, to eradicate it.
Now, there is a well-known statement of the Ramban at the end of this week’s parsha that many people misunderstand. The Ramban says that the great, open miracles of Yetzias Mitzrayim are meant to teach us about the hidden miracles that happen all the time and that whatever happens to a person is not a matter of tevah, nature, whatsoever.
Many people make a terrible mistake of thinking that the Ramban means that there is no such thing as tevah. If you ask people their honest opinion b’chadrei chadarim if they think it means it literally, I don’t think that they’ll past the test; no one would end up being a maamin anymore.
To say that there is no such thing as tevah is patently absurd. Nature is a reality. The pasuk says chok nasan v’lo yaavor. Anyone who says there is no such thing as nature is either a hypocrite – because he clearly cannot believe what he himself is saying – or he is literally off the wall because he is denying reality.
So what does the Ramban mean? A neis means that Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu is communicating with us. If you take a look at the Ramban inside, you will see clearly that the whole thrust of his words is the foundation of schar v’onesh. What is schar v’onesh? It is that Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu is reacting and responding to everything we do. He is communicating with us, sending us messages.
There is a hanhagah of tevah, that Hashem conducts the world through natural laws, and those laws are indeed immutable in terms of how we experience them on a day to day basis. Thus, we can and should expect, for example, that the sun will rise in the east precisely at the time that the calendar says it will, and that it will set in the west precisely at the time that was worked out based on all the astronomical, geographical, and mathematical principles involved.
The niflaos ha’Borei – the niflosecha u’machshevosecha ein aroch – is that even within the context of the natural structure, order, and functioning of the world, Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu addresses each individual Yid – and mistamah every single human being – through that individual’s particular position.
A mashal for understanding the difference between the supernatural, great-miracles system of Yetzias Mitzrayim versus the messages Hashem sends us constantly within the context of nature, is like the difference between Reuvein walking through the door versus tapping lightly on the outside of it. When Reuvein walks right through the door, you see him. There he is. Unless someone is blind, he’s right there in front of you. When he’s tapping lightly on the outside of the door, though, it takes a subtle, refined sensitivity to pick up on it. Many people could totally not notice the tapping at all. Others may notice it, but may not manage to identify precisely who it is that is doing it. One needs to really pay attention and listen with a very resonant ear to decipher the real implications of that tapping to know that it is Reuvein.
This is the point of the Ramban. That even within tevah, it is not random, and it is not merely statistics. Even within the strict confines and boundaries of Hashem’s guiding the world with natural law, Hashem is constantly sending us messages. That is schar v’onesh.
Like Chazal say, a person does not even bang his finger down here on Earth unless it was decreed upon him from Above. Likewise, Chazal tell us that whenever something happens to us, we need to examine our deeds. Obviously, if those happenings were merely a function of arbitrary statistics of natural law, there would be no reason to examine one’s deeds. The need to examine one’s deeds means that what happened is a communication from the Ribbono shel Olam. This awareness requires a sensitivity of the soul, and constitutes a life’s avodah. That we are challenged to see the yad Hashem from within tevah.
The Gemara in Maseches Taanis about Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa saying, “The One who said oil shall burn will say that vinegar shall burn,” is another statement that many people make a mistake about. To think that the Gemara is saying that there is no difference between oil and vinegar is absurd. Oil is flammable and vinegar is not. Period. What Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa meant when he said “the One who said oil shall burn” is during sheishes yemei Breishis, the six days of creation. In other words, from Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu’s perspective, kavayachol, there is no hechreiach of tevah.
As the Rambam writes in the beginning of Yesodei Ha’Torah, only the reality of Hashem is the true reality. No other existence is inherent and muchrach. How much more so the specific character of that which Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu created. Although for us it is indeed chok nasan v’lo yaavor, from Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu’s perspective, kavayachol, it does not have to be like that at all. Everything is open. There is no inherent difference to Hashem whether yes tevah or no tevah. Throughout human history, though, there is tevah, it is immutable, for that is what Hashem determined to be. In Yetzias Mitzrayim, though, there was a relevation of the essential perspective, as it were, of the Creator. An approach that there is no difference between tevah and
not tevah. There was no particular framework. It was simply the ultimate truth of the Sheim Havayah. Simply whatever is ratzon Hashem.
This awareness of absolute ratzon Hashem is what Rabi Chanina Ben Dosa lived with. Because he was truly on that exalted level, he could do what he did. It is a very deep concept. But in no way does it mean that there is no tevah.
(Audio recording available here)