Who Controls Our Destiny?


rabbi-pinchos-lipschutzBy Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

In our advanced digital age, people believe that they control their own destiny. They feel that with the vast breakthroughs in science and telecommunications, and with all the modern tools at our disposal, there is nothing that man cannot accomplish.

And then an earthquake strikes, followed by a tsunami in Japan that claims many thousands of lives and leaves a trail of indescribable devastation in its wake. Four nuclear reactors are suddenly spewing forth deadly radiation and no one is able to stop them. The world’s leading scientists are stymied in their bid to cool down the reactors and prevent them from killing innocent civilians. Goofy Rube Goldberg-like contraptions are frantically being assembled in the most advanced land on the planet, in a desperate bid to save lives and prevent an apocalypse.

The world community reels in shock at these bizarre occurrences. But for believers in an omnipotent Creator Who controls nature and human destiny, the tragic events in Japan serve only to highlight His total mastery over the universe. We realize that man is merely a pawn in the Hands of the Creator, ever dependent on Divine mercy and assistance, helpless to accomplish anything on his own.

In case we ever forget that lesson, Purim reminds us that Hashem manages and controls world events. People who harbor illusions of grandeur, imagining themselves to be infallible and invincible, meet the fate that befell Haman. Take a look at the events currently unfolding in the Arab world, where egomaniacal autocrats who have tyrannized their people for decades are suddenly toppled or teetering.

Many times, we find ourselves in dire situations from which no escape seems possible. Without Divine intervention, we have nowhere to turn.

Purim teaches us that all that transpires to us in this world is part of a Divine plan. It will all turn out for the good, if we are only patient and follow G-d’s word. Purim reminds us that Hashem can bring about a stunning reversal of a person’s destiny in the blink of an eye.

We live in an olam hafuch, an upside-down world, where time-honored values once universally respected are wantonly trampled. Up is down and down is up. Stability and permanence seem to be things of the past. In such a volatile world, we have to resist being blown about and confused by trends in society that negate our most cherished values.

When good things happen to bad people and bad things to good people, the Megillah reminds us that none of this is random or haphazard. The “wheel of fortune” is manipulated by Hashem for His own purposes. The Megillah reminds us that all that happens is part of a Divine plan which we can’t expect to understand until the entire story has reached its conclusion.

The forces of evil may appear to be advancing, but it is only in order for Hashgacha to set up that power for a more drastic descent to the death. Evil’s ascent is but a passing phenomenon; it is ultimately doomed to fail. Goodness and virtue may appear frail and unimposing, but those who follow a G-dly path and exemplify these traits will triumph.

An oft-repeated joke that has a kernel of truth puts all Jewish holidays under one rubric: “They wanted to kill us. We beat them. Let’s eat.” It’s undeniable that every generation has tyrants who rise up against us, plotting our destruction. But we are still here, thriving and prospering. And we will do so with Hashem’s help until the coming of Moshiach.

That message resonates for all time, wherever Jews find themselves. As we masquerade about on Purim exchanging mishloach manos with friends and dishing out Purim gelt to the less fortunate, we tap into the kedushah and message of the holy day.

It’s a message that never loses its timeliness. Every year, when we study the Megillah, we gain a new appreciation of what took place during the critical times of Mordechai and Esther and its relevance to us today. The lesson for us is that we should avoid all forms of the evil traits that animated our enemies and ultimately became their undoing. A dose of humility may have saved Haman. Similarly, his status as a favored confidant of King Achachveirosh would have saved him from disaster had he been satisfied with his great prestige. Had he been less greedy for power, he might have escaped a bitter downfall. His brilliant career might not have met its end on the gallows.

Lack of humility is often at the root of disaster. In this week’s parsha (10:1), we read of the deaths of two sons of Aharon Hakohein at the time of the chanukas haMishkon. Nadav and Avihu brought an eish zarah and were consumed by a Heavenly fire.

They thought they were assisting the consecration of the mizbei’ach. Their intentions were of the highest order. But their actions were out of bounds. The fire they brought was one the posuk describes as “asher lo tzivah osam – not commanded by Hashem.” To Nadav and Avihu, it appeared as if their contribution was desirable and necessary, but they neglected to consult with Moshe Rabbeinu.

Nadav and Avihu were swayed by their reliance on their own intelligence. Human intelligence is just that, human, and therefore subject to error.

Whenever a Jew acts, he must question whether he is doing “asher tzivah Hashem.” We have to be certain that we are following G-d’s commandment, not our own concept of what makes sense in a given situation, but which may in fact be totally misguided.

In Parshas Ki Sisa (31:6), when referring to the people entrusted to build the Mishkon, the posuk states, “Uveleiv kol chacham lev nosati chochmahAnd in the hearts of the wise people I have inserted wisdom.”

The question is obvious. If the people were wise to begin with, why did Hakadosh Boruch Hu have to grant them wisdom?

It could be that they required, over and above their own gifted intelligence, a deeper level of wisdom to be able to comprehend Hashem’s instructions for the construction of the Mishkon.

The ending of the above-mentioned posuk, “Ve’asu ka’asher tzivisichah – And they shall do as I have commanded you,” seems to attest to this thought. Man’s intelligence is finite and flawed. A person who thinks he is smart enough to figure everything out by himself will ultimately fail. Only he who follows the tzivuy Hashem will be successful in his undertaking. The ability to comprehend that fundamental truth requires an extra degree of chochmah. That higher wisdom is the chochmah that Hakadosh Boruch Hu placed in the hearts of the “wise men.”

As we go through life, we will often have to grapple with the temptation to think that we understand things better than our predecessors and that we have a better way to get things accomplished. We forget our limitations and our capacity for human error. We prefer not to acknowledge our biases and our inadequacies.

Man is swayed by negios. The human thought process is easily clouded by subjective thinking. We can only succeed if we are intelligent enough to follow the tzivuy Hashem. The only guaranteed formula for success is to follow the Divine path, clearly laid out for us in Tanach, Gemara and Shulchan Aruch, as taught by the mamshichei mesorah.

In this week’s parsha (9:7), the Torah states that at the completion of the Shemonas Yemei Miluim, when Moshe Rabbeinu performed the avodah in the Mishkon, he approached Aharon and summoned him to assume the responsibility that his high rank as kohein gadol demanded of him. Aharon was told to commence the avodah, the sacrificial service.

Rashi states that Aharon felt himself unworthy and was embarrassed to come forward. Moshe had to coach and prod him to approach. “Why are you embarrassed?” he asked him. “This is what you were chosen for.”

In essence, that is a lesson for us in our post-Purim lives. We were all chosen by our Creator for missions to complete in our lives. Some are more glamorous than others, but they all bear the same hallmark. They are all missions we were created to fulfill. They all make the world a better place.

The Moshe Rabbeinus of the generation select, appoint, instruct and guide us. They infuse us with what we require to realize our ambitions. That might sometimes require us to be in the public eye, while sometimes it means slaving without fanfare far from the spotlight, quietly enhancing the world and preparing it for Moshiach.

Wherever we are and whatever position we occupy in life, we must remain humble as we maximize the tasks the position demands. Gaavah is what dooms man. We must always remain cognizant of the fact that we are here to fulfill the tzivuy Hashem – “lekach nivcharnu.” Can there be any greater source of simcha and nachas to a person than to recognize that he is fulfilling his purpose in creation?

With the Purim spirit still vivid in our memories and pumping in our veins, let us all resolve to utilize our G-d-given talents under the direction of Torah giants to enhance our own lives and those of our fellows.

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  1. “We live in an olam hafuch, an upside-down world, where time-honored values once universally respected are wantonly trampled. Up is down and down is up.”

    This is so true and we see it every single day. We yell at the other because all of us are right. We do not know who is telling the truth anymore. It is surely a world filled with agendas and each have their own. When I was growing up there was little question of right or wrong and in the rare case that there was we had who to trust and turn to. Today I as many others find that we are all alone doing the best we can with the tools and wisdom we were brought up with. I personally, right or wrong, tend not to listen to anyone outside myself because I just don’t know anymore.

  2. ” The worldÂ’s leading scientists are stymied in their bid to cool down the reactors and prevent them from killing innocent civilians. Goofy Rube Goldberg-like contraptions are frantically being assembled in the most advanced land on the planet, in a desperate bid to save lives and prevent an apocalypse.”

    Puleez!!. If you don’t know what you’re talking about don’t talk.

    1. The “world’s greatest scientists” aren’t stymied at all. Overcommining obstacles and solving problems is what engineers do for a living. The “Rube Goldberg” contraption is what you do when what you tried before doesn’t work. I think it shows the clevernes and ingenuity of the engineers on the job. The bottom line is that no one will be killed, there will be no apocalypse, the reactors will be saved (except for #3 maybe), repairs will be made, the plant will be restarted and put back on line, and the engineers and workers will go home, take a shower, eat, get some rest and wait for the next problem.

  3. So Raphael Kaufman thinks that shooting water from fire engines and dropping water from helicopters is the height of science? Okay. Sorry I missed that. I saw the yad hashem preventing greater loss of human life after the scientists and engineers gave up and told the reactor workers on suicide missions risking their lives to get cool the rods to go home.