G-d’s Presence in the World

TANYA Insights: 11 Shevat (leap year) 5782

“By the word of the L-RD were the heavens made; and all the hosts of them by the breath of His mouth. ”– Psalm 33:6, JPS 1917 Tanach

A Chassidic perspective emphasizes the need for the continual maintenance of the universe – G-d’s Creation – through His will that constantly maintains the existence of the world. Without His continual presence as the force that sustains the world, the world would cease to exist. In reading today’s passage from the TANYA, I thought how this idea can be compared to an event in this week’s Torah reading. Namely, when “Moses held out his arm over the sea, and at daybreak the sea returned to its normal state” (Exodus 14:27, JPS 1985 Tanach).

Inasmuch that “the sea returned to its normal state,” this connotes the understanding that the normal laws of gravity were restored to the sea. For, two towering walls of water had formed a corridor for B’nei Yisrael to cross through the Sea of Reeds, to be safely ensconced on the other shore. As the Egyptians pursued the Children of Israel, these walls collapsed upon them, drowning Pharaoh and his army in the sea. The restoration to natural law, and the subsequent collapse of the sea walls was signaled by Moshe’s act of holding “his arm over the sea.”

At that point H’Shem relinquished His influence over gravity, thus causing the sea to be restored to its original natural state. The TANYA passage relates how that if H’Shem caused His Will to cease from maintaining the Universe, all would return to its former state of nothingness, before the beginning of time. Clearly, the example given above is a more comprehensible occurrence, whereas, mankind can hardly conceive of the world ceasing to exist. It would be like a computer without electricity – blank screen.

Metaphorically, this should help us to better appreciate the presence of G-d in the world, that animates all spheres of life, plant, animal and human, as well as inanimate objects such as stones, precious metals, and the different layers of the earth, not to mention the artistic beauty of the skies, especially at sunrise and sunset. Shiveesee H’Shem l’negdi tamid – I am ever mindful of the L-RD’s presence (Psalm 16:8).

The Hidden Order of Things

motzei Shabbos: parashas Vayelech 5782

“And they shall say on that day, ‘Surely it is because our G-d is not in our midst that these evils have befallen us.’” – Deuteronomy 31:17, JPS 1985 Tanach

“They will be intelligent enough to conclude that all the troubles which suddenly overtook them must be due to G-d having deliberately left their midst” (Or HaChayim on Deuteronomy 31:17, sefaria.org). The key word here in this commentary is “deliberately,” as if it is implied that the people realized that their own sins compelled G-d to abandon them. This is an important connection for them to make, whereas without recognizing their own complicity, would only have led to blame G-d for His abandonment of them, as if they had no part in the matter.

Consider the attitude of some, in blaming G-d for harsh events in life, holding Him accountable for our suffering, without acknowledging the sins that created the distance between us and Him in the first place. The point being, that it is the wrong attitude to have, a spoiled mindset to think that we deserve better, despite our abandoning Him through our own misdeeds. And, yet, He is compassionate and merciful, inasmuch that hiding His face from us, He desires us to cry out with a heartfelt repentant stance, taking it upon ourselves, to return to Him, in all of our ways, in order to elicit His forgiveness.

So, we do not understand G-d to be capricious: rather everything is ultimately designed for our benefit, even the chastisement that is placed upon us, when we go astray of G-d’s commandments. For nothing happens by chance in an ordered world, that is a world whose order is often above our own understanding.  Any randomness that appears to occur is only based upon a perspective that does not fully comprehend His sovereignty over all events in the world, as well as those that occur to us on an individual level. To understand that everything happens according to G-d’s will, or is permitted by Him, is to recognize His absolute sovereignty in all realms of life.

Renewal of the Soul


D’var for Motzei Shabbos

Tazria-Metzorah 5780

“This shall be the law of the leper in the day of his cleansing: he shall be brought unto the priest [kohein].” – Leviticus 14:2, JPS

In each case, whether a person’s home, clothing, or body is stricken with a nega (plague), he is brought to the kohein (priest). The kohein determines not only the status of the suspected negah; he also is qualified on a spiritual level to gain insight on the state of the person’s soul. This concept is in line with the understanding of tzarras as a spiritual malaise that manifests as a skin disease. Tzarras is one type of negah (plague), the other two in question, here, are those that show up on a person’s clothes or the walls of his home. In all cases, as already mentioned above, the kohein is the sole individual (no pun intended), who uses his discernment to ascertain the specific sin(s) that were the root cause of the blemish on a person’s soul, that manifested as a negah (literally, plague).

What can we learn from this connection? H’Shem is merciful; He is not interested in simply punishing us for our sins. Rather, He will send an early warning signal to serve as a “wake up call,” specifically designated for us, so that we may scrutinize our own selves, in search for our misdeeds, character defects, and deficiencies. At the current time, for the duration of the Corona Virus, we are very much like the metzorah, the Biblical leper who is sent outside of the camp, where he is in isolation, for the purpose of reviewing his thoughts, speech, and action, so that he may rectify his ways. Many of us have plenty of time to do the same, by searching our hearts, and carrying out what is referred to in Hebrew as heshbon hanefesh, literally, an accounting of the soul. H’Shem may very well be effecting a judgment upon the world for this very purpose. We should compel ourselves, in all sincerity, to use this time wisely.