Moving from “Miracles” to “Hashgacha Pratis”
Reflections on the Lessons of Operation Cast Lead
by Rabbi Daniel Yaakov Travis
(based on a shiur heard from HaGaon Rav Moshe Sternbuch shlita, Ravad of Yerushalayim, leil Shabbos Parshas Shemos in Beis Keneses HaGra, Har Nof.)
Victors in Battle
The War in Gaza appears to be drawing to a close. The enemy has sustained a serious blow to its infrastructure, but their leadership and ultimate goal of destroying the Jewish People remain intact. Although the Israeli military forces can hardly claim victory, a major battle has definitely been fought and won; and that is, the knowledge that Hashem alone runs the world.
“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we will make mention of the name of Hashem” (Tehillim 20,8). The enemy has fired enough deadly missiles to, chas vashalom, wipe out large numbers the Jews living in Eretz Yisrael, Hashem’s Name was sanctified among the many faithful Jews who have turned to him in their hour of need, and He answered us with open miracles, a sign of clear victory in the battle before the coming of moshiach.
The Sifrei Musar tell the story of a band of soldiers on their way home from a glorious battle who meet an elderly rav. Instead of congratulating them on their victory, the rabbi surprises them with his remark: “While you have won a minor war, the major one still lies ahead. Combat with flesh-and-blood soldiers is easy compared to the war with the yatzer hara which rages constantly throughout a person’s life.”
Whatever the outcome of the Gaza conflict, each of us will find that our own personal war with the yatzer hara will rage on. The front-line in this war is our emunah, which he is actively trying to undermine. The newspapers have reported so many miracles over the past few weeks that they have almost become mundane. How can we ensure that the true message of this war will be make a lasting impression on our hearts?
The answer is that we must stop using the word “miracle” and start referring to “hashgacha pratis” (personal Divine Supervision). A miracle is a remote concept that does not obligate us to make real changes in our lives. The recognition of hashgacha pratis, however, is one of the fundamental principles of the Jewish faith, and entails an obligation to seriously reconsider our outlook on life.
“I believe with complete faith that the Creator, Blessed is His name, creates and guides all creatures, and that He alone made, makes and will make everything” (1st of the 13 Ikrim). Seemingly, every mitzvah of the Torah can be considered ikrim, fundamental. What is so special about these thirteen?
Rav Chaim Brisker explains that a person who does not believe in hasgacha pratis or any of the other ikrim has crossed a red line and is no longer considered part of Klal Yisrael. Similarly, the Ramban writes at the end of Parshas Bo, “Anyone who does not believe that there is no such thing as ‘nature’ and doesn’t realize that everything is hashgacha pratis and Divinely guided, does not have a portion in Toras Moshe.” hashgacha Pratis is the foundation of our relationship with Hashem and His Torah.
A Knock on the Door
“My Beloved is knocking saying, ‘Open to Me, my sister, my love'”… (Shir HaShirim 5,2). Over 1,000 missiles have been fired at us from Gaza. Hashem intended every one of them as a wake-up call to us, to arouse us from our slumber to an active awareness of His Providence. They were His way of ‘knocking on the door’ and letting us know that the end of days is approaching.
Even though this war took place in Eretz Yisrael, Hashem wants this message to be heard around the world. In recent months, He has toppled global financial markets and massive amounts of wealth have disappeared without a trace. Economists are baffled but the meaning is clear to all believing Jews – Hashem is knocking on our doors and begging us to stop relying on other sources of power. He alone should be our source of security.
“Hashem is lifted up above all of the nations, His glory is in the Heavens” (Tehillim 113,4). Dovid Hamelech reveals to us the fundamental difference between Hashem’s relationship with the Jewish people and with the other nations of the world. While non-Jews view Hashem as too exalted to get involved with their personal lives, Jews proclaim, “Who is like Hashem Elokeinu, who is enthroned on high yet looks down to behold the mundane matters in the physical world (ibid. 113,5).”
Although Hashem is the unchallenged ruler and creator of the whole universe, this does not stop Him from getting involved with every single detail of a Jew’s life, no matter how trivial or unpleasant. “He raises up the poor from the dust heaps, and the destitute from the lowest grime” (ibid. 113,6). He rules the entire universe – yet the true mark of His greatness is His humility. It’s his care for every detail of every Jew’s life that characterizes him as a loving Father.
When a Jew davens, he should feel Hashem is with him. He has to know that every single word of his prayers is heard, and that every thought that is passes through his mind is noted. This is all part of Ikrei Emunah, and hashgacha pratis is first of the 13 Ikrim.
Chazal tell us that if we do not recognize Hashem’s Prescience in our lives He will send upon us a “cruel king like Haman.” We have the capability to save ourselves from a terrible fate. We must replace take the word “miracle” out of our vocabulary and replace it with hashgacha pratis.
Although the obligation to see Hashem in our lives is borne by every Jew, it is especially crucial for Roshei Yeshivos, Rabbanim and Mechanchim of both boys and girls, to relay this message to their students. If the Zohar tells us that when people discuss hashgacha pratis, Hashem gathers all of the melachim to hear, it is certainly a good use of our time to speak about it as much as possible. In doing so, we will make Hashem a very real part of our daily lives, and awaken an awareness of His hashgacha pratis in our hearts.
Sefer Daniel describes the bitter tribulations that Klal Yisrael will suffer during the times of moshiach. Yet in Sefer Yeshiyah (60,22) the pasuk says “I, Hashem, will hasten it in it’s time.” The Chasam Sofer explains that if we merit Geula, Hashem will hasten it, If not, we will have to wait for the time and the circumstances that accompany this day.
“Unless You have utterly rejected us, and are extremely angry with us, Turn to us Hashem and we shall return, renew our days as of old” (Eichah 4:22 – 23). The Yeshuas Yaakov offers a beautiful explanation of these verses.
When someone is disgusted with his friend, he cuts off all ties with them and has nothing to do with them. On the other hand, if he instead expresses his anger and disappointment to his friend, this is a sign that he still hopes to continue the relationship in the future. If we see that Hashem “is extremely angry with us” and as a result has punished us, it is a sign that He still loves us and wants us “to return to Him as in the days of old ” when we were free of transgression.
We can best understand the situation of the Jewish people today through its parallel to a famous story of a tzadik who davened and toiled all his days for the redemption of the Jewish people. He vowed that when his soul left the world that he would shake the heavens until moshiach would finally come and finally put an end to the suffering of Klal Yisrael. Yet after his death, moshiach still did not come.
The tzadik was granted permission to come back to this world and appear to his friend in a dream. He explained that we live in such times of darkness, every mitzvah that we does has incalculable merit, and is extremely precious in Hashem’s eyes. From his new vantage point in Shamayim, he understood that the suffering of his fellow Jews was cherished by Hashem because it did not shake their commitment to serving Him.
We must hold on just a bit longer, and keep performing Hashem’s mitzvos faithfully, while strengthening our recognition of His hashgacha pratis. In this way, we will surely merit to hasten the arrival of the moshiach, amen.
Rabbi Travis is a Rosh Kollel in Yerushalayim and is the author of Shaylos U’Teshuvos Toras Chaim and “Praying With Joy – A Daily Tefilla Companion” a practical daily guide to improving one’s prayers, available from Feldheim Publishers.