Let him who is convinced that his views are true and right express them . . . at every opportunity . . . without considering how much support or how much opposition he will encounter. Only falsehood is in need of many supporters in order to win the day; falsehood must have the authority of numbers to make up for what it lacks in justification. Truth, by contrast, will always prevail, even if it takes time. Noble, courageous and pure, expressed with all the fiery zeal and conviction and with all clarity of sure awareness, stated again and again at every opportunity, truth will ultimately gain respect and admiration even of those who do not accept it. The only truth that can be lost beyond recall is that truth whose adherents no longer have the courage to speak up candidly on its behalf. Truth has never gone down in defeat as the result of opposition, it has done so only when its friends are too weak to defend it. - R' S.R. Hirsch

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Nothing Happens by Chance

I ran across this shiur (lecture) last week and I thought it was a nice complement and expansion of my previous post.  I posted the more salient portions of the shiur below.    The parasha (Torah portion) and haftara (reading from the prophets) from last week spoke very much to the admonitions I highlighted in the previous post (Jew, Go Home) and go a long way in explaining the current situation of the Jew at present.  

I am more convinced than ever before that it is not Judaism that needs reforming, but rather the Jew. Our situation will not improve until we stop trusting in man to save us, confess our sins, repent, and return to the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  The Torah tells us plainly that as long as we are determined to live as if everything is a result of happpenstance, then G-d will respond in kind until we come to our senses, bow the knee, and confess that there is no other name under heaven by which we may be saved.    


The core of Parashat Bechukotai is the rebuke, and the haftara serves as a response to that reproach. The haftara's opening words – "O L-rd, my strength, and my stronghold, and my refuge in the day of affliction" (16:19) – prepares us for a prophecy of consolation. But the continuation of the haftara includes a harsh reproach, and even the concluding verse – "Heal me, O L-rd, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved: for You are my praise" (17:14) – does not describe consolation and redemption, but merely expresses a wish and a desire for salvation and healing that are not yet visible on the horizon.


It should, then, be understood that the haftara is not one of consolation in the classical sense, that it does not come to describe a rosy future that will replace the gloomy present, and that we must understand its goal in a different manner. If we come to summarize its message in a single word, it is trust.

Over the course of the parasha, the Torah describes the ups and downs that will befall the people in the wake of their actions. G-d will bring upon them a sword that will avenge His covenant and make them flee before their enemies, and at the end of the parasha, we are told that He will return them to the desolate land in the wake of the covenant that had been made with their forefathers. 

It is important to emphasize the haftara's place in the framework of the book of Yirmiyahu. It is found not in the context of chapters of consolation, but rather in the very heart of a series of chapters of harsh and threatening reproach. To illustrate this, let us cite a few verses from the beginning of chapter 16, the same chapter from which the haftara is taken:

For thus says the L-rd concerning the sons and concerning the daughters that are born in this place, and concerning their mothers that bore them, and concerning their fathers that begot them in this land.

They shall die of grievous deaths; they shall not be lamented; neither shall they be buried; but they shall be as dung upon the face of the earth: and they shall be consumed by the sword, and by famine; and their carcasses shall be food for the birds of the sky, and for the beasts of the earth.

For thus says the L-rd, enter not into the house of mourning, neither go to lament nor bemoan them: for I have taken away My peace from this people, says the L-rd, both love and mercy.

Both the great and the small shall die in this land: they shall not be buried, neither shall men lament for them, nor gash themselves, nor make themselves bald for them: neither shall men break bread for them during the mourning, to comfort him for the dead; neither shall men give them the cup of consolation to drink for his father of for his mother.

You shall also not go into the house of feasting, to sit with them to eat and to drink.

For thus says the L-rd of hosts, the G-d of Israel; behold, I will cause to cease out of this place before your eyes, and in your days, the voice of mirth, and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom, and the voice of the bride. (Yirmiyahu 16:3-9)

The prophet's expression of the feeling that G-d is his strength and stronghold does not come against the backdrop of success and rescue, but out of the depths of crisis and threat, and here lies its significance.


The words of the Chazon Ish regarding trust:

An old mistake has settled in the hearts of many with respect to the idea of trust. The term bitachon, "trust," which describes a meritorious and essential quality among the pious, has come to be understood as an obligation to believe – in any situation where a person stands before an unknown future, and there are two possible future outcomes, one good and one not – that surely it will turn out well, and that if he remains in doubt, and worries about the opposite result, he lacks trust. This understanding of trust in incorrect, for as long as the future has not been clarified through a prophetic vision, it is not decided, for who knows G-d's judgments. But the idea of trust is to believe that nothing in the world happens by chance, and that whatever happens under the sun is all by G-d's decree.

The gist of what he says is that trust in G-d does not mean optimism that G-d will only do nice things for a person, but rather trust that whatever will happen to him is most appropriate for him, and that it will be done because of G-d's relationship with him. In words, it is not that I am confident that G-d will act in a particular way on my behalf, bur rather I trust in G-d and in His judgment.

This quality of trust in G-d despite the punishment and the price that He extracts fits in well with the words of Yirmiyahu, which come in response to the difficult reality of his time. "G-d is my strength and My stronghold" despite the fact that mirth will cease and people will die – this is the message of our haftara. This is why the haftara opens with an expression of trust, continues with a description of sin and its punishment, and concludes with another expression of trust.


If we examine the concluding verses, we will immediately discern that the final verse is a call from man to G-d and an expression of his hope for salvation. Expression is thereby given to the continued connection between the prophet and his Maker, despite the troubles, and to his trust that G-d is the address regarding his difficulties. 

In contrast, the two previous verses – which belong, from the perspective of the structure of the chapter, to the reproach that precedes them, as opposed to the final verse which in the prophetic source relates to what follows – well express what we said above. The prophet presents man with two alternatives: continued cleaving to G-d and trusting in Him, which at some point in the future will be translated into salvation from trouble, or else abandoning him. Connection or abandonment – this is the choice that a person must decide between in a time of crisis.

In this context, we must relate to the verses in the middle of the haftara that relate directly to the quality of trust:

Thus says the L-rd; cursed be the man who trusts in man, and makes flesh his arm, and whose heart departs from the L-rd. For he shall be like the juniper tree in the desert, and shall not see when good comes; but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, a salt land and not inhabited.

Blessed is the man who trusts in the L-rd, and whose hope the L-rd is.

For He shall be like a tree planted by the waters, and that spreads out its roots by the river, and shall not be anxious in the year of drought, nor shall it cease from yielding fruit. (17:5-8)

The verses illustrate our assertion that the quality of trust constitutes the essence of the haftara, and they are well integrated into this framework. 


Besides the very expression of trust that constitutes the essence of our haftara, it is important to emphasize another point that connects the haftara to the parasha. The primary battle being fought in the parasha is that between providence and chance. The main struggle is with the idea that everything happens by chance, rather than with idolatry in and of itself. A famous expression of the attitude that bursts forth from these verses, and the battle against it, is given by the Rambam:

This is one of the paths to repentance, for when trouble arrives and people cry out and shout, they will all know that it is on account of their evil deeds that evil befell them. As it is written: "Your iniquities have turned away [these things]" (Yirmiyahu 5:25). And this will cause them to remove the trouble. 

But if they do not cry out and shout, but rather they say that this befell us because such is the world and this trouble was by chance, this is a path of cruelty and it causes them to cling to their evil deeds, and it leads to other troubles. This is what is written in the Torah: "… and you walk contrary to Me, then I will walk contrary to you also in fury" (Vayikra 26:27-28). That is to say, when I bring trouble upon you so that you should repent, if you say that it is by chance, I will add fury. (Hilkhot Ta'aniyot 1:3)

In general, Yirmiyahu does not fight against this attitude, but rather he fights against those who abandon G-d in favor of idolatry. One who worships an idol does not necessarily deny spiritual providence over the world, but rather he attributes it to false gods. The issue of trust in G-d versus reliance on man does not even arise, because the question is not whether to trust, but in whom to trust. 

Our haftara relates to idol worship, but it also struggles with the abandonment of G-d owing to the feeling that the world is a place of chance, and therefore a person must put his trust exclusively in man. The words of the prophet who is aware of this problem bring him to emphasize the importance of trust in G-d as He who runs man's world and they are appropriate for the parasha of rebuke which deals with the same issue.

We can now say that the gist of the haftara lies in its expression of the quality of trust. And this in a twofold sense:

1) The trust in providence as opposed to chance and human causality.

2) The importance of trust in G-d in times of crisis.

Themes of the Haftarah for Parashat Bechukotai, by Rav Mosheh Lichtenstein  

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