Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Seeing the Good. And the Bad - Devar Torah for Va'era 5769

Thank God, the war has ended. At least for now. By the time you read this, our sons will have returned to their bases, once again out of harm's way. Quiet has returned to the south of Israel, and we hope that the stability and normalcy most people take for granted can again become part of daily life citizens living in the south of Israel.
By all accounts, the war was an incredible success. At a shiva house this week (not related to the war), Rabbi Lazer Brody noted that if someone had said before the war that Israel would suffer only thirteen casualties (and each one is a terrible loss) in a full-fledged Gaza war, no one would have believed. We must see the fantastic hand of Hashem that heard our prayers, guided our soldiers, and protected our citizens.
Truthfully, seeing Hashem's hand isn't that hard. How many times did we hear on the radio or read in the news, "Twelve missiles fell today – no one was hurt." How can 900 missiles and rockets aimed at cities and population centers miss so often, if not for yad Hashem?
In truth though, it's always easier to feel God's guiding grasp on our shoulder when things go the way we'd like. But what about when they don’t? Do we feel a level of hashgachah when things don't go our way? Do we search for and see the Divine when we endure the distress of defeat – both nationally and personally?
Often you have to go back to the end of last week's parshah to understand the beginning of this week's Torah reading. This week is a good example. At the end of Parashat Shemot Moshe presents Hashem with a series of complaints. "It didn't work. I went to Par'oh, told him what you said, and not only aren't things better – but they've gotten worse. למה הרעתה לעם הזה – why have you damaged this poor people? למה זה שלחתני – why did you send me?" Hashem, concluding the parshah, answers Moshe's questions by insisting that He would indeed redeem the nation from slavery in Egypt. And that's where Parashat Va'era begins.
וארא אל אברהם אל יצחק ואל יעקב ושמי ה' לא נודעתי להם – "I appeared to Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya'akov, and never revealed my Divine Name to them." Why does Hashem refer specifically to the Avot here? How do they relate to Moshe's complaint and Hashem's response? Rashi (on verse 9) answers these questions by quoting a Gemara from Sanhedrin (111a).
Our rabbis learned out regarding the issue above, when Moshe said "Why have you done evil" the Holy One blessed be He said to him, "Woe to those that are lost and not forgotten. I have what to complain about the deaths of the avot. I revealed myself to them many times as el shakai, and they said to me, 'What's your name?' And you ask me, 'What's Your name – what should I tell them?' When Avraham went to bury his wife Sarah and couldn't find a suitable grave until he had to pay an exorbitant sum; and Yitzchak [struggled with the residents] who complained about the wells that he dug; and Ya'akov needed to buy the field where he pitched his tent – and they never complained against me. And you said, 'Why have you done evil?'"

In other words, when Moshe complains to Hashem, Hashem throws the complaints right back: "You know, things don't always go the way you think that they should. Why, when things don't see to go the way that you'd like do you immediately wonder where I've gone?
The Avot achieved greatness precisely for this reason: their faith transcended the difficulties they encountered in life. They could see yad Hashem not only in the good, but also in the bad. And while we're not Avot by any stretch, growing in our emunah means learning to see Godliness in every aspect of life, both good and bad.
The Mishnah in Berachot (Chapter 9) teaches us, חייב אדם לברך על הרעה כשם שמברך על הטובה – "a person is obligated to bless God on the bad that befalls him, just as he blesses God on the good." No, it's not easy to see yad Hashem either in personal or national setbacks. But our emunah demands that if we're going to believe that Hashem intervenes and guides our lives during our most joyous and happy moments, then He must also be there with us, crying alongside us, when we suffer and mourn.
It's hard to think about emunah when times are hard. Perhaps this Shabbat specifically, when we can sigh with a sense of relief; when we can give thanks for the good – for the safety and security that God blesses us with - we can best ponder this question.
Shabbat Shalom.