Thursday, June 17, 2021

How to Understand the Incomprehensible

by Rabbi David Hanania Pinto 

We sometimes find that a person on a mitzvah mission passes away. For example, he may be killed in a road accident. This occurs despite our being told by the Gemara [Pesachim 8b], "Mitzvah messengers are not harmed." There are also people who demonstrate self-sacrifice in honoring their parents, yet they die at a young age despite the Torah promising [Shemot 20:12], "Honor your father and your mother, so that your days will be lengthened." 

Many years ago, the holy Rabbi Rafael Pinto zt"l was murdered in Morocco by Arab rioters. His tragic death left everyone in shock since he was famous for his exceptional righteousness and profundity in Torah, remaining secluded in his home without leaving for any reason. In addition, Rabbi Rafael was known as someone who had connections amongst the Arabs and often treated them charitably, supporting them when necessary. 

Similarly, the entire history of the Jewish people is replete with difficult circumstances where great, lofty tzadikim suffered through terrible hardships. During the empire of the wicked Greeks, Chana's seven sons, from oldest to youngest, were killed in front of her eyes, following which she threw herself from the roof. The Gemara also tells us that all Rabbi Yochanan's sons died during his lifetime (Berachot 5b, Rashi). Over the course of time, during the terrible Holocaust, European communities suffered indescribable atrocities. The wife and children of the Admor of Satmar were killed, among millions of others. 

This harsh reality can undermine our faith and, G-d forbid, even lead to denying Hashem's existence. In order for Am Yisrael to remain faithful to Hashem despite all the challenges and troubles the human mind cannot grasp, Hashem commanded man to observe chukim – decrees – which we have no permission to ponder. By accustoming ourselves to fulfilling also the mitzvot which are beyond our comprehension, one attains absolute faith in Hashem, despite the many questions that may crop up from time to time as a result of various difficult events. 

This week's Parshah cites the verse [Chukat 19:14], "… a man who would die in a tent." What is the connection between the opening verse of the Parshah, "This is the decree of the Torah" to the later verse, "… a man who would die in a tent"? Man must know that he receives the strength to cope with all the hardships that befall his 'tent' – his home – even in the most difficult of circumstances, when death and bereavement enter his personal abode, by observing the chukim. When a person educates himself not to ask questions and fulfils chukim that he does not comprehend, only because it is Hashem's will, from this he draws the strength to cope with his troubles without casting doubt on the justice of Hashem's providence. 

Parshat Beha'alotcha tells us [10:35], "When the Ark would journey, Moshe said, 'Arise, Hashem, and let Your foes be scattered, let those who hate You flee from before You'." Rashi explains, "Since the Ark would travel ahead a distance of three days' journey, Moshe would say, 'Stand in place and wait for us and do not go further'." The Ark went ahead of them to show Bnei Yisrael the way. Let us try to picture this awesome sight! Bnei Yisrael walked in the Wilderness with the pillar of cloud going ahead to straighten the path, while at night the pillar of fire went ahead of them to light up the darkness. Furthermore, Am Yisrael were nourished by the manna and quenched their thirst from Miriam's well which accompanied them on their journey in the Wilderness. 

The Ark went before Am Yisrael and in this manner showed them the way, but Moshe Rabbeinu called to it, "Arise, Hashem, and let Your foes be scattered..." Moshe was asking the Ark to wait for Am Yisrael and not advance more than a distance of three days' travel so that Bnei Yisrael would feel safe and protected by the Ark's presence. Were it to go any further ahead, Bnei Yisrael would no longer feel its presence and may feel vulnerable. 

Furthermore, the Ark was the symbol of Torah since it contained the Luchot. Similarly, every Jewish person possesses a spark from Moshe Rabbeinu's soul, therefore he calls out to Hashem saying, "Do not distance Yourself from me too much. I need to feel Your closeness." Hashem, on His part, turns to man and says, "I remain in My place. If you feel lost and distant, it means you are the one who has distanced himself." 

How can man feel constant closeness to Hashem? Through cleaving to the Torah and mitzvot, even in matters that are considered a chok, incomprehensible to our human minds. When a person fulfills all the mitzvot without leaving anything out, he merits feeling constant closeness to Hashem even if, G-d forbid, death visits his home. If man accustoms himself to fulfil Hashem's word indisputably, sudden, unexplainable death will not make him lose his composure since he feels Hashem's love and closeness.

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