From the early chapters of Tanach, it is evident that it was the will of God to inculcate in our forefathers a most fundamental belief regarding Yediat God, man’s knowledge of God. Rashi (Braishit 7:17) writes: “Even Noach was lacking in Emunah, he was Maamin V’aino Maamin, believing but not believing that the flood would arrive. Therefore, he did not enter the Ark until the flood waters forced him in.” This is a difficult Rashi; how can one say of Noach that he was believing but not believing, when he just spent over a century building the Ark? Furthermore, is it not possible that he was waiting and hoping that the people would do Teshuva, resulting in a nullification of the decree? We see from Rashi (7:12) that there was still time for the people to do Teshuva; God first brought down rain water, if they would repent, then the water would be Gishmai Bracha, a Divine blessing, if not, then the flood would arrive. Is it not possible that Noach was not lacking in Emunah at all, but was simply waiting outside to see if there would be a change in the Divine decree; when the Flood arrived, making it clear that there would be no salvation, and only then entered the Ark?
The answer to these questions may be found in an earlier Pasuk (7:1), which states that God told Noach and his family to enter the Ark. Rashi understands that there was something wrong when Noach did not enter the Ark immediately as commanded, but waited until he was forced to. Why did he delay? Why did he not enter right when he heard the Divine command to enter? Rashi answers that there must have been a flaw here that caused Noach to tarry in his fulfillment of a Mitzvah from God. What was the flaw? We may say the following: Noach had a strong conviction that God would not destroy the world and mankind. He thought to himself, “How could God wipe out this magnificent earth and all of its inhabitants? It is true that He threatened mankind with annihilation, however, that was only in order to coerce them to repent, but, at the end of the day, there will be some kind of salvation, He will not carry out the threat.” Noach did not enter the Ark until he actually saw and felt the floodwaters. One may argue that this is not a flaw, on the contrary, it is a sign of his love and compassion for God’s creations, and he was simply hoping for a salvation from the all-merciful Creator. (See Sanhedrin 39b, Rashi Braishit 7:7) The answer is that although this mercy may have been an appropriate and noble feeling, however, it should in no way have prevented him from fulfilling the Divine decree to enter the Ark with alacrity. The fact that he neglected this Mitzva indicated a flaw, namely, a conviction – not just a hope – that God would not destroy the world, even though He indicated to him otherwise.
Another example of this concept is seen when God brought about a famine in Israel immediately after Avraham was first commanded to go to the Promised Land. (Braishit 12:10) Avraham left Israel and traveled to Egypt when the famine arrived. Was it wrong for Avraham to leave Eretz Yisral when the famine arrived? According to the Ramban (ibid), Avraham should have remained in Eretz Yisrael; Rashi, however, maintains that it was perfectly fine for Avraham to leave temporarily to find food in Egypt. According to Rashi, God tested Avraham to see if he would challenge God, who initially told Avraham to travel to Israel, and then forced him to leave. What is the nature of this Nisayon, Divine test? Regarding Noach, we learned that one must have the humility to accept that he can not intuit God’s plans; at times, one may be convinced that God will or will not bring about a certain result, and the exact opposite occurs! In connection with Avraham, however, one may think that he did have a right to assume that he was privy to such information since he just received a prophecy regarding Eretz Yisrael and its future inhabitants, B’nai Yisrael! (12:1-3) The fact is that Avraham did have a right to be optimistic that God would carry out the prophecy as promised (See Rashi Braishit 15:1, 32:11); however, there were many, many details that were not conveyed to Avraham, such as the length of his stay in Eretz Yisrael, the possibility of him being exiled from the Chosen Land, the choice of the Matriarch of the nation, etc. What would Avraham do with the missing details: fill them in, assuming the right to intuit the missing parts of the Divine plan, or humbly accept the fact that unless he receives another prophecy he could not know the details until they unfolded? This is the Nisayon (trial) according to Rashi: Would Avraham challenge God, Chas V’shalom, or would he accept that, although his initial thoughts may have been that he was to go to Eretz Yisrael to stay, this was not the Divine Plan, and he would humbly submit to it.
One must always recognize that his perception of this world must be based on true Chochma, Bina and Daat, a clear and proper understanding of God’s world as expressed through His revelation at Sinai and His physical creation. We learn Torah, we study His inspiring Creation, and appreciate any insights that we can have into God’s world. At times, we may even be privileged to know the future as well, such as the specific events that the Torah explicitly predicts; some examples include the ingathering of the Jewish exiles, universal recognition of God, resurrection of the dead, rebuilding of the Temple, etc. Of course, we have complete conviction in the veracity of these prophecies; however, events not predicted in the Torah should not be embraced prematurely as real and true until they actually occur. We cannot understand how God runs the world, and what He will or will not do. People often feel that they “intuit” the future, and are totally mistaken! For example, the majority of the world and many secular Jews assumed for two millennia that B’nai Yisrael would never return Home; Baruch Hashem, reality proved differently. (One of the first innovations of the Reform movement over two centuries ago was the removal of any reference in the liturgy to the return to Zion.) It is arrogant to think that we can somehow think or feel that we know what God’s “next move” will be. It is an absolute gift that God has given us the ability to have any insight into His magnificent and complex world-both physical and spiritual-and we beseech God daily regarding this unique attribute, in Birchat Hatorah (V’haarev Na, ‘let the words of the Torah be sweet,’) and Ahava Rabbah (V’tain B’libainu, ‘instill in our hearts to understand and elucidate, to listen, learn, teach...all the words of your Torah’s teaching with love.’)
Recognizing the discretion between our “perception” of what should be, and the reality as God dictates it to be, is a most crucial component of our spiritual growth and maturation. For as long as we are operating in the former framework, we are not completely fulfilling the Mitzvah of Ahavat Hashem, loving God; the Rambam (Hilchot Teshuva 10:2. See Biur Halacha 1:1) writes that one should love Emett Mipnai Shehee Emet, love God’s world because it is an expression of God’s will. The Rambam writes that one who fulfills this Mitzvah is compared to an individual who is Cholat Ahava, lovesick, who thinks of his friend constantly, and yearns for the latter always. So too, the Ohaiv Hashem is enthralled with God’s world, and is in love with its beauty, complexity and depth, which are all reflections of the omnipotent Creator. The more he learns about God, the greater his appreciation and love. However, as long as one perceives the world through his a-priori, preconceived notions, then he is not sincerely loving and exposing himself to God’s world, rather, he is embracing a world created in “his own image.” Our goal must be to always grasp and appreciate God’s world, even - and especially - when it appears to be different then the one we anticipated and dreamed of; we must embrace the unexpected reality and grow with it.
With the birth of our son Shlomo Zvi, God has blessed us with a very special gift. Many of us live life with certain hopes and aspirations for ourselves, and our families, and naturally assume that all the variables that are necessary for our plans to come to fruition will, more or less, fit smoothly into place. The fact is that God set up this world in a way, which does not necessarily coincide with our fantasies and dreams; on the contrary, He set up a world, which is fraught with surprises and shocks along the way, which could and should stimulate growth, insight, sensitivity and greater Ahavat Hashem and Avodath Hashem. Having a child with unique qualities, abilities and potential is a wonderful opportunity for growth; it is the beginning of a spiritual odyssey which should IY’H, with God’s assistance, help us overcome false assumptions that we may have made regarding the meaning and goals of life, the definition of Jewish Nachat, the significance of Chanoch L’naar Al Pi Darko (raise each child according to his level), the concept of spiritual perfection, etc. We thank God for the very precious Neshama that He has shared with us, and the golden opportunity for growth and Chesed that He has bestowed upon us. I personally am bubbling with confidence and Hakarat Hatov, knowing that Malky-a woman of great courage, sublime dignity, total commitment and uncompromising truthfulness-is the mother of Shlomo Zvi. (See introduction to Rav Soloveitchik’s The Lonely Man of Faith.) We are optimistic that with the help and support of our family, friends and of course, God, Shlomo Zvi will be a great asset to our family, the entire community and Klal Yisrael.
In Halakhic Man (p. 140 footnote 4) the Rav writes:
“That religious consciousness in man’s experience which is most profound and most elevated, which penetrates to the very depths and ascends to the very heights, is not that simple and comfortable. On the contrary, it is exceptionally complex, rigorous and tortuous. Where you find its complexity, there you find its greatness. The ideas of temporality and eternity, knowledge and choice, love and fear (the yearning for God and the flight from His glorious splendor), incredible, overbearing daring, and an extreme sense of humility, transcendence and God’s closeness, the profane and the holy, etc., etc., struggle within his religious consciousness, wrestle and grapple with each other. This one ascends and this descends, this one falls and this rises” Yes, it is true that during the third Sabbath meal at dusk, we sing the psalm “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures, He leadeth me besides the still waters” (Ps. 23) and we believe with our entire hearts in the words of the psalmist. However, this psalm only describes the ultimate destination of the religious man, not the path leading to that destination. For the path that eventually will lead to the “green pastures” and to the “still waters” is not the royal road, but a narrow twisting footway that threads its course along the steep mountain slope. The pangs of searching and groping, the tortures of spiritual crises and exhausting treks of the soul purify and sanctify man, cleanse his thoughts, and purge them of the husks of superficiality and the dross of vulgarity. Out of these torments there emerges a new understanding of the world, a powerful spiritual enthusiasm that shakes the very foundations of man’s existence. The spiritual stature and countenance of the man of God are chiseled and formed by the pangs of redemption themselves.”
According to the Rav, challenge and pain are not enemies from which one must escape, but, on the contrary, are allies to be harnessed for spiritual growth and perfection. Chazal discuss the concept of Yissurin Shel Ahava, afflictions inflicted by God for the purpose of benefiting the recipient. (Brachot 5a-5b) The Rabbis state that in certain cases, an individual may choose to avoid the afflictions and their accompanying rewards, as the Gemara writes “Lo Hain V’lo Scharan.” (See Maharsha ibid. for an explanation why Chazal may have chosen to do away with the Yissurin.) Obviously, this Gemara is not applicable to a situation such as ours, since we have not been afflicted, only challenged. Nevertheless, I would like to apply the latter part of Chazal’s expression to our personal situation: I express my personal Hakart Hatov to God, I am quite sure that if this challenge arose in previous years-during times when, for me, the world appeared so simple, harmonious, carefree and pure, when the greatest challenge in life consisted of finding a Halachically appropriate time i.e. when the beach was deserted, to climb up the lifeguard chair by the Belle Harbor ocean with Saifer in hand as the sun set beside me-I may have screamed out to God “Lo Hain V’lo Scharan”, “I reject the challenge, I reject the spiritual growth, and I even reject the rewards.” After several years of Yishuv Haaretz, which Chazal tell us is a gift given only through Yissurin, afflictions, I have had the merit to see the world in a more complete manner; it is not as simple and safe as originally imagined. The lifeguard chair is still there, as well as the glorious sunrise and sunset, but, at times, there are storm clouds strewn along the skies as well. This complexity is part of the richness of life, and is a crucial component of our spiritual growth. It is with this perspective that I thank Him, B’laiv Shalaim, with a complete heart, declaring “Hain U’scharan,” with love and appreciation, “I accept the challenge, I accept the opportunity for growth, and I accept the potential reward.”