Divrei Torah

PARSHAS CHUKAS 5778

Many times, we don’t understand a situation until after the fact – when we see how a situation plays out. Towards the end of today’s Parsha, the Jewish people asked permission to travel through the territory of King Sichon in order to reach the border of the Land of Israel. Sichon refused passage for the Jewish people and attacked them instead. Miraculously, the Jewish people defeated Sichon – who was a giant and one of the most powerful men alive.

Sichon conquered territory that originally belong to the nation of Moav. The Jewish people are not permitted to attack Moav. However, they needed that land as it was going to belong to the Land of Israel. So what happened? G-d arranged a war between Sichon and Moav. Sichon won so now the Jews could get that land. After the Jews defeated Sichon, the Torah writes, “Therefore those who tell parables say, ‘Let us go to Cheshbon.’” Our Rabbis interpret this Passuk, “Let us go to Cheshbon” as a play on words, “Let us come and make a calculation – cheshbon - for the world.” Let us try to figure out why certain events occur. 

Many times we don’t see the important role seemingly minor events play in the world, until long after the events have occurred. That little event set in motion a series of reactions that led to this major event. It is like watching a movie or a play. What does this scene have to do with anything? However, at the end of the play or movie, we can piece together all of the parts and understand how one event led to another until the eventual conclusion of the story. The same is true in history. There are numerous examples in Tanach and other examples from modern times.

When the Babylonians attacked and destroyed the first Bais Hamikdash, they exiled the Jewish people to Babylonia in two stages. The first stage was eleven years before the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash. King Nevuchadnezzar exiled the king, the Sanhedrin, the Prophet Yechezkel and almost all of the Jewish leaders. He left the poor and downtrodden in the Land of Israel with weak leadership whom he exiled eleven years later when he destroyed the Bais Hamikdash.

The initial exile of the aristocracy, may have seemed like a terrible curse for the Jewish people. Who would lead those left behind in Israel? However, that first exile was a blessing in disguise because those leaders established the Jewish infrastructure in Babylonia so when the second wave of exiles came eleven years later, there was a functioning Jewish community – a religious Jewish life that lasted well over 2300 years.

In the eleventh century, as a young man, Rashi studied in a yeshiva in Mainz, Germany. There was a church in the vicinity of the yeshiva. Clerics of the church would frequently visit the yeshiva to ask for explanations from the students in the yeshiva of Biblical events and words. There was one priest whom Rashi assisted on several occasions. (He was one of the first people to study Chumash with Rashi). Years later, Rashi and that priest both lived in Troyes, France. Rashi was the rabbi of the Jewish community and this priest rose to the level of bishop. When the First Crusade began in 1096, this bishop protected the Jewish community of Troyes out of appreciation to Rashi. Why did it happen that the church in Mainz was near the yeshiva? Why did Rashi help this specific priest? Why did this priest become the bishop of Troyes – Rashi’s town? When one puts all the pieces together, G-d’s plan becomes apparent.

After saving England and the western world during World War II, the English people rewarded Winston Churchill by voting him out of office after the war. How could that have happened? It seems as though G-d’s plan was for Churchill to be out of office in order for the situation in then Palestine to deteriorate and spring into existence the State of Israel which apparently would not have happened had he been the prime minister. 

“People have many thoughts, but the advice of G-d will be fulfilled.” We make our plans. However, if G-d has something else in mind, His plan prevails. As Larry Yellin likes to say, “Man proposes and G-d disposes.”

We are familiar with the story of Yosef’s brothers selling him and ending up in Egypt. Through a series of unlikely events, Yosef became the viceroy of Egypt – saving the Middle East from a devastating famine. At the beginning, it looks like a cruel act by the brothers. However, after all was said and done, Yosef himself commented that G-d sent him ahead to Egypt in order to provide relief and lay the foundation for Ya’akov’s family. So, at the end, we understand why all of the past events happened. The brothers had one plan while G-d had another. Guess who won? Only G-d truly knows what is good for both the welfare of individuals and nations. What appears to be our ruin may actually be our salvation.

We cannot read G-d’s mind. In the moment, it can sometimes be difficult to swallow and understand what is happening. Why did G-d do this? Eventually we may understand G-d’s plan. Sometimes we may never understand it. Sometimes it might take a few hundred years to unravel the mystery.

We may think we know what G-d has in mind, but, ultimately, only G-d knows what We have our job – learning Torah and performing mitzvos – G-d has His job. G-d will do His job.  If we do our job, the puzzle will be completed perfectly