THE BOTTOMLESS WELL
Sometimes in the darker moments of life, we are faced with the inexorable and probing questions, "Why me? Why now? How could Hashem let this happen?" Sometimes these nagging doubts dissipate into the pit they have created, but sometime in the darkest situations, the pit appears bottomless and the questions overwhelming.
Sometimes in the darker moments of life, we are faced with the inexorable and probing questions, "Why me? Why now? How could Hashem let this happen?" Sometimes these nagging doubts dissipate into the pit they have created, but sometime in the darkest situations, the pit appears bottomless and the questions overwhelming. The mind extends itself to its uttermost boundaries, but the answers remain unknown, and the thirst for a solution fails to cease its hoarse cry. When Hashem granted Moses the opportunity to ask one question of Him, the ultimate question posed was "Why do the righteous suffer?" What can we do to deal with this oftentimes painful inquiry?
In this week's Torah portion, we are told of Jo seph's spectacular leap from degrading slavery to dominance of the world's most powerful kingdom. This incredible metamorphosis begins with an apparently simple dream interpretation, and in the blink of an eye, Joseph's sovereignty is established. The Midrash tells us that when Pharaoh was struck with his enigmatic dream, he immediately turned to his trusty magicians, famous for their intelligence and manipulation of the supernatural, and demanded an interpretation. Viable suggestions surfaced from their creative minds, such as "you shall have seven daughters and they shall all die." However, none of their suggestions pleased the ear of Pharaoh, and only after Joseph's proposition did Pharaoh find peace in his soul. Why, one asks, was Joseph's interpretation so much superior to those of the Egyptians? Why is seven years of famine any more explanatory than seven daughters dying?
Also, following Joseph's interpretation, he suggests that Pharaoh search for a wise and knowing man to run his country during the upcoming ye ars of famine. When did Pharaoh ever ask for Joseph's advice that he dared give it? And don't these words imply that Pharaoh's own mental capacities are lacking? How was Joseph capable of such temerity?
The Torah says in Parshat Va'etchanan (Deuteronomy 4:6) that the nations will acknowledge the wisdom and knowledge of the Jewish people when they see us perform the various "chukim" - laws without any apparent reason, such as the red heifer. Why is our wisdom so visible when we do actions in which we lack a basic understanding of their reasons? The answer is simple - the truly wise man recognizes the boundaries of his intelligence and demurs to his superiors when faced with something beyond his grasp. Only the fool professes to be an expert in all things. In the words of Rabbeinu Bachya, a 14th century commentator, the word chok (singular for chukim) often means a border, as in "the sand is a border to the sea". It isn't his element that proves our wisdom, our willingness to say there are some things beyond our understanding, outside our mental borders, that only Hashem truly grasps. This is the essence of the chok.
Pharaoh knew that dreams are mysterious and usually outside the realm of comprehension. Therefore, when his magicians racked their brains for explanations, Pharaoh failed to be convinced by their, albeit, intelligent solutions. Only Joseph, who admitted from the start that only Hashem can interpret dreams and that he was only a messenger of Hashem, satisfied Pharaoh's unease. Joseph was a man who realized that he was faced with a well deeper than his bucket's rope. It was for this reason that Joseph could provide advice for the king, even though it may be insulting, because he spoke only as a mouthpiece for the infinitely powerful Master of the World, far superior to Pharaoh.
When we encounter the various laws of the Torah, we are immediately aware of the reality that some of the mitzvot have quite obvious reasons for their creation, such as the prohibitions of murder and stealing. Others, such as Shabbat, through true observance and openness to their spirituality, we come to appreciate their beauty, depth, and endless possibilities in promoting personal growth. The Kli Yakar, a 17th century Polish commentator on the Torah, explains that when one sees the chukim that do make a certain amount of sense and, like a powerful light through heavily veiled curtains, hint of a deeper and more potent wisdom, one will realize that the more enigmatic chukim also originate from the same endless wisdom. Therefore, one's failure to understand the meaning of a particular chok is not the fault of their Creator, but simply a lacking of understanding by their perceiver.
When faced with the perplexing events of our present and past, the woeful "why?" that inexorably pounds in our brains demands an answer and begs for an explanation. But we must look back at Hashem's special providence for our people and the countless blessings and kindnesses he has bestowed on us as a nation and as individuals. Every breath we take, every bite we eat, every precious moment of life, is a sweet blessing. We must remember Hashem's endless kindness and realize that the difficult occurrences originate from the very same kind and wise source. Only we, lacking Hashem's vision of past, present, and future, fail to see the perfection of His master plan. We must recognize that our understanding has its boundaries and that in some matters we must relinquish control to our loving Father. May Mashiach (the Messiah) come speedily in our days, when we will finally gain a glimpse of Hashem's infinite wisdom and understand the "chukim" of our past.
Ranon Cortell, who hails from Atlanta and is a graduate of Yeshiva Atlanta, is studying at the Yeshiva of Greater Washington while attending the University of Maryland.
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