HASHEM'S HELPING HAND
A simple man with a heavy burden was trudging his way up a hill. The load was taking its toll on his tired body, progressively slowing him down with each additional step. Suddenly, a wagon drove up.
A simple man with a heavy burden was trudging his way up a hill. The load was taking its toll on his tired body, progressively slowing him down with each additional step. Suddenly, a wagon drove up. The driver called out, asking the man if he would care for a ride. The exhausted man, eager to ease his aching shoulders and legs, gladly accepted. He sat down in the wagon, but continued to hold onto his load. Confused, the wagon driver turned to the man and asked why he insisted on carrying his bag; it was being driven by the wagon anyway, so he might as well lay it on the floor and relax for a while.
When Noah was commanded to build an ark, he was given specific details and dimensions for its construction. The verses describe how it was to be made of gopher wood — three hundred cubits (a cubit is about two feet) long, fifty cubits wide, and thirty cubits high. It was to include three floors, a window, a door, and it was to slant upwards to a pointed roof (Genesis 6:14-16).
As we know, the main purpose of the ark was to hold at least two of every animal species on earth, and enough food to last all of them for a full year. If you think about it, it is physically impossible for everything to have fit into such small dimensions. Imagine putting two of every animal in Zoo Atlanta, along with a year’s supply of food for each one, into a room approximately the size of two football fields. Even fifty such arks would have been too small for such a load! Only through a blatant miracle could everything have been able to fit in the relatively small vessel.
Rabbeinu Bachya, a classic 14th century commentator, therefore asks that if the animals were being saved through a miracle anyway, why did Noah have to build such a specifically designed ark? Hashem could have suspended the animals in the air, or done some other miracle instead. Why make Noah go through such trouble and effort? Rabbeinu Bachya answers with a very fundamental principle: Hashem designed the world to run with a natural law. When miracles must be done, He clouds them to whatever degree is possible within that natural law. Thus, when people are involved, Hashem commands them to do whatever is in their power to accomplish the desired task, and whatever is left Hashem fills in with miracles.
This idea is manifest throughout the Torah. A good example is the splitting of the Red Sea. Although the formation of a path through the water was a clear miracle, Hashem clouded it a bit by causing a strong wind to blow the whole night before (Exodus 14:21). This took away somewhat from its utter miraculousness. It looked as if the splitting of the sea was partially caused by the wind, although in reality it was completely Hashem’s doing.
Similarly, the Torah commands us to keep a flame burning on the altar in the Temple at all times (Leviticus 6:5). Even though all of the offerings are consumed by a miraculous flame that descends from the heavens, we are commanded to light a fire on the altar ourselves so as to slightly detract from the miracle’s impact.
For the same reason, Noah had to put his maximum effort into building the ark. Although the ark would only exist through miraculous intervention, Noah was obligated to do everything in his power to cloud the miracle. Once he did his part by building a large ark, Hashem took care of the rest by making everything fit properly inside.
This is an incredible concept that applies to us every day. All the time, situations arise when we must exert ourselves to accomplish something. The perfect example, as is seen in current events, is waging war. Tremendous planning, preparation, strategy, and tact go into a battle scene. Governments spend unthinkable sums of money developing the best military force possible. But when that army wins a battle, it wasn’t the preparation or the training that caused the victory — it was Hashem who made them win. The army couldn’t sit back and wait for a victory to emerge before them; they needed to fight. But ultimately, the victory was Hashem accomplishing through their actions.
The same is true with everything that we do. If we have a major business deal to complete, or if we have a major test coming up soon, we must dedicate ourselves in preparation and study to our greatest potential. But ultimately, whatever happens is up to Hashem. While we are obligated to put our utmost effort into our actions, it is Hashem who is the moving force behind it all.
The Orchos Tzaddikim, a classic treatise of mussar (Jewish ethics), explains that if a person truly feels that everything is in Hashem’s hands, and that everything Hashem does is for a person’s ultimate good (regardless of whether or not it appears that way), it will develop within him tremendous joy and tranquillity. This is because he realizes that Hashem is always watching out for him and helping him along in every step of the way. As a result, when the going gets tough, he realizes that he must do whatever he can to rectify the situation. But once he has done that, instead of worrying about what may transpire, he can leave it for Hashem to worry about. Hashem only expects us to do what we can. Once we’ve done that, we can rest assured that He will take care of the remainder in the best way possible.
The man with the burden never realized this. Although the wagon driver was driving the man and his bag, the man foolishly insisted on carrying his own burden. We shouldn’t make the same mistake. Hashem is always carrying us along, helping us through every turn in life. He carries us and our problems. If we realize this, then once we’ve put in our efforts, we will be able to let down our worries, relax, and leave Hashem to take care of the rest. For just as Hashem miraculously carried the ark once Noah did his part, He will surely carry us as well once we’ve done ours, leaving us with time and tranquillity to delve into His Torah and to do His mitzvot.
Mendel Starkman, a native Atlantan, writes from New York.
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