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by Rabbi Ariel Asa    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    




GUNMAN OPENS FIRE MURDERING SEVEN . . . BOMB EXPLODES KILLING 33 . . . AMBUSH SLAYS CONVOY. Glance at any newspaper headline and one is bombarded with reports of horrific aggression that one human being wreaks upon another. How should we regard such tragedies? Do we ascribe them to part of Hashem’s ultimate, unfathomable plan for the universe, or do we view them as evil choices that humans make, unrelated to Hashem’s providence?

There are different approaches taken by our great Jewish thinkers. One approach presented is that of Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin (Netziv), dean of the famed Volozhin Yeshiva in 19th century Lithuania. In his commentary on the week’s Torah portion he quotes the Zohar, the basic work of Jewish mysticism, who examines Reuben’s attempt at saving his brother Joseph from the other brother’s plan of doing away with him. He suggests to them to spare Joseph from death by placing him in a deep pit which happens to be swarming with venomous snakes and scorpions. If Reuben was sincere about trying to rescue Joseph, what kind of logical suggestion was it to place him in a pit like that?

The Zohar answers that Reuben was certain of the righteousness of his younger brother and, therefore, certain that no harm would come to him through these normally harmful creatures. When it came to the brothers, however, who were "free agents" to choose to help or hurt, Joseph’s merits would not necessarily protect him from their harmful scheme. In other words, according to the Zohar, humans can make choices that may not be in the Divine plan and Hashem will not necessarily get involved.

Another proof the Netziv brings to support his assertion is based on an incident that is recorded in the sixth chapter of the book of Daniel. Daniel was the most respected and trusted advisor to king Darius. The other advisors became jealous of Daniel and conspired to eliminate him. They convinced the king to sign a decree that for 30 days all supplications and petitions could only be requested directly from the king. No sooner had the ink dried from the king’s royal signature than the other advisors barged into Daniel’s quarters and "caught" him praying to Hashem, asking for his needs as he did three times daily.

Despite the king’s efforts of convincing his advisors why an exception should be made with Daniel, he was forced to inflict the punishment stated in the royal decree being thrown to the lion’s den. As Daniel was being taken for what everyone thought was supper for the lions, Darius stated to Daniel that the G-d that you pray to would save you.

A stone was placed on the mouth of the lion’s den and then the king did an odd thing he sealed the stone with his royal signet and had his advisors do the same. The verse (6:18) informs us that this was done so that nothing might be changed. The lions, Darius understood, could do no harm to Daniel if there was no Divine decree against him, but the advisors could scheme to come in the middle of the night and finish off Daniel. The only way that Darius could protect Daniel from their scheme was by sealing the den with his signet which no one would dare break.

The Netziv clarifies this concept by adding that, of course, Hashem has ultimate power in the world and even in those situations where a human chooses to perpetrate evil, Hashem can protect him the gun can misfire, the bomb will not detonate, etc. However, for such Divine protection, a person needs to not only be righteous in his relationship with Hashem, but also sensitive and caring of others a complete tzaddik (righteous person).

Jacob felt that Joseph was a complete tzaddik and despite the brothers’ open animosity to Joseph, Jacob was not concerned about sending him to go check on the brothers in Shechem. Later on, when Jacob sees the special coat soaked in blood, he exclaims: "Tarof toraf Yosef Joseph has surely been torn to bits!" (Genesis 37:33). Jacob’s double expression (in Hebrew) implies he was disturbed by two issues Joseph was not protected from human harm, but even from an animal (which is a direct source of punishment from Hashem), his merits did not protect him.

In reality, Joseph was not harmed. He was being sent down to Egypt as part of Hashem’s desire to prepare the land for his family for the years of exile there. May we merit to improve on our relationship with Hashem and with our fellow human beings, and always merit Divine protection in our daily lives.


Rabbi Ariel Asa, is a practicing mohel and sofer who travels throughout the southeast.

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