We are trying to understand the reaction of Aharon Hakohen to the tragedy of his children suddenly dying in the midst of one of the greatest celebrations in the history of the Jewish people; for therein lies the lesson as to the essence of what the bedrock response of any Jew should be — for all time — to adversity, misfortune, or chas v’shalom, worse.
And we are trying to understand the Chinuch’s description of the fundamental mitzvah of emunah, belief in Hashem. The Gemara (Makos 24A) states, “Chavakuk (the navi) came and established THE essential foundation of Judaism— ‘and the righteous live with their belief.’” The Chinuch states that one must believe that there is a G-d who is responsible for all things and events that exist, that existed and that will ever exist; that He controls and directs all; that He took Bnei Yisroel out of Egypt miraculously, and we should not let our hearts lead us astray, thinking that perhaps the events surrounding the Exodus were freak occurrences or chance happenings, but rather, G-d performed miracles purposefully, in fulfillment of His promise to our forefathers to take us out of Egypt; and he then gave us the Torah at Har Sinai.
Quite a list.
Believing that Hashem controls and directs events is as fundamental and basic to being a Jew as the belief that He is real and is the Creator of all. And the necessary corollary is that He has the power over all — as we say in the prayer upon donning Tefillin, “and He has the power, the mastery, the dominion over all to do as He wishes.” And believing that leads one to the inescapable conclusion that there is a purpose and a goal to all that occurs. And that G-d gave us the Torah as a guide as to how we can live our lives in consonance with His will and ultimate goal.
The Ramban states at the end of Parshas Bo, “…and that is why Chazal have taught us that one should be as careful with a seemingly insignificant (in our eyes) mitzvah as one is with (what we see as) a momentous, powerful one. For ALL the mitzvos are significant and precious inasmuch that every one bespeaks one’s belief in G-d. For the purpose, goal, and intention of all the mitzvos is that we come to (really, truly, authentically) believe in G-d, for that is the ultimate purpose of all of Creation, and there is no other!”
At Har Sinai, the Jews were shown the existence of the One G-d as much as it would ever be possible for a human to “see” Him. And it seems to me perfectly logical to say that our mitzvah of emunah involves “seeing” Him also — seeing His Will and design and intention in all that occurs.
After all, consider the pure logic of it. Since Hashem is all mighty and all powerful, omniscient and omnipresent, and He has plan and purpose, the resultant reality must be that all that occurs is a product of His will. This is reality, not frumkeit. This is reality, not hashkafah. This is reality, not theology.
Thus, since the purpose of all mitzvos, indeed of all of existence, is to proclaim belief in Hashem’s existence and control, we must train ourselves to “see Hashem” in all that occurs — whether it be the miracle of the universe (one can begin with the very fact that the laws of nature and parameters of the universe have values that are miraculously consistent with conditions for life as we know it, rather than a set of values that would not be consistent with life. No less an apikores than Stephen Hawking has noted, “The laws of science, as we know them at present, contain many fundamental numbers, like the size of the electric charge of the electron and the ratio of the masses of the proton and the electron… The remarkable fact is that the values of these numbers seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life. ” Or whether it be in general history (the miraculous continued existence of the Jewish people, writes the Aruch Hashulchan, is probably the greatest single “proof” of Hashem) or in personal history (“Now, how did I get to where I am now, having started off life as an unskilled fetus?”) And as we contemplate, we grow and solidify our belief, and “see” Hashem in the events which occur daily and constantly.
This is the avodah of a Jew. This is the goal of all the mitzvos.
The practicality of the internalization of this reality is manifold: The Rema writes in his opening words to his notes on the Shulchan Aruch, “Shivisi Hashem… (I set Hashem before me constantly — meaning that I am aware of Hashem’s constant presence and hashgachah) is a fundamental and essential principle in following Torah and in the qualities of righteous people who ‘walk with G-d,’” i.e., who are aware of Hashem’s watching and orchestrating the events of one’s life. For if a person lives, decides, acts, reacts, even does mitzvos with the realization that Hashem is there, watching, His entire life changes and his entire decision-making process is “tighter,” more objective. Thus emunah, belief in G-d, when internalized and made real, results in a more G-d-oriented lifestyle.
Your davening will be different. You will feel like you are “talking to Hashem,” petitioning Him, pouring your heart out (shifchi kamayim libeich) and being cognizant that Hashem is listening. Emunah will change your davening an entire paradigm shift.
You will develop bitachon, trust and reliance on Hashem, as you know that He is there, causing what happens to happen, and that any reliance on anything or anyone else is fantasy. (This is often the very opposite of how people all-too-often talk and act — saying that they are merely being “pragmatic.”)
Such is emunah, the basis and the underpinning of being a Jew.
Next week, we will im yirtzeh Hashem examine how and what type of events in a person’s life can lead to that emunah.