As our Day of Judgment nears, a Divine Navigator plots our every twist and turn
discussing the awesome nature of the Yamim Noraim, the Mishnah in Maseches Rosh Hashanah gets straight to the point: “And they all pass in front of Him like bnei maron.” Although there are different opinions in the Gemara as to who or what these bnei maron are, one common thread runs through them all: that we all line up single file and pass under Hashem’s watchful eye, receiving our verdict for the coming year.
The Mishnah quotes the pasuk in Tehillim, “Hayotzer yachad libam, hameivin el kol maaseihem,” to illustrate this idea, that Hashem fashions all our hearts together, yet understands each one individually. The Gemara adds, “And they are all observed in one glance.”
What is the message of this statement? And what are we to make of the dichotomy of “together” versus “individually,” as far as our avodah during this time is concerned?
The Meiri on the above-mentioned Mishnah seems to have been addressing these questions, and states succinctly in four words that this Mishnah is alluding to the concept of Hashgachah pratis, Hashem’s Providence over each and every individual. What are we to take from this?
This past Tishah B’Av, I had an experience that gave me some insight into Hashgachah pratis. After Minchah, I was approached by a talmid who had just graduated from my shiur. He asked if he could come along with me on my annual visit to the local beis hachayim. I felt that it was important to maintain a kesher with this talmid, so even though I normally avoid social activities on Tishah B’Av, off we went.
Experience had taught me not to take the old route via the Kennedy Expressway (Chicago’s painful imitation of the BQE), as construction was underway and four lanes had been reduced to one. So I did what any self-respecting driver would, and set my Waze to “Jewish Waldheim.” The navigation device did its thing, almost from the beginning. I was instructed to utilize what seemed like every street in Chicagoland — to make a right at this nondescript alley, a left at the hydrant, a right through some unknown neighborhood, and a left at the bullet casing, until 53 minutes later we found ourselves at Waldheim, exactly as promised. A gezunt oif der kop of the Israeli who invented this life-saving contraption.
As we were making our way through all these unfamiliar streets and neighborhoods, I shared an epiphany with my young charge. Think about it. This little tzatzkele is orchestrating every move I make and knows exactly where I have to go, and the best way to get there. I am in totally unfamiliar territory, but I am being meticulously led by a satellite that is aware of every single move I make and knows how to get me to my destination. And even when I stray, due to inattentiveness or any other reason, he is right there to recalibrate and put me back on track.
Incredible, I realized, how a Kia Sorento is being followed move by move among millions of other vehicles on the street just to do what is best for it and avoid any traffic or trouble spots, even a policeman waiting behind a pole. Is this not artificial Hashgachah pratis, l’havdil?
But it doesn’t stop there. At the very same time, billions of others are receiving the exact same treatment. Whether it is a Navajo chief on a reservation, a Saudi oil magnate in Riyadh, or a Yerushalmi on his way to Kever Rochel, each and every one is receiving the very same VIP service, as the GPS technology brings him to his horse, oil rig, or Mamme Rochel.
How is this possible, I asked my talmid leaning back in the front seat, that so many people are getting this incredible personal service, all at the same time? It suddenly occurred to me that Waze is an apt metaphor for Hashgachah pratis. How many times have we used the term Hashgachah pratis, with unwavering belief that Hashem knows our every move, and directs us where we have to be? Have we ever given thought to the fact that since the beginning of time, this master orchestration is going on every single second of every single day, for the billions who have walked this earth? Does it not boggle the mind?
Rav Yerucham Levovitz ztz”l expressed his amazement, as was befitting for someone of his stature, when he heard of a tragic accident in which a number of people traveling in a wagon were all killed. As the Mashgiach put it, “Look how Hashem placed all these people, who all needed to meet their fate, on the same wagon, at the same time.” To the big maamin, it is hashgachah at its strongest. Every move is calculated down to the smallest detail. To the uninitiated observer, it is purely an unfortunate phenomenon of bad luck.
Truthfully, as many have pointed out, going back to the Rishonim and reiterated by the likes of Rav Dessler and the Chazon Ish, different people are zocheh to different manifestations of Hashgachah pratis depending upon their level of dveikus and absolute allegiance to Hashem. As Michtav MeEliyahu puts it, two people can be crossing the same street together and get struck by a vehicle with exactly the same potential for disaster. Yet one will come out completely unscathed, while his friend is severely injured.
I personally heard from Rav Yosef Berman shlita, a grandson and close confidant of the Steipler, that his grandfather related that he had been sick many times with types of illnesses an average person could not survive, but he merely davened them away. This was not chas v’shalom a statement of gaavah; the great tzaddik was simply stating a matter of fact.
One of the earliest sources for this profound idea is the Ramban in his commentary on Sefer Iyov (36:7). To briefly quote from his fundamental yesod in Hashgachah pratis:
People of the Torah and of pure belief trust in Hashem’s Providence and protection of the human race. When a person recognizes Hashem, he is protected in kind... and this is why He (particularly) watches over tzaddikim, for their hearts and minds are constantly on Him.
The ultimate chassid who always clings to Hashem and never takes his mind off of Him, even when he is engaged in pursuits of Olam Hazeh (not just performance of mitzvos, but even mundane conduct of life such as eating and the like), is constantly protected even from natural events... as if he isn’t even human, but a being from the upper world. And to the extent he clings to Him, he will receive outstanding protection. Whereas someone who is more distant in his thoughts and actions will be more subject to the natural course of events.
The Rambam follows a similar path in his Moreh Nevuchim and says that people only fall subject to the natural course of events when they take their minds off constant dveikus to Hashem. The fact that they aren’t committing an aveirah is irrelevant; merely a lapse in being davuk constantly to Hashem is enough to subjugate them to the vicissitudes of the general laws and consequences of nature.
This is why in the Tochachah, the Torah attributes our misfortune to the attitude of “ein Elokai b’kirbi,” I have not integrated Hashem’s presence into my very being. (The reader is strongly recommended to learn Rav Chaim Friedlander’s exhaustive and fundamental elucidation of this concept in Sifsei Chaim, Emunah V’hashgachah, beginning on page 96.)
We should not allow ourselves to lose sight of what is happening, millions of times, simultaneously for us all, over the course of the Yemei Hadin. We are, indeed, all standing in the group photo of Klal Yisrael; yet every single one of us is being judged individually, and will be guided individually, based on where his relationship with Hashem is holding.
Every backing up out of the garage, every ascent up a staircase will be on the table. Will our mundane tasks be uneventful, or, chalilah, too full of drama? Will my daughter be accepted into seminary in five months from now? Will my baby be healthy through nine full months of development, and will next season’s flu manage to ignore my household? Will that business deal finally come to fruition?
This may be what the Meiri meant when he wrote that the Mishnah in Rosh Hashanah is a lesson in Hashgachah pratis. On the one hand, Hashem is judging us all. But at the very same time, with the one all-encompassing glance that only Hashem is capable of, He is meting out to every individual according to that person’s level of dveikus, what he or she will receive in the coming year. To those who are less davuk, the laws of nature will govern their lives more. For those who resemble the tzaddikim who never take their mind off Hashem’s presence in their life, even for a moment, the decree will be completely different. And there is enough Hashgachah pratis to go around for everyone. All at the very same time.
Baalei mussar, from Rav Yisrael Salanter, the Alter of Kelm, and their talmidim, down to our day, have always stressed the importance of the koach hatziur, the ability to imagine and apply lessons from things we are familiar with, so that they become more real and relatable. The Rambam in his work Shemoneh Perakim uses the expression of bringing things from muskalos (intelligence) to murgashos (feeling). Our avodah cannot remain in our heads alone but must graduate into our hearts, otherwise it stands very little chance of success.
As the Chofetz Chaim pointed out when inventions such as cameras and telephones came into use, these tools serve as illustrations of how Hashem sees, hears, and records our actions. Similarly, modern inventions such as video cameras and MP3s give us an appreciation for the day when all of our actions will be replayed on the big screen for the Beis Din shel Maalah to see, and everything we have said will be heard. And we can attain a better appreciation of Hashgachah pratis through the tziur of GPS.
If we were given tools to bring these images closer to home, it would be worthwhile to let those lessons and images sink in, as we behold the feeling of nora v’ayom that these days present.
Most people, not only the great tzaddikim among us, have indeed felt the beneficence of Hashgachah pratis in various forms. Although we may not view ourselves as being even in the same discussion as those who live lives seemingly beyond the laws of nature at every turn, we all have our moments. I have heard in the name of Rabbi Yissocher Frand that it would be worthwhile to keep a journal of Hashgachah pratis moments to provide us with constant concrete reminders that even “little guys” like ourselves are not so little after all.
I would add that it can also serve as chizuk that we can all touch the level of dveikus in our hearts and minds that the Rishonim taught us are within reach. And even though it is difficult to maintain it for long, who says we can’t be better than we’ve been in that regard, and try not to be meisiach daas from Hashem’s presence for longer than we have succeeded in the past? The more we actually feel and experience the Ani L’dodi, we will receive in kind the V’dodi Li, our mandate for Chodesh Elul and beyond.
These precious few moments over Yamim Noraim that we beseech Hashem for brachah and hatzlachah are in turn going to dictate the fate of every moment the coming year brings. Every twist and turn, as well as every recalibration and redirection, are on the table right now. Nothing is a given and nothing can be expected. Not one thing.
These days are our opportunity, like no other time in the year, to employ that power of tziur to bring us to greater heights that are practically unattainable once the Yamim Noraim have passed. We, too, need to picture how we are faced with a challenge, whether concerning parnassah, health, a shidduch, or any of life’s endless nisyonos. We know how when we are in the throes of a nisayon, we can be overcome with a feeling of helplessness, and chalilah hopelessness, as if there is nothing to do.
But now there is something we can do. We can do our parts in meriting an extra dose of hashgachah by strengthening our relationships with Hashem. It might not be in the same league as the Chazon Ish or the Steipler, but nobody is asking us to be anyone but the best versions of ourselves.
Can we not take the ruach of these days to have a constant awareness of Hashem’s presence and ein od milvado, which Rav Chaim Volozhiner famously termed the segulah hanifla’ah, an incredible zechus to merit outstanding Hashgachah pratis even when all hope seems to be lost? Can we not use the modern inventions Hashem has thrown our way in this generation to feel His constant watchful eye, looking after our every twist and turn, making sure that we arrive at our destination of a shanah tovah u’mesukah safely?
Yes, I can, just as my family can, just as my friends can, just as you can, just as the millions all over the world can. All at the same time. We have a big hand in determining the ultimate gezar din through our own actions and thoughts.
Let us navigate these days properly so that we merit to reach out desired destination for a shnas brachah v’yeshuah for us and all of Klal Yisrael.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 977.
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