This week we conclude our series of discussions of Emunah with an explanation as to why some intelligent people are not convinced of the truth of Hashem’s existence and the divine origin of the Torah. Rav Elchanan Wasserman (Kovetz Maamarim) attributes lack of belief to people’s seeking to justify and satisfy their passions. He cites as proof the Pasuk in Tehillim (14:1), “a degenerate states in his heart that there is no God.”
Another explanation for this phenomenon emerges from Megillat Esther, which at first glance seems quite secular. For example, it contains no mention of God and even seems to deliberately omit mentioning Hashem’s name (see, for example, Esther 4:14-16). One has to look behind the superficial presentation of events in Megillat Esther to discover Hashem, such as why Esther among all the beautiful women of the Persian Empire was chosen as queen; why Mordechai succeeded in foiling a plot to kill Achashveirosh; and why Achashveirosh was sleepless and reading about Mordechai’s actions specifically on the night Haman came to ask permission to execute Mordechai.
The world functions today as it is depicted in Megillat Esther. Hashem has placed a secular veneer upon the world and we must use our common sense to peel back this layer in order to be able to find Hashem. Hashem, in the words of Shir HaShirim 2:9, “watches from behind the windows and peers through the latticework.” Those who do not believe in Hashem and His Torah have not exercised their common sense and have not made an effort to see beyond the secular surface of our world, the “window and latticework” Shir HaShirim describes.
A renowned atheist was asked what he will respond if, after he dies, he meets God and He will judge him for his lack of belief. He responded that he would ask God, “Why did You not provide sufficient evidence of Your existence?” Hashem might respond, ”Why didn’t you exercise your common sense and look beyond the secular surface of the world, and see the overwhelming evidence of My existence and of My Holy Torah?”
Piercing the Secular Veil in Megillat Esther and Sefer Shofetim
Megillat Esther presents three manners how to “pierce the world’s secular veil” and discover Hashem’s presence in the world as it functions in our time. One manner that Hashem reveals Himself is through situations where things happen against all odds, such as Esther’s being chosen to serve as queen (adding to the extraordinary odds was Esther’s refusal to reveal her nationality – it is a monumental security breach to appoint a queen without doing at least a minimal background check!).
Sefer Shofetim also teaches us how to discover Hashem in the world as it functions today. Examples of happenings against all odds in Sefer Shofetim is Shamgar ben Anat’s defeat of the mighty Pelishtim using only a cattle prod as a weapon (Shofetim 3:31) and Gidon’s defeat of the enormous numbers of Midianite invaders, with only three hundred men (chapters six and seven of Sefer Shofetim). Similar contemporary examples include the victories of the Israeli army despite overwhelming odds in the 1948, 1967, and 1973 wars as we discussed in part two of this series (archived at www.koltorah.org). Indeed, Rav Berel Wein reports that a West Point general once remarked that though the United States Military Academy studies wars fought throughout the world, it does not study the Six Day War – because what concerns West Point is strategy and tactics, not miracles.
In particular, Israel’s survival in its first two months of existence when it had hardly any air force or armored corps and managed to often emerge victorious through the use of using seltzer bottles as bombs and ineffective cannons such as the Davidka, both of which made very loud noises, was clearly an act of God and eerily reminiscent of Shamgar ben Anat’s victory using cattle prods. A view of the map of the nascent Jewish State in May 1948, reveals the terrible vulnerability of our people and deepens one’s appreciation for God’s hand in our surviving an attack from all sides. Even mighty nations such as the ancient Assyrians, ancient Greeks, and modern day Nazi Germany could not withstand an attack on two fronts. We, on the other hand, managed to survive a war fought on three fronts with hardly any weapons and a rag tag army that had just emerged from the underground on the day Israel declared independence. The only reasonable explanation of Israel’s survival is the subtle hand of the one “Who peers behind the latticework.”
Another manner in which we discover Hashem’s “standing behind the window” is incredible timing such as Achashveirosh’s insomnia and recalling Mordechai’s kindness just at the right moment in preparation for Haman’s nocturnal visit to the royal palace. An additional case is Haman’s falling on Esther’s bed precisely when Achashveirosh reentered the palace.
An example in Sefer Shofetim is how the untrained Jewish army defeated the mighty army of Sisera (Perakim 4 and 5), which was regarded as impossible to defeat due to its possession of superior weaponry – iron chariots (Shofetim 4:3). Da’at Mikra and others explain (as is apparent from Shofetim 5:20-21) that precisely at the right moment as we began to attack, a great rainstorm unexpectedly flooded the Jezreel Valley, turning it into mud and thereby rendering the iron chariots not only useless but also a death trap against the attacking Israelite army.
For contemporary examples, one need only recall how incredible timing has made dramatic differences in the course of the lives of so many individuals. For an example on a national level, I submit that Hashem sent incredible array of Torah giants, such as Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Ovadia Yosef and the Lubavitcher Rebbe precisely during the twentieth century when the very survival of Orthodoxy was in grave danger. The emergence of these great and enormously talented Rabbanim – each a luminary for all generations, precisely in the mid-twentieth century – rescued Jewish Orthodoxy from its nadir in the 1950s to its reinvigoration and incredible vitality in our day. It is exceedingly rare to simultaneously have so many rabbis of such inter-generational stature. However, the timing was perfect to save the Torah legacy for posterity.
Another instance of incredible timing on a national level is the emergence specifically in the nineteenth century, of authoritative works on Jewish Law, such as the Aruch HaShulchan, Ben Ish Chai, Chayei Adam, Kaf HaChayim, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch and Mishnah Berurah, which capped and closed the era of four centuries of commentary and debate on the Shulchan Aruch. The stability brought about by the emergence of these works in the nineteenth century established the Halachic infrastructure for subsequent rabbinic authorities to applying the Halacha to the dizzying array of dramatic and unprecedented technological, social and political changes of the twentieth century and beyond.
Enemies’ Acting Foolishly
Finally, the Vilna Gaon notes that in our times, Hashem subtly makes our enemies act foolishly, such as Achashveirosh’s series of ridiculous decisions that led to Vashti’s elimination, and Haman’s foolishly responding to Achashveirosh that the one the king wishes to honor should ride in the king’s horse and wear the king’s crown (this deepened Achashveirosh’s suspicion of Haman and greatly contributed to the decision to hang Haman).
In Sefer Shofetim the Moabite king Eglon (Perek 3) and his team of bodyguards acted incredibly foolishly by allowing a representative of a conquered nation, Ehud, to speak privately with Eglon, leaving the latter exposed to attack with no one to help him. In addition, the Moabite security team in its foolishness did not properly check Ehud for weapons and he managed to sneak in a weapon which he used to kill Eglon, leading to the end of Moabite rule over part of Israel. Modern day examples abound such as the series of astoundingly foolish series of mistakes made by the Egyptian military leadership both immediately before and during the Six Day War. Other examples of foolish decisions during the 1948 Israeli War of Independence include Arab armies’ (even the Arab Legion commanded by British officers) making shockingly incorrect decisions not to attack some Jewish positions such as at Gesher Ad Halom and Kfar Saba where Jews had little or no effective ammunition.
Accordingly, there is ample opportunity, even without open miracles, to see Hashem’s role in the running of the world.
Conclusion – The Fierce Eastern Wind at the Yam Suf
Ramban (Shemot 14:21) writes that Hashem made a fierce east wind blow the entire night to give the Egyptians the opportunity to think that the Yam Suf was spilt by natural causes (i.e. the wind itself), and not by Hashem. The Ramban clarifies, though, that the Egyptians nonetheless had ample opportunity to recognize Hashem’s involvement such as the fact that the Yam Suf was split into sections (Tehillim 136:13). Unfortunately for the Egyptians, they did not exercise their common sense and recognize Hashem’s presence.
The secular veneer, or latticework, of the world serves the identical purpose as the fierce eastern wind the night preceding Keriat Yam Suf. It creates the potential for the atheist to choose to not believe. However, Hashem also creates far greater opportunities for us to discover Him, as we have presented in this series, just as He did at the Yam Suf. Hashem provides the potential to be led astray because there is hardly a Mitzvah of Emunah had there been no potential to think otherwise.
This is similar to the rule regarding the qualifications for Matzah for Pesach. Grain must have the potential to become Chametz in order for it to have the potential to be made into Matzah to be used for the Mitzvah at the Seder. Similarly, there must be a slight potential for atheism, otherwise there is no Mitzvah of Emunah.
Kohelet (7:14) teaches that “Zeh Le’umat Zeh Asah Elokim,” Hashem makes counterparts. Hashem leaves a small opportunity for disbelief but creates the counterpart of far greater opportunity for belief. The non-believer will be held accountable for his failure to exercise his common sense and look beyond the secular shell of the world, as the Egyptians were at the Yam Suf. “The ways of Hashem are just; the righteous shall walk in them but sinners will stumble on them” (Hoshei’a 14:10).