Sunday, October 07, 2012

gevuros geshamim

The Ksav Sofer in Parshas ha'Azinu quotes a difficut Yalkut Shimoni: In the future the Jewish people will stand before G-d in judgment and protest, "We don't know who wronged whom -- did Bnei Yisrael betray and wrong G-d, or did G-d betray and wrong us?"  The answer is given by the pasuk, "V'Yagidu hashamayim tzidko" -- the Heavens proclaim that G-d is just.  What is the hava amina that G-d should be the one who is at fault?  And how does the declaration of the skies, the heavens, resolve the issue?

By way of introduction to the Ksav Sofer's interpretation I want to share a GR"A with you.  At the opening of Zos haBracha the Torah describes Moshe Rabeinu as "Ish haElokim," an interesting contrast with the earlier description of Moshe as "Eved Hashem" -- note the change from "eved" to "ish", and the change in the name of G-d used.  The GR"A explains (in Aderes Eliyahu) that the name Elokim is a description of G-d as He makes his presence manifest through nature.  We see this name Elokim again and again throughout the upcoming parsha of Braishis in describing the creation of the physical world, starting with the first pasuk in the Torah, "Braishis bara Elokim..." Moshe Rabeinu is "Ish Elokim" = master over nature, one who lives on a higher plane than those forces of nature, someone who transcends the boundaries of the physical world and can bend them to his purpose, to bless Bnei Yisrael.

The GR"A adds that even though the whole physical world is goverened by this name "Elokim," there is one exception to the rule.  Chazal tell us that we mention rain, "mashiv ha'ruach u'morid hageshem," in the same bracha as we mention the future resurrection of the dead because these phenomenon are equivalent.  What this means, says the GR"A, is that rain comes from the same source as the gift of life itself -- directly from G-d.  There is no law of nature (i.e. there is no governing aspect of the shem Elokim) that allows to to perfectly predict when and where and how much rain will fall.  It is completely and directly in G-d's hands.

The gemara (Ta'anis 2) tells us that there are three things which Hashem himself holds the "keys" to and does not give over to mankind -- one of these is rain.

I think this GR"A makes intuitive sense to most of us.  Half the US is currently in a drought with crops ruined and farmers suffering and with all our technological prowess there is nothing we can do about it.  There is nothing we can do when a Katrina hits or some other meteorological disaster strikes other than get out of the way as quickly as possible. 

About a year ago we discussed the same idea based on an amazing diyuk of the Meshech Chochma.  When it comes to the mitzvah of aliya la'regel on Pesach and Shavuos, the Torah in Re'eh writes to go to the place, "Asher yivchar Hashem l'shakein shemo sham." However, when it describes the same mitvzah of aliya la'regel on Succos, it says to go to the place, "Asher yivchar Hashem," but it leaves out the words, "L'shakein shemo sham." Why the difference?  The Meshech Chochma answers that on Pesach and Shavuos we are judged respectively on wheat crops and fruit. The Torah adds the words, "l'shakein shemo sham" to remind us that unlike what the other nations think, there is no power other than Hashem, whose presence is manifest most clearly in the Beis haMikdash, that can influence what will happen to these crops. It is "sham," in the hands of G-d who is manifest in the Mikdash, that our fate is decided.  On Sukkos, when we are judged on how much water and rainfall will occur, we don't need a similar reminder. Even the nations realize that Hashem and only Hashem controls rainfall and water.  (Parenthetically, if you are looking for the source for the vort of R' Dovid Cohen that R' Kooperman references in his footnotes to that Meshech Chochma, let me spare you the time I devoted to finding it.  Here's a link.)

When Bnei Yisrael travelled through the desert led by Moshe Rabeinu they were not constrained by the ordinary laws of nature; they were not governed by the name Elokim.  They had a direct connection to G-d and enjoyed the miracle of the man, the be'er of Miriam, and the miracle of ananei hakavod.  But that manner of existence was temporary.  Bnei Yisrael were ultimately forced to tackle a world where G-d remains hidden behind a veil of all kinds of physical, social, economic, and political forces that seem to be the cause of all that occurs. 

Returning to the Yalkut, the Ksav Sofer explains that when Bnei Yisrael will ultimately be judged, they will turn to Hashem and try to argue that they are not to be blamed for their failures.  Had Hashem only revealed his presence to them as He did in the midbar, they would have eagerly followed.

Hashem, however, will respond that the skies prove them wrong.  True, His presence is veiled in so many ways, but he did leave one area open, one area where that direct connection with no intermediary and no laws of nature is obvious -- the rain.  Maharal explains that of all the material gifts that we enjoy in this world, only the rain falls from the sky, forcing a person to look upward, to Heaven, to see its source.  Ironically, it is the cloudy skies that reveal most clearly that it is not forces of nature, but rather Hashem himself, hashgacha pratis, which is in control of all. 


  1. Anonymous3:51 PM

    >>> "Ish Elokim" = master over nature

    is this synonymous with tzelem Elokim?

    >>> can bend them to his purpose, to bless Bnei

    do you mean that Moshe himself manipulated nature
    to favor Bnei Yisrael in ages to come, or that only someone on such a level could call on Hashem
    to do the manipulating?

    >>> Hashem...will respond that the skies prove them wrong.

    but Bnei Yisrael can counter, 'why then didn't
    You deliver rain b'midbar, instead of water from
    rocks & from wells, & so train us in the equivalence of rain to mahn?' {perhaps rainclouds would've
    interfered with the ananei hakavod, or detracted from their glory? or could the ananei have doubled as rainclouds?!}

  2. Our CEO, who trained as an astrophysicist, told me once that earlier in his career he gave up doing climate research because he was tired of looking at so much human effort and so little progress. He felt that the convoluted, interdependent natural laws underlying climate (virtually the whole gamut of physics + chemistry) are so unfathomably complex that he was better off tackling "easier" problems instead in advanced physics.

    The incredible complexity of natural global rainfall, alongside its absolute necessity to sustain life on this planet, remains a phenomenon of "gevuros" as you say, in a plain and visible sense.