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Religion

Would it spoil some vast eternal plan if …?

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An easy, albeit shallow, approach to understanding suffering in this world is to suggest that Hashem is just letting things happen, that it’s just nature taking its course without divine intervention. It helps to cope with inexplicable events without our faith being shaken. But is this really faith or actually heresy? Our belief includes the tenet of hashgacha pratit (micro-control from above). Even a leaf blowing in the wind is engineered as part of what Tevya called the vast eternal plan.

The final verses of the Torah portion this Shabbat contain the famous command of Zachor to remember what Amalek did to our ancestors when they left Egypt, and to obliterate his memory forever. Throughout our history, many have tried to destroy us. Yet none of our other foes are singled out the way Amalek is.

The Torah explains that the reason for the commandment is because Amalek “happened upon you on the way”. The attack against the children of Israel in the desert was real, treacherous, and threatened lives. But in that sense, Amalek has come and gone, and we have no certainty as to where to find his descendants (though we may have some suspicions).

The philosophy of Amalek, however, is still alive and well to this day. “He happened upon you,” is the dangerous and heretical approach that things just happen for no reason and without control from above. This is what the Torah enjoins us to uproot and totally eradicate.

As the Jewish year 5781 nears its end, we traditionally engage in reflection during the final month, Elul. This past year has brought more than its fair share of inexplicable events. Our faith has been tested to the maximum by repeated sadness and tragedy. It’s naïve to pretend that we can explain anything at all. Hashem’s ways are and remain unfathomable, particularly when dealing with enormity. However, we dare not suggest that there is no reason – there is one, we just don’t know what it is.

Maimonides, in his opening to the Laws of Fasts, suggests that if we say, “What has happened to us is the way of the world, and this trouble is merely happenstance,” it’s the way of cruelty, causing us to stick to our bad ways. Instead, we are obliged to use such events as a trigger for repentance and change.

What a trigger year we’ve had. As the year draws to a close, Hashem, send us a 5782 filled with blessing, healing, and prosperity.

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