Vort from the Rav: Shlach

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Bamidbar 14:17

וְעַתָּה יִגְדַּל נָא כֹּחַ אֲדֹנָי

Now, please, let the strength of the Lord be increased.

What precisely does this phrase mean? How can the Omnipotent’s strength be magnified?

When Israel sins, God is in a sense “helpless,” as Rashi said: “His strength is weakened as a woman (Rashi on Numbers 11:15). Similarly, on the phrase “the Rock of their youth they have forsaken”, Rashi comments: – “When He comes to do good for you, you anger him and weaken His strength from being able to do good for you” (Rashi on Deuteronomy 13:18).

On one level, God influences, He forms, He gives, He is the ultimate source. Man is the influenced, the formed, the receiver. Relative to God, man’s capabilities are infinitesimal. He is nothing more than receiver, a passive participant. He has only what God gives him; what God does not bestow, he lacks.

Yet if the man-God relationship were indeed so one-sided, what possible role would there be in this world for Torah and mitzvot? What is the purpose of free will? If God exclusively plays the role of giver and man the role of passive receiver, why did God grant man autonomy? Furthermore, God has entered into covenants that serve as contractual obligations between God and the world, as well as between God and the Congregation of Israel. The halakhah states that every proper covenant contains obligations by the signatory parties. Both sides participate – each gives and receives something in return. If the Master of the Universe plays the role of giver exclusively, what is the role of man?

Man must provide “assistance,” as it were, to the Master of the Universe, kevayakhol. Man must “help” God to reveal His presence in the world.

The Shechinah, the Divine presence, indeed resides with us on earth. “For I am Hashem Who dwells with them in their impurity” (Leviticus 16:17). We encounter the Shechina continually. Yet, God is not clearly revealed to us; He is hidden from view: “Behold I come to you in a cloud” (Exodus 19:9). He is indeed close, but He does not reveal Himself. The Hand of God in human events is not revealed; He is hidden from the world. He “dwells concealed…in the shadow” (Psalms 91:1). Hashem is in close proximity to man, so close that man can almost touch Him, but not everyone can penetrate the cloud to reveal Him.

The obscuring cloud takes on any number of guises. For the physicist, the cloud is a mathematical formula. For the biologist, it is a biochemical reaction. For the physiologist, it is an instinct: for the psychologist, a drive: for the general, the power of his army. The cloud is any manifestation of nature or man that promotes the illusion that the world operates autonomously, concealing the reality that God is responsible for all that occurs on earth.

God can decide to disperse the obscuring clouds, and occasionally in history He chooses to reveal Himself and proclaim: “I am the Lord your God.” More often, however, God remains obscure, a God “Whose abode is in transcendence.”

It is the job of Man in general, and Israel specifically to disperse the obscuring cloud in all its forms. God on the other hand, is the “King caught in the tresses [of His Beloved]” (Song of Songs 7:6). He is held captive, as it were. He chooses to remain obscure. Instead, Israel has been charged with revealing God and publicizing His Name.

This was God’s message when He directed Abraham to “Go forth from your land and your birthplace and from the house of your father to the land I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). God is in essence telling Abraham, Your assignment is to make My presence known to the world. You must dissipate the clouds that obscure Me from perception.” And just as Abraham was charged with this task, we too must continue this mission, a charge that has only increased in urgency in our present day.

I recall my Chabad melamed’s description of God crying in mourning for His Temple during the nine-day mourning period leading up to Tishah B’av. I asked him, “I don’t understand: Why does Hashem have to cry? He is Omnipotent! With His word He created the entire world; certainly He can rebuild the Temple!”

As a child I did not comprehend his Rebbe‘s answer. Many years later I understood that Hashem cannot, kevayachol, act alone. There is no awakening above without a corresponding awakening below. Hashem is indeed Omnipotent, but the task of revealing His Divine presence is the great mission of His people. (Derashot Harav pp. 9-11)


About Arnold Lustiger

Dr. Arnold Lustiger is a research scientist and has edited multiple volumes of the Rav's Torah, including the recently published Chumash Mesoras HaRav.

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