Parshot Festivals

Providence and living consciously

  • Ilan Herrmann
There is a constant interplay between divine providence and freewill in our lives. This is active not passive. It’s not co-incidence or happenstance. It means that there is meaning and purpose to the situations we are placed in, and we can (and should) ask, “Why am I here, and what must I do?” This is a logical response.
by Rav Ilan Herrmann – Soul Workout Shul & Community Centre | Jul 09, 2020

It applies particularly when something of a moral circumstance arises.

To better appreciate this, we must go to an episode of Noah. Noah had become paralytically inebriated, and was naked. The Torah says that Cham, his son, saw his father’s nakedness while the other two sons, Shem and Yefes, didn’t. They walked in towards Noah facing backwards so as not to see his nakedness, and then covered him.

Cham here illustrates not living consciously with the question of, “Why am I here, and what must I do?” Shem and Yefes, however, do so, and demonstrate this idea perfectly. They recognise that they are placed in a situation, and there is something to be done that is a moral duty. Instead of using the situation for their own personal satisfaction (as did Cham, indulging in his father’s nakedness), or by shrugging their shoulders and moving on, they acknowledge the providence in their being there, and respond to the challenge presented.

This idea is again clearly demonstrated in this week’s portion, as Pinchas sees the openly brazen immoral act taking place amidst the camp by Prince Zimri of the tribe of Shimon as he cohabits with the Midyanite woman, Kozbi.

Pinchas notices that no-one has acted against this, and after calling out the problem to Moses and realising the paralysis of others, he takes action for which he is lauded, praised, and rewarded. He becomes the only person in history not born as a Kohen to be granted priesthood.

The Rebbe has taught of the Pinchas episode that in G-d’s world, when one sees something it isn’t an accident, and one should ask, “What can I do about it?” The convenient thing is to walk away, or shrug our shoulders, or hope that someone else might take care of the situation. Living consciously with the question of “Why am I here?” means recognising the impetus to action.

It applies to so many areas. Here’s another angle.

Rabbi Mordechai of Neschiz waited for many months to get wool from Israel with which to make a pair of Tzitzit. Finally it arrived. He asked his student to make up the garment. The student carelessly folded the garment twice, and cut a hole where the head would be placed. As he unfolded it, to his horror, there were two holes. Upon seeing this, instead of being enraged, Rabbi Mordechai said, “This piece of cloth was meant to have two holes. One for my head, and one to test me to control my anger.”


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