Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 9 July 2016 / 3 Tammuz 5776

Mysterious Ways

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman - www.rabbiullman.com
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

From: Melissa

Dear Rabbi,

I got into a situation which I knew I shouldn’t have been in. It’s not that I knew that would be the case beforehand. Maybe I wasn’t careful enough, but in any case, it wasn’t intentional. Anyway, despite the fact that I shouldn’t have been involved, after the fact, it seems to me that some good actually came of it. So I’m wondering, given the outcome, would G-d have wanted me to knowingly choose to be there? Or, if not, did He put me there in order to bring about that result? Or is He not pleased that I was there at all, and the end doesn’t justify the means?

Dear Melissa,

This is a very interesting and intriguing question. Certainly G-d wants and expects us to make proper decisions according to the teachings of the Torah, to try our best to do what’s right, and make every effort to foresee and avoid what’s wrong.

That said, there are times when, for whatever reason, we may not be in a “good place” physically, emotionally or spiritually, and G-d nevertheless orchestrates that some good should come out of it.

We may be in that “place” either by mistake, or as a result of being careless, or even as a result of some momentary lapse into wrong. Still G-d may intervene in order to effect some redeeming outcome.

However, even in such cases, G-d does not want us to choose to be in that “place”, nor does He force or cause a person to be there. He does not want us to transgress or fall short of the mark. Rather, if one gets there by accident, or even intentionally, G-d may choose to capitalize on the “opportunity” to catalyze some good.

This being so, is He at least ultimately pleased that we were there in order to be agents for some good? The answer to this is also “no”. He would rather have had the good come out some other way or through some other agent. Still, once we’re there, in His Grace, He may compensate for our misdeeds or slip-ups.

An example of this is Samson’s forbidden union with Delilah. The Sages (Sotah 9b) note that, on the one hand, he “rebelled with his eyes” in marrying the Philistine woman; yet the verse says that the marriage was “from G-d. They resolve this apparent contradiction by teaching that even though Samson transgressed by going after looks alone, G-d saw to it that this forbidden marriage would result in some good — in this case, to save Israel from the Philistines (Maharsha). Despite this redeeming aspect, Samson’s deed was certainly not condoned, as is demonstrated by his unfortunate demise.

The Talmud (Berachot 34b) teaches, “In a place where ba’alei teshuva (penitents) stand, the righteous cannot stand”. Among the various explanations of this teaching is the idea that certain Divine sparks of holiness and goodness are captive in dark and impure “places” where the righteous would never go to redeem them. In such cases, only a Jew who has fallen may come near, and they cleave to him. When he repents, those exiled sparks of holiness are redeemed. This may be likened to those who probe the murky depths of the sea for impure oysters which, when brought ashore, are pried open to yield pure and precious pearls.

As a case in point, someone told me that he and some friends went down to vacation in Mexico shortly before Tisha b’Av, something they should not have done at that time. On the eve of Tisha b’Av they decided that they should get back to San Diego in order to properly observe the commemoration of the destruction of the First and Second Temples. When they approached the border they found out that no crossing would be allowed for hours, which meant no properly-observed Tisha b’Av night for them.

With no shul or appropriate prayer books, they checked into some hotel south of Tijuana intending to use the hotel Wi-Fi to access the liturgy and read Eicha (Lamentations) from their phones in their room. However, the Wi-Fi didn’t work in their rooms. But the Wi-Fi worked properly in the hotel’s lobby. So rather than give up, they decided to read Eicha in this “unorthodox” fashion while sitting on the floor in the lobby of this Mexican hotel despite the spectacle it would make among the non-Jews.

As they prayed, a young woman was watching them from the corner of the lobby where she sat. She was very moved by what she had seen, and when they had finished she asked them what they had been reading. They somewhat awkwardly explained to her about G-d, the Jewish People, the Temple, exile and the hope for Redemption.

As the group was preparing to leave the hotel, the young woman suddenly appeared, wearing a Jewish Star of David on her neck! She explained that after she left the group and told her mother everything that happened, her mother revealed to her for the first time in her life that they are descended from Jews, and that this Jewish Star was a relic from her maternal grandmother!

Through their fault in being in the “wrong” place for the “wrong” reasons, G-d nevertheless compensated for their misdeed by using them as unwitting agents for the revelation of, and hopefully for the redemption of, this lost Jewish spark rekindled south of Tijuana!

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