It is with a heavy heart that I write this time. Maybe heavy is not exactly right. Heavy in the sense that it has not moved much in the last month. It is weighed down, latent. It is also confused, lethargic, stagnating. And exhausted… Anyone who has done renovations in their home, knows how tiring they can be. Spiritual remodeling is no different. But this year, they have not gone so well for me. The things have not gone as they should have. What stands before G-d today is, I am afraid, is nothing like what He planned for this renovation…
That having been said, I awoke this morning and watched the dawn upon Yerushalayim. And with its ever brightening sky, I too felt that perhaps there is still a chance for me… Time will tell. And this is the best possible time of all. There is something ethereal about Yom Kipur. Pristine and pure and sanctified and hallowed. And perhaps in the stillness – finally, some quiet! Perhaps when all is quiet around, when it is but G-d and me, then maybe I will be able to hear the voice of my soul. The voice of my destiny and the voice of my calling. Perhaps I will even be able to hear a far off murmur from Heaven that will gently point the way…
I cannot be sure of what will happen on this day, too many variables for that. But I know they can happen. How incredible is that? This is the day of enormous possibility. It is a day that holds within it our destiny and our essence. It is a terrifying day and a most joyful one. At the self-same time. And while as I said, I have no idea if I will be able to accomplish what I pray to, for only G-d can know that, at least is will show up. And 90 % of success is showing up. Or so they say.
Rebetzin Esther Reisman has this incredible piece about the last chapter of the Book of Yonah that we read on Yom Kipur. It is a very deep sefer and an incredible lesson in a myriad of ways. But here is one surprising one. The Chafetz Chaim says about the Book of Yonah that it must be read on Yom Kipur in order to demonstrate that Hashem’s word is always fulfilled. While Yonah tries valiantly to evade his mission, events Divinely conspire to show him in no uncertain terms that His will is the only will… In the last chapter of Yonah, the prophet pleads for death. He felt like a failure and that the teshuva of the people of Ninve would surely reflect poorly on the Children of Israel. And that he was the one to bring it about. Hashem answers enigmatically: are you good and angry? Yonah’s reply is that he builds a hut outside of Ninve from which he can check on what is going on. And as he is sitting, in the heat of the day, a miracle occurs. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Hashem causes a tall sheltering plant to grow overhead. Yonah is overjoyed, his will to live is revived. The relief is short lived however as a worm attacks the plant. It shrivels and disappears. And that is followed by a stifling wind blowing on Yonah and causing him extreme discomfort and suffering. He once again longs for death. Hashem once again responds with: are you good and angry? To which Yonah replies that he is angry to the point of death.
Are you good and angry over the destruction of the vine? You have mercy on a vine that you did not plant or tend, but you failed to have mercy on a nation with thousands of people (Ninve)? And this is the end of the sefer. We do not find out what happened to Yona, there are no replies or resolutions. And we wonder why it ends this way? And why it didn’t end after the first chapters with the lesson learned. And it would have ended with a happy ending. If the message is Divine Providence then we would be delighted with a happy ending. And if there is no such delightful ending, does that mean that there is no Hashgacha Pratit? Does that mean that there was no Plan?
A man rushes in to the synagogue ranting and raving about how he missed the flight. How he had left the house with plenty of time to spare but how there had been an accident on the parkway and he didn’t make it. To which the Rabbi asks him: had you read in the paper that that flight had crashed, would you not be happy? Of course, said the guy, i would! i would be overjoyed. To which the Rav retorts: rasha! Thousands of people have to die for you to recognize Hashgacha…?
We never tire of telling the stories of Divine Providence where people are saved or missed being in the World Trade Center on September 11th. But there were other people in the buildings… That too is Hashgacha.
And that is the message of the fourth chapter of Yona. Are you good and angry? Are you upset that you do not understand My plan, says Hashem. With the appearance of the kikayon, the miraculous tree, Yona is filled with confidence. That there is a plan and a purpose and that everything has fallen into place. But then Hashem takes it away… And asks why he is so upset. Do things only make sense when you can see it does? When you are comfortable? Only then can you say that “everything is for the best.” When you understand the plan, then everything is ok. And when only I understand it, then it isn’t? You had your plan. What about Mine? My thoughts don’t count?
Yonah was battered and traumatized and then greatly comforted when he sees that Hashem sends him the tree. Each of us has our own tree. In times of confusion and challenge, we take comfort in the flourishing vine that gives us hope, validation and a sense of purpose. In this kikayon, tree, we may feel the comforting Presence of Hashem’s benevolence. Who provides us with shelter and personal protection. Although we struggle with disappointment and failure, the kikayon reassures us. And gives us a sense of purpose and meaning. And then comes a worm and shatters our tree. Where is the benevolence? How can we maintain our sense of purpose? By reading carefully the sentence that says that Hashem prepared the kikayon. And then a few sentences later how Hashem prepared the worm. In the same manner. And then Hashem prepared the hot wind. The wind that causes such pain is all from the same Source.
We believe in Hashgacha Pratit. When it comes to storms and whales and boats. But when the little tree dies, it is very hard for us. The point is that it is all part of the same plan. Plan. At times, Hashem summons a fish, at times a storm, at times a flourishing tree, at times a stifling wind. This does not mean that we have lost favor in the eyes of Hashem. It just means that we are human and as such are not privy to understand. And on this, the holiest day of the year, we confront the reality that we too have turned away from the Presence of Hashem. And from our mission. When faced with turbulence and disappointment, we too despair. When hopes and dreams have withered, we have faltered in our belief that Hashem has a plan for each and every one of us. And that we are an inevitable part of His plan and purpose. And as we plead with Hashem for the opportunity to further fulfill our designated mission, we affirm with conviction and clarity that Hashem’s plan will ultimately prevail!
All the very best,
Gmar Chatima Tova!