In this parsha we read many verses that imply Hashem’s total control over our history and lives. We are told over and over that we will get Hashem’s blessing if we keep the commandments, and will be punished if we don’t. We should not think that it’s our power that brings us success, but realize that our achievements are due to Hashem (Devarim 8:17). There is however one verse in the book of Koheles (Ecclesiast 3:19) that seems to imply the opposite: “The same thing happens to man and to an animal, this one dies like that one dies … and there is no advantage of a man over an animal”. This puzzling verse seems to imply that Hashem’s Rule over the universe does not take individuals into account and the lives and deaths of people are governed by natural causes without any merits or sins being taken into account. How could this verse be explained?
In parshas Ekev, a great emphasis
is made on describing how Hashem rules over our nation. Among the many verses
describing it, is also the second paragraph of Shma that we read twice daily.
The Torah starts with a preface (Devarim 11:12): “… Hashem is watching the
It may seem that King Shlomo, the wisest of men in his book of Koheles contradicts the above belief. Indeed this question is so bewildering that even the sages of the Zohar (3:157a) were puzzled by it. The statement in Koheles seems to be the most common claim of heretics<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>: “There is no Judge and no judgment<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>!” Throughout history similar statements were often made by even quite righteous people when they had personally witnessed suffering that seemed to be not justified in their eyes. Iov in his conversations with his friends claimed that the Divine Rule over people may be similar to that over animals, when Hashem is interested in preserving the specie, not in rewarding or punishing an individual member<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>.
Before we discuss the meaning of the obscure verse in Koheles, we need to try understanding how Hashem’s Hashgacha (Rule over the universe) works in general. It is well known that Hashem has no limitations. His Hashgacha includes even the finest details. Indeed not a single grass can grow without the spiritual force on top of it<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>. On the other hand this Hashgacha is not primary<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>. Hashem is not “interested” in the inanimate nature, flora and animals, yet He needs to personally supervise each and every object He created and even a single atom in the universe needs to constantly be recreated<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> and supplied with energy to exist. Yet the only creature which is the center of Hashem’s attention is the Human Being. The animals live and die without merits or sins. It’s not sinful for the wolf to eat a lamb nor is the lamb being caught because of his sins. While the exact decision of which animals get caught every day by the predators is decided “on High<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>” this decision is only made by Hashem in order to preserve the general balance of animals or in some cases because a particular animal will come in direct contact with people, and therefore the Hashgacha on it stems from the Hashgacha on the people<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>.
Now regarding the strange verse in Koheles, the Zohar tells us that Rabbi Chizkiya and Rabbi Yossa also did not know how to explain it. Once as they were walking in the wilderness<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> they met a man who solved their difficulty. He told them that the reason this question posed such a problem for them is because they spend all of their time away from general populace and they don’t even have an idea of how the simple people view the world. A sage of Torah is accustomed to look for Hashem’s Hashgacha in every step he takes. All the major and minor events of his life are messages from Hashem that need to be understood and interpreted. On the other hand the majority of people are like fish in the aquarium who get their food on time and think it’s through their efforts they were able to find it. They don’t see the Hand that throws them their provisions. They pay no attention to their Master. When one of the fish is removed from the aquarium, they think their “comrade” died. They don’t have any clue that everything is supervised from just outside of their fish tank. The verse of Koheles is just a quote of what these people are saying, as he in fact states (Koheles 3:18): “I said about the words of men who are being separated<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> by G-d, and they themselves are indeed like animals”. The people who Koheles is quoting here think like animals that have no understanding.
Our exile was due to our lack of recognizing Hashem’s guiding Hand, and we will come out of exile when we begin to admit that it’s only Hashem is in charge<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>. May we deserve that it happens soon.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Indeed the principle of reward and punishment is the eleventh principle in the 13 Ikarim based on Rambam. Many people recite these Ikarim every morning after prayer.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> See GR”A to the Zohar 3:157b, that indeed the sages started their discussion by establishing that Koheles is a book that contains Divinly inspired wisdom, rather than heretical ideas.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> This statement was first made by Cain (see Targum Yonasan and Rabeynu Bachye on Bereyshis 4:8). Indeed in real life we seem to find many contradictions to this principle. The Jewish people are known not to accept anything dogmatically. Many nations are often told by their religious leaders all sorts of ideas that seem to contradict their own experiences and hunches, but they are told to “believe” and they often do believe without questioning (see also Talmud, Taanis 5b based on Yirmiyahu 2:10-13 that the nations of the world generally hold own to their religious practices and belief even when they don’t make a lot of sense). The Jews are generally “stiff-necked” and not willing to take any dogmas until a satisfying explanation is given. Much has been written to reconcile this principle of faith and the “reality” around us. One of the earliest books on this subject is the book of Iov written by Moshe himself. Certainly the main reason we see apparent “injustice” is simply because we don’t know the full picture of what the particular individual did in all of his lives and what is in store for him in the future. But the most perplexing question is that this principle of faith seems to contradict a statement in Koheles, and this is what attracted the attention of the sages of the Zohar.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> See Ramban on Iov 6:2, GR”A 3:2, Rambam in his Guide to the perplexed 3:23.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> This can be compared to yeshivah that moved away from society and decided to support itself through growing cows and producing milk products. Since the Rebbe does not want to waist any more time then necessary he calculated that 10 cows will suffice to produce food for the entire yeshivah. So the primary goal is to maintain exactly 10 cows, but obviously each cow does require individual attention, it needs to be fed, cleaned after etc. When new cows are born, a decision is made which ones to sell or slaughter so that the total number is preserved. The Rebbe is not interested in any particular cow; he just needs to preserve their correct number to satisfy the needs of the yeshivah. In the same way Hashem is not pointing His “attention” to any of the creatures on this Earth except for people. Yet He needs to maintain every single creature in order that it serves its’ purpose.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> This is the meaning of our prayers: “He renews the world every day, constantly through His goodness” (see Bais Halevi, Bereishis 2:2, Meshech Chochma, Shemos 35:2).
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> We are thus taught: “No bird gets caught except through the Divine Providence” (Yerushalmi, Shviis 25b). See also Ramchal, Adir Bamarom (pg. 474) where he discusses the mice that get caught by the cat every day as hinted in the “song” of mice and the “song” of the cats in Perek Shira, see also GR”A to the Zohar 3:157b.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Note that the words of some Rishonim at first glance seem to contradict this statement (see Ramban, Shaar Hagemul, 119; Sefer Hachinuch, 169; Rambam, More Nevuchim 3:17). It may seem they held that there is no Hashgacha Pratis (specific Divine Rule) when it comes to animals and the rest of nature. However in the light of what we wrote above, their words can also be explained to mean that Hashem does not direct His “attention” to the animal world in the way He does regarding people. He does however need to supervise everything that happens in nature as well, as our sages state numerous times (see also Talmud, Bava Basra 16a, Bereyshis Raba 13:10, see Questions and Answers of Radbaz 1066 and Mishne Halachos 7:289-290 for further discussion).
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> The Kabalists of that time often went to meditate in desolate places away from society.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> According to the Zohar the word “separate” here implies that the Torah scholars should separate from people with such mentality. Indeed, the general name of the sages in those times was “Perushim” – separated ones.