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Home » Balak, Environment

Chukat Balak: Divine Providence

Submitted by on July 2, 2006 – 2:41 amNo Comment | 1,771 views

Mother Nature

Before the birth of our youngest son, my wife and I engaged the nurses in discussion about labor and delivery. When they kept repeating the phrase, “Mother Nature knows best,” I was tempted to ask, “Who is this mother you call nature, do you mean G-d?” I wondered how their scientific minds would respond.

Does Mother Nature dictate to G-d or does G-d dictate to Mother Nature? Is there something we should call Divine Providence? Let’s turn to this week’s Torah portion to glean inspiration.

Coincidental Prophecy

The Torah speaks of Bilaam, a non-Jewish prophet, who filled the pages of this week’s Torah reading with delightful prophecies of praise for the Jewish people.

Yet, the Torah hastens to inform us that G-d only “happened” upon Bilaam and with reluctance, at that. The only reason G-d permitted Bilaam to prophesy was to honor the Jews. (1)

Bilaam offered seven sacrifices on seven altars and was rewarded with prophetic revelation. Even then the Torah informs us that Bilaam did not earn his prophecy, it was proffered only by Divine choice. (2)

This begs a question: Were other prophets able to summon their prophecies at will? Did they have a secret tool that enabled them to summon G-d?

The Prophetic Exercise

In considering the prophet’s efforts to summon a state of prophecy, one must review Maimonides’ commentary on the subject:

An individual with the necessary qualifications can delve into the mysteries of Torah, advance in the deep, subtle concepts and gain a firm understanding of them. He must also sanctify himself and separate himself from the ways of the masses; to not even think of nonessentials or consider current vanities and intrigues.

Such a person must work to concentrate his mind clearly and direct it on High. He must bind his intelligence to the Divine throne, striving to comprehend the purity and holiness of the transcendental. He must contemplate G-d’s wisdom in each thing, understanding its significance in either the highest spiritual entity or the lowest being on earth.

The individual who does this becomes immediately worthy of the holy spirit, and when he attains it, his soul becomes bound up on the level of angels. He becomes a completely different person, far above other men. He is now able to understand in ways he never could before. This is the meaning of what the prophet Samuel said to King Saul, “You shall prophesy with them and be transformed into a different man.”(3)

We see that those who desired prophecy followed the path of personal enlightenment. Their intense devotion summoned, as it were, a celestial revelation. Yet, Bilaam did not pursue this path. He pursued prophecy for the sake of personal glory and was therefore unable to summon, per se, a G-dly revelation.

No Man can Summon G-d

When we delve a little deeper, we realize that no man can summon G-d. G-d is not required to respond even to the supplications of the true prophet. He may reward the prophet with prophecy, but he is not bound by the prophet’s efforts.(4)

Final arbitration on the question of prophecy always rests with G-d. He can choose to grant and he can choose to withhold, but the choice is always his.

In this sense, every time G-d revealed himself to a prophet – any prophet, not only Bilaam – G-d simply “happened” upon him. The distinction between Bilaam and other prophets is that G-d happened upon other prophets willingly, but upon Bilaam only reluctantly; only for the sake of Israel’s glory.

The Divine Conductor

The notion of G-d’s absolute dominion is patently accepted in many areas, but when it comes to nature, the issues are often obscured.like a driven leaf - innerstream

The laws of nature, though set in place by the Creator, seem to operate under their own jurisdiction. When the wind blows, the leaves turn. When the rain falls, the grass grows. When the sun shines, the snows melt.

We thank G-d for the blowing winds, falling rains and shining sun, but credit the resultant turning leaf, growing grass and melting snow to Mother Nature. But just who is this mother we call “nature”?

Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov taught that appearances are deceptive. The rain might fall, but this does not require G-d to grow the grass. Unless G-d instructs the grass to respond to the falling rain, the grass will not grow.

The same is true of all other facets of nature. The sun might shine, but unless G-d commands the snow to melt, it will remain frozen in place. The wind might blow, but unless G-d instructs the leaf to turn, it will remain stationary. It is all Divine Providence. (5)

As the leaf floats through the air, it progresses toward its pre-assigned destination. The path it takes is predetermined and the number of its revolutions is preplanned. Nothing is random; everything happens for a reason, determined at the moment of creation. (6)

Indeed, nature responds to G-d. As a grand conductor, G-d stations himself in the universal conductor’s box. He raises his arm, waves his baton and the orchestra of nature bursts into a symphony of motion and sound.

Footnotes

    1. Numbers 22: 8. See Vayikrah Rabbah, 1: 13. See also Rashi’s Commentary.
    2. Numbers 23: 4. See Bereishit Rabbah, 52: 5. See also Rashi’s Commentary.
    3. Yad Hachazakah, Yesodei Hatorah, Ch. 7:1. Translated by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, Meditation and the Bible, Samuel Wiser Inc. Main, p.22.
    4. This is why most prophets were not always successful at achieving the prophetic state. The art of prophecy is not an exact science. One could not offer up the correct equation and expect a predetermined result. It is a heavenly reward for the prophet’s devotion. Sometimes the prophets were rewarded for their efforts and at other times, for reasons known only to G-d, they were not. (3) There were also times when G-d chose to offer a level of personal enlightenment that far exceeded the reach of the prophet’s devotion. When the prophet reached a measure of perfection here below G-d would not only reward him with a prophecy commensurate with his effort, but bestow upon him a free gift, a transcendental level of awareness and understanding, from above. (4)

 

    1. Likutei Diburim, Vol. I p. 164. As elucidated by Rabbi Nachman Shapiro.See Also Likutei Sichos v. XXXIX, pp. 39-40
    2. See Zohar, Section III, p. 92. See also Likutei Torah, Shir Hashirim, p. 24a.
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