by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – September 7, 2010
In the beginning of the Torah portion of Ha’azinu (Devarim 32: 7-9), we read: “Remember the days of yore, understand the years of generation after generation. Ask your father and he will relate it to you, your elders and they will tell you. When the Supreme One gave the nations their inheritance, when He separated the children of man; He set the borders of the peoples according to the number of the children of Israel. For G-d’s portion is His people; Jacob is the measure of His inheritance.”
On the aforementioned verses, the great rabbinic scholar of just a few generations ago, R. Elchanan Wasserman, murdered by the Nazis in World War II, comments in his Kovetz Ma’amarim p. 81: “Remember the days of yore, understand the years of generation after generation.” We must pay attention to world history and understand the world’s occurrences. However, we cannot rely solely on our own understanding. Our knowledge is too short. “Ask your father and he will relate it to you, your elders and they will tell you.” Look to that which those older and wiser have said. The Torah has given us a key to understand the hinge upon which historical events revolve. “When the Supreme One gave the nations their inheritance, when He separated the children of man; He set the borders of the peoples according to the number of the children of Israel. For G-d’s portion is His people; Jacob is the measure of His inheritance.” The creation of this world, as well as the unfolding of historical events, is for the purpose of G-d’s Torah and those who abide by it.
G-d is not only the Creator of the universe, but He is the G-d of history. The historical events that we witness are the means by which G-d continuously directs His world. When G-d establishes the boundaries of the world, it is ultimately for the sake of the Children of Israel. The above verses are telling us that the different wars and conflicts that happen in the world and the different border changes that occur are due to their ultimate effect – good or bad – upon the people of Israel. G-d tells us (Zephaniah 3: 6-7), “I have eliminated nations, their towers have become desolate; I have destroyed their streets without passerby; their cities have become ruins, without people, so there is no inhabitant. I said, ‘Just fear me, accept chastisement’.” This verse teaches us that acts of destruction come to the world for the ultimate enhancement of the people of Israel, whereby G-d’s Word can shine forth and so that humanity can ultimately grasp and receive it (Babylonian Talmud, Yevamot 61a). Major calamities and twists of history have occurred, found to be unexplainable in their own right, only to find the Jewish people to be somehow effected by them, changing them and guiding them in their centuries-long mission as representatives of G-d’s Word to humanity.
It is in this light that we can better appreciate that which is recited in our prayers three times a day: “Blessed are You, G-d, our G-d and the G-d of our forefathers, G-d of Abraham, G-d of Isaac, and G-d of Jacob, the great, mighty and awesome G-d, the supreme G-d, Who bestows beneficial kindnesses …” The world is G-d’s edifice and the Torah is His blueprint. One goes hand in hand with the other. G-d is the foreman, and the people of Israel, His crew, have been charged with maintaining His structure. When the crew needs guidance, the foreman steps in and modifies the conditions. Let us do our best to ensure that those conditions are pleasant.