DO WE REALLY KNOW?
ככתוב בתורתו: וידעת היום והשבת אל לבבך כי ה’ הוא האלוקים…
…as it is written in His Torah: “You are to know this day and take to your heart that Hashem is the only G-d…”
Knowing that “ ה’ הוא האלוקים –Hashem Hu HaElokim (Hashem is the only G-d)” must be as “clear as day” to us; we must perceive it with total clarity. Yet, we are still told that after “ וידעת –v’yadata (you are to know)” we still need “ –והשבת va’hasheivosa… (and take [to your heart]).” It is not enough to know intellectually. We are obligated to review it again and again so that we “place it on our hearts.” What does it mean to truly know?
HaRav Yechiel Perr, the Rosh HaYeshiva of the Yeshiva of Far Rockaway, related that he once visited a Holocaust survivor in Canada who had escaped a particular concentration camp known for no successful escapees. Rav Perr asked him a question. Though I don’t recall the entire question, the question began with “How did you know?” The survivor responded rhetorically, “What does it mean to ‘know’? Let me tell you what it means to ‘know.’” He proceeded to relate how he had put his life at risk to enter the Vatican to speak with a high-ranking bishop about what was going on, in order to try to get them to take action and save thousands of lives. Someone managed to sneak him in and arrange a meeting with this senior official. As he related what he had experienced and seen, the bishop kept repeating, “Oh, so terrible,” but it seemed that the message was not hitting home. The survivor then told the bishop that he had seen someone dressed exactly like he was, with the same
bishop’s garb, etc. He then related how he had witnessed that man being burned alive in his garb. This time, the bishop fainted. He was revived and fainted again. Eventually, many lives were saved as a result of this meeting.
In the first few attempts to get the message across to the bishop, the bishop heard the factual information being related to him, but he did not yet really “know” what was happening inside the camps. It was outside of him. An intellectual response of “Oh, so terrible” was the result. When he envisioned himself being burned alive, then he “knew.” That is “knowing.”
When the knowledge that Hashem Hu HaElokim affects the way we live our lives and how we make our decisions, that is when we truly “know.” In order to get to that point, we must constantly contemplate and learn about emunah and bitachon. The key question is: Do we actually live our lives with “Hashem Hu HaElokim”? [HaRav Chaim Friedlander, Sifsei Chaim – Moadim 1, in the name of HaRav Yisrael Salanter] Let us take advantage of the great opportunity given to us to recite Aleinu three times a day, and to say it with heart and emotion, to work on really “knowing” that Hashem Hu HaElokim.
HaRav Herschel Welcher (Mara d’Asra of Congregation Ahavas Yisroel of Kew Gardens Hills, NY), in a shiur he delivered, illustrated his understanding of the phrase “Hashem Hu HaElokim,” based on a S’forno. He tries to think about one event each week where he experienced and felt the “Hand of Hashem” in his personal life. He thinks about that event before Kiddush on Friday evening, contemplating that Hashem, Who created the world (“ זכרון למעשה בראשית –zikaron l’maasei B’reishis”), is the same Hashem Who took us out of Mitzrayim ( זכר ליציאת מצרים –zeicher liY’tzias Mitzrayim) – both mentioned in the Friday night Kiddush – demonstrating His complete control, involvement, and mastery over every aspect of the Universe and, therefore, over our individual and communal lives. This Hashem Who is described this way in the Kiddush is the same Hashem Whose Hand was felt by HaRav Welcher in whatever he experienced that week.
Aleinu 5 – Pre-YK 5781
HIDE AND SEEK
…בשמים ממעל ועל הארץ מתחת, אין עוד
…in heaven above and on the earth below, there is none other.
The word עולם –olam stems from the word נעלם –ne’elam (hidden). Hashem hides from us, and our job is to find Him – everywhere. Everything that happens in the world only happens through the will of Hashem, though to us that fact is hidden, and it appears as if we and others are the cause of events. When it comes to current events, we are too often caught up in the minutiae of “analysts,” “experts,” and news reporters. We want to know the minute details of how something happened, why it happened, who was the hero, etc. We get so enwrapped that we actually start to believe that it was the brilliance of an individual or might of a country that was the cause of some great success (or failure). Needless to say, their efforts warrant our thanks, praise, and admiration. Certainly we are obligated to thank people for their efforts. They may have made the choice to sacrifice their money, time, and even lives for others. However, we must remember at all times that the results are controlled and directed by Hashem exclusively. Getting too absorbed in the nitty-gritty may reflect a lack of this all-important understanding. When we avoid getting too caught up in how the messengers succeeded and instead focus on thanking and praising Hashem, we will be increasing k’vod Shamayim in the world.
The same is true in our personal daily lives. Whether we learn or teach Torah, work, raise families, or are engaged in any of our other many daily activities, we must remember that all results are up to Hashem. Our role is desire and effort, which certainly includes tefilah. Brilliance, wealth, power, etc. are gifts from Hashem. They are not the cause of any success, and are not to be admired, praised, or marveled at (see Yirmeyahu 9:22-23). Getting too absorbed in someone being an ilui in learning, or a g’vir in wealth, demonstrates a lack of understanding of “ein od.” HaRav Chaim Volozhin, in his sefer Nefesh HaChaim 3:12, states:
ובאמת הוא ענין גדול וסגולה נפלאה, להסר ולבטל מעליו כל דינין ורצונות אחרים, שלא יוכלו לשלוט בו ולא יעשו שום רושם כלל. כשהאדם קובע בלבו לאמר: הלא ה’ הוא האלוקים האמתי, ואין עוד מלבדו יתברך שום כח בעולם וכל העולמות כלל, והכל מלא רק אחדותו הפשוט יתברך שמו, ומבטל בלבו בטול גמור, ואינו משגיח כלל על שום כח ורצון בעולם, ומשעבד ומדבק טוהר מחשבתו רק לאדון יחיד ברוך הוא, כן יספיק הוא יתברך בידו, שממילא יתבטלו מעליו כל הכוחות והרצונות שבעולם, שלא יוכלו לפעול לו שום דבר כלל.
[Free and abridged translation:] And really it is of major importance and is a wondrous s’gulah, to remove and nullify from his psyche all foreign influences, so that they not rule over him and have any influence upon him. When a person establishes in his heart that, “After all, Hashem is the true G-d, and there is none other [ein od] anywhere,” and he attributes no power or will in the world that has ultimate influence on his life other than Hashem, the singular Master of the world, so will
Hashem help him to be free of those negative influences so that they will not be able to control his life.
The words “] אין עוד ]מלבדו –Ein od [milvado]” are especially important to remember when we know that we will have a significant challenge later that day. This can be a dentist appointment to remove a difficult wisdom tooth, a doctor appointment we are nervous about, an important job interview, a crucial meeting with our boss or our best and most difficult client, etc. Repeating “ אין עוד מלבדו –Ein od milvado” before and during (when possible) these events will help remind us that the outcome is exclusively determined by Hashem. It also brings reward for bitachon, which Rabbeinu Yonah (Mishlei 3:6) says is “great beyond the heavens.”
What a powerful lesson to remember as we leave our tefilos and go back out into the world. Wherever we are headed, let us carry these last words with us: ein od.