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7 Nissan 5763 - April 9, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly
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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
The Purpose of Life

A story is told of the philosophy professor who gave a final examination consisting of one word: Why?

According to the story, this was enough to touch off long essays by most of his students. However the paper given the highest grade was very short. It consisted of two words: Why not?

There may have been a philosophy professor who gave that answer an "A" but from the Torah perspective that answer is failing.

Everything has a "why" and a "wherefore." Hashem created the world for good reasons and He ensures that it is moving, at every moment, towards the final state that He planned.

Pharaoh, thinking that the world runs by itself, can ask Moshe Rabbenu dismissively, "Who is Hashem that I should listen to His voice?" Pharaoh could not see any evidence that the world runs according to a plan. The forces that he could see at work in the world were local, small-minded forces. He could see no evidence of a grand intelligence behind history. Moshe Rabbenu's demand that the Jewish people be allowed to leave Egypt to worship a single G-d Who created and controls the world ran totally contrary to everything that Pharaoh knew and had experienced during his whole life.

So Pharaoh was educated, step by painful step. He was shown that all parts of the world do Hashem's bidding and nothing else.

From Mitzrayim, Hashem was not going to suffice with just getting the Jewish people out into the desert. He announced that He would redeem them with "an outstretched arm and great judgments."

When Hashem's arm is outstretched, it means that just like when we see a person overseeing an event with his arm outstretched we know that the event is the work of that person, so too Hashem's action is fully evident in the way the Jewish people go out of Mitzrayim, as if Hashem were standing with his arm outstretched, ensuring that everything goes as He planned.

HaRav Chatzkel Levenstein zt"l, the mashgiach of Mir and Ponevezh, used to say that on Pesach we are imbibing emunah with our matzos. The emunah that we must absorb is not just a set of philosophical ideas. It is something that we must incorporate into our selves; something that must become a part of us similar to the way the food that we eat is digested and absorbed by our bodies.

The key to this is developing a pervading sense of the purposiveness of Creation. To know and be thoroughly aware that everything that has happened and will happen is part of a Divine plan. This is something that has become seriously weakened in recent generations, as the secularists struggled persistently -- and successfully -- to remove the idea of a Higher Purpose from all modern discourse.

The truth is that Hashem is constantly running the world and guiding all events. The Ramban explains in a famous passage at the end of parshas Bo, in summing up the lesson of Yetzias Mitzrayim, that there is no essential difference between daily events that we are used to and the evident miracles. "They are all miracles and there is no such thing as nature and the normal ways of the world." The Ramban says, "The purpose of all mitzvos is so that we believe in our G-d and thank and admit to Him that He created us."

This is a lesson that we constantly learn, mentioning yetzias Mitzrayim several times each day, and doing mitzvos that also recall yetzias Mitzrayim. It has special emphasis on Pesach. If it were easy to incorporate, we would not need so many means to do so.

Hashem's continuing Hashgochoh and pervasive purpose is not an easy lesson, but it is a very important one and the key to living the right life.


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