Shemos – Outsmarting G-d?
How to let go and let G-d
This week’s Torah reading discusses the difficult enslavement forced upon the sons of Israel. One day, the stargazers told Pharaoh that a savior for these people would be born, and he subsequently decreed that all male newborns should be killed. In an attempt to spare her child from the brutal Egyptians, Yocheved placed her baby in a basket, and let the basket float in the Nile River. Pharaoh’s daughter happened to have gone down to the river to bathe, and she spotted the child. She rescued him, and raised him as her own child. The irony of this could not have been more staggering. For, this child who was raised by Pharaoh’s daughter, in Pharaoh’s palace, under his nose, turned out to be none other than our great leader Moses, who eventually led his people to freedom.
This saga contains a powerful message for us: So many times in life, when we fail to attain that which we seek, we say, “If only I would have done something differently… If only she would have told me… If only I would have known such-and-such beforehand… I would have achieved that which I desired.” These notions are false. As we see with Pharaoh, he knew very well that a savior for the Jews was going to be born and implemented a strict plan to eliminate him. Not only did the man he was afterslip between his fingers, but this very savior was raised by his own daughter in his own home! When God has a plan, there is nothing we can do to alter it. When we are not meant to reach the goal which we pursue, there is no way in the world that we can accomplish it.
This lesson applies to many situations in life that arise all the time. It could be a disappointment in not getting into a specific program or institution which we desired. It could also be minor unexpected mishaps as we go through our day. Someone may have given us the wrong directions which caused us to miss an appointment. Perhaps we were misinformed about the business hours of a store and arrived after closing. Our natural tendency is to blame our dissatisfaction with our objectives evading us on the variables involved and think, “If only I would have done this-and-this, I would have had what I wanted.” Not only is this thought process pointless, but as we see from the episode above with Pharaoh, it is also false. There is no “outsmarting God.” Even if a specific factor would have not gotten in our way, God would’ve had no problem finding a different way to prevent us from attaining that which He decided to withhold.
When it was time to enroll my daughter in school, we did some research and decided on a school which we felt would be best for her. We dropped off the application and waited to be invited for an interview. We waited, and waited, and waited… with no response. I tried contacting the school and left messages, but had made no progress. Finally, I got hold of the cell phone number of the man in charge and met him. It was a pleasant meeting, but he had to regretfully inform me that he was overwhelmed with new applicants and by then there were no more slots left. I couldn’t help but think to myself, “If only I would have realized, I would have made sure to submit my application even earlier and made sure to meet him much earlier on in the game.” But then I replied to myself, “That’s so foolish! If God would have wanted us to send our daughter there, there is no question that I would have gotten accepted. I did everything reasonable on my end, based on my knowledge, and it must have not been meant to be. Do I really know which school is best for my daughter? I’m sure God knows a lot better.” In the end, we enrolled her in a different school which seems to be just as ideal, if not more so.
Once we realize that there is a divine plan controlling the pieces in our lives, it makes it much easier to accept our disappointment. As long as we feel that if not for outside factors we could have achieved that which were aiming for, we tend to focus on resenting the circumstances. If we acknowledge that the current state of affairs was meant to be and could not have been avoided, we are much closer to making peace with our dissatisfaction. Removing the blame from the variables involved and understanding that this is exactly the way it was meant to be will surely put is in a more positive frame of mind. (This does not necessarily apply to a case where we were negligent in our efforts to attain our goal. In a case where we should have known better or we know that we could have done better, the result may have only been decreed as a consequence of our neglect. In such a scenario, the proper approach should be to regret our conduct and resolve to act more responsibly next time.)
Parshas Shemos 5780/2020
firstname.lastname@example.org by Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber