As we read through the segments of the Torah that deal with the exodus of Egypt and the giving of the Torah, we are also reading through the moments in the Jewish story that serve as the foundation of Jewish faith – or Jewish trust in God. In moments of our history like today, we may well be asking ourselves whether and how to integrate faith and trust into our lives. As always, the Torah offers some practical insight into this question.
There are three occasions over the exodus story when the Jewish people are described as believing in God. The Maharal suggests that each of these moments corresponds to a different sort of faith, and that each is absolutely integral. If even one collapses, a person’s entire faith system is in jeopardy.
What are these pillars of faith or of trust, as it were? Let’s look at the first one.
On several occasions, my son has come home from school complaining that when kids misbehave on the yard, “the teachers don’t do anything.” We know that school altercations can be complicated, with guilt to be shared by multiple third-graders, (my son included) which is why I understand a lack of action by the teachers. But my son has clearly lost trust in these teachers and has stopped even trying to garner their attention. Why?
The first pillar of trust is what the Maharal terms hashgacha. We encounter this pillar of trust the first time the action of believing – va’yaminu – appears in the exodus story. Moshe gives over the signs to the Israelites to prove that Hashem plans to redeem them from slavery. After witnessing these signs, the text says, “And the people believed, and they heard that Hashem had remembered the children of Israel and that He saw their affliction…” (Ex. 4:31)
In other words, Hashem witnessed an injustice that had been committed against the Jews, and He was going to do something about it. Teachers may fail to administer justice on the playground, but God can be relied on to show up. Believing that God orchestrates things in this way is integral to a healthy belief system.
But Rabbi David Fohrman sees an added nuance in this verse. He suggests that what built the Israelites’ faith in God was not merely a knowledge of His readiness to hold their enslavers accountable, but a realization of His empathy. He sees our suffering and understands it, the verse implies. He knows what we’ve gone through, the pain we’re in. He gets it.
Why is empathy an essential ingredient in hashgacha – or Divine orchestration and accountability? Because only one who really sees and understands the affliction in its entirety can administer the remedy.
We all know how it feels to experience a wrong and then to have the people responsible for remedying it not understand it. Sometimes these people underestimate the pain or difficulty of the experience. Sometimes they blow it out of proportion. Both mistakes will lead to mistaken responses. You can’t really be mashgiach – or properly supervise – a situation unless you have the insight to assess the problems accurately to begin with.
But Hashem – He has that insight. He saw the Israelites’ affliction – in other words, He understood it fully. And He was going to take action to fix things.
In this moment in our history, remembering this pillar of faith can be hard. The horrors that we experienced on October 7th feel so horrifically unacknowledged by so many people. And even for those who acknowledge – I think many Jews wonder – but do they really understand? And yet this pillar of faith is a reminder that no matter what the limitations are of human understanding – whether self or otherwise inflicted – God does understand. And though there is often a delay between wrongdoing and its consequences, in time, He will “remember His people”.
This article is adapted from the Faith-Based Business newsletter exploring the topics of faith, business, and finance. To subscribe to the newsletter, email email@example.com.