with Rav Avigdor Miller
The World of Nothing
Part I. The Ancient Mabul
The Multifaceted Flood
When we come to the subject of the Mabul one of the first things we must understand is that the great flood had more than one purpose. The truth is that when Hakodosh Boruch Hu does anything He has many objectives in mind. Like the Gra said (Divrei Eliyahu, Shabbos 130), “When it comes to mitzvos, in case one reason doesn’t apply, don’t think that the mitzvah no longer applies to you because Hakodosh Boruch Hu has other reasons that do apply”.
And just like the word of Hashem in the Torah has more than one reason, Hashem’s word in history is no different. Hashem’s mind is big enough to have reasons upon reasons, objectives layered upon other objectives. And therefore if Hashem brought such a big destruction upon the world, there’s no question that He had in mind a number of intentions.
Now immediately, even superficially, we understand that the Mabul was a way of getting rid of sinful people. וַתִּשָּׁחֵת הָאָרֶץ לִפְנֵי הָאֱלֹקִים וַתִּמָּלֵא הָאָרֶץ חָמָס – And the earth became corrupt before Hashem and the earth became filled with violence… and therefore Hashem said, וְהִנְנִי מַשְׁחִיתָם אֶת הָאָרֶץ Behold I am going to destroy them with the earth (Noach 6:13). There was wrongdoing in the world so Hakodosh Boruch Hu did what He does constantly – He sanitized the world.
Destroying The Virus Spreaders
It’s like the forest fires; everyone knows that sometimes large conflagrations burn through forests and thousands of trees are destroyed. And although it seems to be a destruction, actually it’s a great benefit for the world. Because sometimes when the trees grow old, even though they might appear tall and majestic, many of them are infested with fungi and bacteria. They become nests of contagion and all across the forest there are sick trees that are spreading disease and decay to other trees and plants.
And so, when Hakodosh Boruch Hu sees that the danger has become too widespread and unrelenting, He sends a bolt of lightning to ignite a forest fire that levels the whole forest to the ground. And now the forest is sanitized; the bacteria and the fungi are burned out and the forest floor is pure and clean again.
There’s no forest anymore but in miraculous fashion the seeds of the trees survive and now they begin to grow again. And the plants that grow now, the new trees, are healthy; they don’t have this infection any more. That’s one of the purposes of the forest fires – the devastation is actually a cleansing; it’s a new beginning and the sanitized soil will now produce new trees that are pure from any disease.
And so, certainly, we can say that the Mabul was a forest fire of water. Hakodosh Boruch Hu was purifying the world from the wicked people; He washed away a civilization that had grown tall and strong but was also infected with the disease of wicked and decadent behavior. And when He saw the rot was spreading from family to family, from village to village and city to city, the time finally came to make an end to it all – to send a flood of destruction to wipe it all away and thereby sanitize the world.
Pandemics Are Better Than Floods
But actually there’s a big question here. Because Hakodosh Boruch Hu could have sent a worldwide epidemic to wipe out all the human beings from the face of the earth and He could have left the world intact. Certainly; there are epidemics that can travel quickly from person to person, from one family to another and then from city to city, killing everyone in its path. Hakodosh Boruch Hu could have punished the Dor Hamabul, the Generation of the Flood, with a pandemic – and just like the rot of society had spread from person to person, middah k’neged middah a disease would be sent by Hakodosh Boruch Hu and the world would be punished in the same manner.
And that way it could have been a sickness that wouldn’t affect the animals. Why destroy the beasts after all? Many species of animals were wiped out at that time; some of the great animals of antiquity didn’t survive the massive catastrophes that accompanied the flood. The dinosaurs were all destroyed then; that’s why you find masses of dinosaur bones jammed together in certain places as if they were buried together. Other ancient animals too; in Siberia there are huge graveyards filled with thousands of mastodon skeletons.
Now, it’s certain that they didn’t come and decide to bury themselves together; it’s not like a cemetery where every person has to apply for a plot. Such a thing could only be due to a big catastrophe that engulfed them suddenly. And even the species that survived on the teivah, but for every male and female animal that was saved there were thousands and thousands that were wiped out.
Flooding Away The Earth
Not only the animals went lost; even the earth itself was obliterated. Don’t forget that very many of the plants and trees were ripped away; fruit orchards and wheat fields and barley and rice paddies – everything went lost. The seeds were left floating in the water and later they were able to grow again, but there was a great destruction – no question about that. No more fields and forests. No more houses; no towns and cities – everything disappeared.
Now that’s a difficult thing to understand. Why was it necessary to sanitize the world of anything other than men? It was Mankind who were the wrongdoers! The cows and sheep didn’t do anything wrong! Why did the earth have to be destroyed?! What did the houses and fields and trees do? And it’s such a big question that we’re forced now to say another reason for the Mabul, a reason that will resolve that difficulty as well.
Lockdowns Aren’t Easy
To understand the answer to this question, we’ll look first at a verse in Koheles (3:11): גַּם אֶת הָעֹלָם נָתַן בְּלִבָּם – Hashem put the world into the hearts of men. Shlomo Hamelech is teaching us a very important principle here – Hashem put the love of the world into man’s hearts. It’s a very lovable world and that’s why everybody falls head over heels for the world at first sight!
Don’t you see that a little child is immediately enthralled with everything around him. You take him to the country, to Monroe, and right away he’s infatuated with the outdoors; the grass and the trees and the grasshoppers and the ants – you can’t pull him away.
Even the plain street entices him. Remember when you let your little child out onto the sidewalk the first time. He was cooped up in the house always and now he’s a little older so you let him play outside for a little. Now try to get him back inside – you need horses to drag him back into the house! I remember how my sons, one after the other, fell in love with the street. Now, what’s on the street already? There was no candy on the street, no amusements on the street, no joy rides – just a plain street. But it draws him anyhow because “Hashem put the world into man’s heart.” And it doesn’t end when the child grows up; all the days of our lives Hashem is putting this world into our hearts.
The Original Tech Giants
And that’s the plan of Hashem! He wants Mankind to love this world because that’s the only way Olam Hazeh will function. It takes an interest in the world if there are going to be houses and roads and doctors and car mechanics and yeshivos and groceries and clothing stores and bridges. Bridges don’t grow on trees after all; people have to be interested in the world if there’s going to be a world. That’s why Hashem “put the world into the hearts of men.”
And the Dor Hamabul, even more than you can imagine, were exceptional in fulfilling that possuk. They were busy with everything, building the world we have now. It was during those early years in the history of the world that Mankind gained all the techniques that we need for our daily lives. And even if we have made very many advances since then, they’re built almost completely on the work of the ancients; we are merely midgets standing on the shoulders of giants.
They had to learn how to make use of fire; how to cook and bake and how to make tools. They studied all the plants and trees and fruit in order to develop the science of horticulture and agriculture. They had to learn how to make textiles too. It’s not something you learn derech agav; it’s not even something you learn in one generation. You need hundreds of years of experience; years and years of trial and error. It’s not so easy to make clothing. Can you make a beged? You wouldn’t have the faintest idea what to do with a cotton plant or with flax or with the wool on the back of a sheep! You have to take the cotton and the wool and the linen and make it into threads. Then you have to learn how to weave it and make it into a textile. Then you have to learn how to dye and to bleach it. Then you have to learn how to shape it. It’s very complicated.
Why They Lived So Long
How did they sew? They had to invent a needle and a scissor. It means they developed methods of making tools from metal. Something like that took hundreds of years of one person’s experience; it took years of genius to perfect the art of metallurgy. You have to have “the world in your heart” if you’re going to innovate methods of extracting metals from ore and utilizing those metals.
That’s one of the reasons they lived long in those years – Hakodosh Boruch Hu was utilizing their stay in this world to set the stage for the future of mankind; they needed time to accumulate all the information and experience necessary to develop the processes and tools that the world needs in order to function.
And so we understand right away that when Hashem made this world a place that entrances man it was in order that the world should continue to function; so that people should be His messengers in building Olam Hazeh for future generations. And so if it were us, we would say that Koheles means like this: “Hashem put the world into the hearts of men so that the world should function forever.”
The World Wide Web
But when we look at the end of that possuk we see that Shlomo Hamelech tells us something altogether different. Listen to what the wisest of all men tells us: גַּם אֶת הָעֹלָם נָתַן בְּלִבָּם – Why did Hashem put the world into the hearts of men? What was the intention of Hashem when He made such an interesting world? מִבְּלִי אֲשֶׁר לֹא יִמְצָא הָאָדָם אֶת הַמַּעֲשֶׂה אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה הָאֱלֹקִים מֵרֹאשׁ וְעַד סוֹף – In order that man shouldn’t discover the plan of creation that Elokim made from the beginning to the end. You hear that? It’s a trap! The world is a big web, waiting to snare you!
Of course Hakodosh Boruch Hu put the world into the minds of men so that they should be busy with it and make it a better world, that’s poshut; but Shlomo Hamelech is telling us a secret here. More important than building the world, Hakodosh Boruch Hu wants you to build yourself. I’ll explain that.
Hakodosh Boruch Hu made an interesting world in order to test you. Again; גַּם אֶת הָעֹלָם נָתַן בְּלִבָּם – Why did He make man so vulnerable to the sights and sounds of this world? מִבְּלִי אֲשֶׁר לֹא יִמְצָא הָאָדָם אֶת הַמַּעֲשֶׂה אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה הָאֱלֹקִים in order that man should not discover the work that Elokim made. Hashem intentionally made the world as a trap – will you get lost in all the interesting things? Will you get so busy with the world that you’ll go overboard and forget what the world is really for?
The Builders Become Destroyers
And that’s what happened in the generations before the Mabul. They built the world but as they did so they became distracted and forgot about building themselves. The world was so bewitching, so interesting, that they became Olam Hazeh people. As their minds filled with this world more and more, they became so busy with everything that they forgot about their real purpose in the world. Because the only thing that really matters is that you should “discover the plan of creation that Elokim made from the beginning to the end.” Hakodosh Boruch Hu! That’s the only subject that should be occupying your mind! Be busy with this world, certainly; but don’t ever forget the One who made the world.
And that’s why the Mabul came upon the world. The word Mabul means that it made everything into hevel. The Mabul was mihabeil it all; it made everything into nothing! When they looked outside and they saw “a blanket of water covering the face of the earth,” (Noach 7:20) it was a great shock! Wherever you looked, nothing and nothing and nothing. “Where is everything?! The world that was thumping continuously in our hearts, the world we thought about day and night, the world we lived for, is nothing now!” Ooh, was that a lesson! Before the Mabul, a person’s eyes could sweep over the landscape and see trees and gardens and forest and people; and it was all so very interesting – so interesting that they forgot about the main purpose in life.
Everything Is Nothing
But now, when Noach and his family, the ones from whom the world would be made again, gazed at the expanse of nothingness on all sides, they said, “Look! The old generation went wild over trying to get more money; now they’re all wiped out. They were busy raising livestock – they had big herds of sheep and cattle and now it’s all wiped out. Some had beautiful gardens; all wiped out. Many had built beautiful homes, palaces; all wiped out! Some even had kingdoms with power and income as rulers; all gone!”
People fought with each other over possessions. This one said, ‘This field is mine.’ The other one said, ‘It’s mine.’ And they were busy sometimes for generations fighting with each other. It’s all wiped out. Where are your enemies now? All gone. Where are the people who you were jealous of? Gone. Where are the politics, the kings and the princes? They’re all gone. All the enmity, the hostility, the jealousy, the competition; everything was wiped out by the Mabul.
All the distractions were gone now. That’s why Hashem said, “Behold I am going to destroy the people along with the earth (Noach 6:13). Even the earth and everything on it will be washed away in order to teach you the great lesson that everyone must learn if they want to succeed in this world: It’s a busy world and you must live in this busy world. But whatever you do, don’t get distracted; don’t get lost in the world. Don’t forget that it’s really nothing.
“The way you see it now,” Hashem said, “with everything gone, that’s the real truth.” The Mabul made it all hevel now so that you should see the truth of Olam Hazeh – it’s a beautiful place; it’s interesting and entrancing and very distracting; but whatever you do don’t forget the One who put you into this world.
Part II. The Modern Day Mabul
A Very Busy World
Now, the Mabul didn’t come for that generation alone; it’s written in the Torah for us to learn how to live. And it’s a tremendous lesson because we’re learning that if we want to avoid a Mabul in our lives, if we don’t want to waste our lives the way the Dor Hamabul did, we have to avoid the preoccupation with this world that keeps our minds busy with everything except what’s important in life.
That’s why when the Mesillas Yesharim wants to teach us about those things that prevent a person from achieving his purpose in this world, he tells us (Chapter 5) that one of the worst obstacles, actually the worst obstacle for a man’s progress in this world is hatipul v’hatirdah olamis, when people are busy with everything in this world. “When a person is preoccupied with the affairs of this world, his thoughts are bound by the chains of burden and it becomes impossible for him to focus on the service of Hashem”.
So Much To Do
We are all so occupied with life, we’re so busy living, that we forget about why we’re here. What are the important matters of life? When you learn the Chovos Halevavos, other seforim too – Mesillas Yesharim, Shaarei Teshuva, we begin to see that there’s a whole world of thinking that’s required of us. We’re expected to be aware of Hashem always, to recognize His hand in history and in our private lives.
We have to constantly be making cheshbon hanefesh, thinking over our lives. Are we going in the right direction? Am I behaving properly with my wife? How could I improve in this detail or that detail? Is my davening getting better every day? Or am I wasting my davening by just shaking and saying words? You need a mind that’s not busy if you’re going to daven properly. You need time to study the siddur.
There is so much to do with our minds, with our thoughts, only that constant obstacle of tipul v’tirdah, of busyness with this world, makes it difficult. There are so many things to do in this world, so many happy things, so many other things, that we are just too busy to think. And that, says the Mesillas Yesharim, is our greatest problem in life. We have no time and no mind to put sufficient attention on what is really important; our minds are cluttered with so many things that the ikar ha’ikarim, all the facets of avodas Hashem, are almost never considered.
The Best Conversation Piece
Test it – imagine you’re sitting with a nice family of frum Jews; let’s say it’s your family at the Shabbos table. How frequently is Hakodosh Boruch Hu mentioned? I’m not talking brachos or davening – that’s a formality; you can’t help yourselves. But in the regular conversation, the conversation that reveals what’s really important to a person, how often is avodas Hashem the focus?
Let’s say a father and his children, a grandfather and his grandchildren, a husband and wife, when they talk, how frequently does Hakodosh Boruch Hu come into the conversation? I think you’d wait a long time before you hear it. Everything else you’ll talk about because that’s the world that is living in your mind – and meanwhile the important issues of life are always pushed to the side.
And we’re learning now that Hashem is behind it all. גַּם אֶת הָעֹלָם נָתַן בְּלִבָּם – Hakodosh Boruch Hu is the one who put the world into the minds of Man. And He did it primarily to test us if we’ll remember Him despite all the things that are going on. He did it “in order that man shouldn’t discover the plan of creation that Elokim made from the beginning to the end.”
Parnasah, Politics and Protests
Now we know why so many things happen in this world – and why they’re happening with such diversity. As soon as you come into this world you are hit over the head by the sights and sounds of Olam Hazeh and from then on you’re stuck – all your life you’re busy with the variety of life, with what you see and hear.
All the experiences of this world fill your mind constantly. The rains and the storms and the winds; the pleasant days, the cold and heat, summer, winter and fall. Various kinds of simchos, marriage and children and brissim and bar mitzvahs; all kinds of occasions in history, some good, some not so good. The world is constantly mishaneh itim u’machalif es hazmanim; it’s always turning, changing – something is always doing.
Everyone will tell you that it’s a very busy world! Your parnasah, your family, your neighbors, your meals; breakfast and supper. All kinds of objects and all kinds of processes; various kinds of fruits and drinks and flowers and places. News happening in our private lives; what’s taking place outside on the street right now – this protest and that protest – even what we see of the events in far off countries; things are taking place all the time that distract us.
Many times people are busy thinking about their enemies. That’s also part of the world that Hashem put into your mind. People are jealous of others and a great deal of time is taken up with that. You’d be surprised how much interest is expended on hostility to fellowmen. Women are sitting and talking on the telephone about their daughters-in-law, about their mothers-in-law, about their sisters-in-law. Oooh-wah is there busy traffic on the telephones! Everybody is busy with life.
Home Sweet Home
Even the most basic foundations of life overwhelm our thoughts. It says in the gemara (Sotah 47a) that chein makom al yoshvav – Hakodosh Boruch Hu causes people to love their home place. That’s how it is – your neighborhood finds favor in your eyes. Why is that? I’m going to tell you two reasons. Who am I to say two reasons? I’m just guessing two reasons. One reason is that Hakodosh Boruch Hu is a chofetz chesed; He wants to make people happy so He makes them love their place.
No matter what street you live on, that street has chein in your eyes. Let’s say for some reason you have to be in a certain place and you see a big home on a beautiful tree-lined street. It’s so magnificent and you’d like to live in such a home. But then in the evening you come back to your own poor home on your poor little street, and you feel that there’s nothing like home. Home sweet home! Chein makom al yoshvav – Your own home, your own street, finds a special favor in your eyes because Hakodosh Boruch Hu wants to make you happy.
But there’s another reason; I think it’s true. And that is that Hakodosh Boruch Hu wants to involve your mind with your home. גַּם אֶת הָעֹלָם נָתַן בְּלִבָּם — He wants to put this world into your mind so that you’ll be tested while you’re alive. That’s why people fall in love with their homes. It enters your heart and you become occupied, confused, and distracted. There’s always something. Maybe we should put the bookcase over here. Maybe we should paint the house or make a bigger porch. We could plant roses in the front garden and make a place for the children to play in the back. Paying the rent or the mortgage is also on your mind. Whatever it is, you’re occupied with your environment.
Not only your home; your profession too. “Kol echad v’echad yipah lo Hakadosh Baruch Hu umnuso b’fanav” – Everybody has a trade and Hakodosh Boruch Hu makes each one like his business (Brachos 43b). The shoemaker is immersed in the business of repairing shoes; that’s his world and that drives out of his mind all thoughts of anything else. The business man’s head is full of business. The plumber is thinking about piping and the accountant is a numbers man. He’s always thinking about how to find legal ways, loopholes, to not pay money to the IRS. That’s the business of an accountant; he wants to keep his clients’ money out of the hands of the government and he becomes very busy with that.
Marriage is a distraction too. When a chosson and a kallah get married, in the excitement of their preparations and then the wedding itself they lose sight of the purpose. As soon as they get married it’s as if someone hit them over the head with a club and now they are entirely unconscious. It takes weeks, even months for them to regain their composure and to realize that now they are married they have to settle down to the real business of life; having a family and living successfully together in the service of Hashem.
The Family Club
And soon afterwards boruch Hashem a child comes and they are hit over the head again; now there’s even more of this world in their minds. Mazel tovs and baby food and baby diapers and more expenses. Later, another child, another club; every child is a club over the head. All kinds of problems of making a living, paying schar limud and other bills. And then the children grow up and you have to marry them off and that means more world and more world. Now there’s daughters-in-law and sons-in-law and mechutanim and grandchildren. Could be you have to make visits to Monsey now or to Lakewood; it’s never ending busyness.
And even when you have a little leisure time, you’ll find something else to do and you never have time for yourself. Some people have hobbies that take up their interest. Here’s a man who is busy collecting coins and he has his own private collection of coins. When guests come to his house, he takes out the boxes and shows them he’s a coin collector. Another person is a stamp collector. Another person is interested in photographs. He has pictures of his travels when he was in Europe, he was in Switzerland, when he was in other places. He takes out his albums. It’s a big interest for him.
If he doesn’t have a hobby he’ll find other things — if you bring the newspaper into your home, it gives you even more things to waste time thinking about. And there are simchos and visits with the relatives. Sometimes you have to talk to the neighbor; some people have to fight with the neighbor. You’ll always find something to occupy your mind with – everything except what’s most important.
Nothing, Nothing, Nothing
And many people never come out of this confusion; they never break free from living lives of distraction in this world until they’re very old and they’re close to death. Only when he’s on the brink of leaving this world, he looks back and says, “Why was I such a fool? Why did I live my whole life distracted by the world that Hashem put into my heart? Why didn’t I break free from the shackles of tipul v’tirdah and do something with my life?”
And therefore, because of that ever-present danger, the Mabul came to teach us the great lesson that it’s all hevel. Like Koheles is always saying: הֲבֵל הֲבָלִים אָמַר קֹהֶלֶת – It’s all nothing; it’s nothing built on top of other nothing. It’s nothing and nothing and nothing.
Now Koheles spends so much time on that subject that it’s almost surprising. Why is he so busy making nothing out of everything? It’s true; we’ll admit that some things are hevel. Travel is hevel havalim – all the travel bureaus are trying to sell you hot air. They have no real merchandise to sell. Of course, the movies and the theaters are ten times hevel. The libraries are filled with shelves and shelves of hevel havalim. Romance, hevel havalim! Sports, hevel havalim! Art, hevel havalim! Frum Jews will agree with such things – at least we’ll say it with our mouths. We can accept such things.
Don’t Miss The Point
But the truth is that when Koheles says hakol hevel he’s not talking only about hobbies and sports and travel and politics and art and music. That’s obvious, you don’t need Koheles for that. Any good Jew will tell you that being busy with those distractions means that you’re wasting your life.
But Koheles is saying much more than that. He says hakol hevel – he says, “Everything is nothing! Everything?! Our homes, our families, our jobs, our fields?! It’s all nothing?! It sounds too extreme, even to our frum ears.
And the answer is that it’s not extreme at all because anything else means you’re falling into the trap of גַּם אֶת הָעֹלָם נָתַן בְּלִבָּם which means that you’re missing the entire point of life. Anything that distracts you from “discovering the work that Elokim made,” is hevel because it means you’re not succeeding in this world. It’s only when you realize that hakol hevel, then you can see that hakol Hashem, that everything is Hashem: סוֹף דָּבָר הַכֹּל נִשְׁמָע – Finally, everything is understood; אֶת הָאֱלֹקִים יְרָא – Fear Hashem, וְאֶת מִצְוֹתָיו שְׁמוֹר – and keep His commandments, כִּי זֶה כָּל הָאָדָם – because that’s everything (Koheles 12:13).
Part III. Beyond the Mabul
The Key To Success
That was the chiddush gadol of the Mabul – that’s what the Mabul came to say. The purpose of the Flood was to be mehabel kol inyanei olam hazeh, to wipe away everything and to teach us that the entire briyah is nothing. Everything is nothing! The sky is hevel havolim! The earth is hevel havolim! Food is hevel havolim. Rain is hevel havolim. Your house is nothing! Your wife, your children, your job, it’s all nothing. The oceans and sunshine and the tremendous forests and wheat fields and barley and corn fields; it’s hakol hevel. The Mabul is saying that everything is zero!
Now, doesn’t that sound sad and melancholy? It sounds like we’re being sentenced to a life of hevel, of nothing. And not only is it sad but it doesn’t make sense! After all, Hakodosh Boruch Hu put us here and we’re going to be here for a hundred years or so; and if everything is nothing what’s the point of life?
That’s why you shouldn’t go home yet; I’m not finished. I’m not done yet. Because hakol hevel is only the beginning – it’s only the introduction to the world. And once you learn the hakdamah, if you learn it with the right peirush, you’ll have the key to the most successful stay in this world.
Because once we learn that hakol hevel, it brings our mind back to Hashem. They looked out of the window of the teivah and they saw that there was nothing left except Hashem! Hakodosh Boruch Hu! That was the true lesson of the Mabul. Because why did it turn into nothing? Because the one Something with a capital S made it nothing. Everything was gone now and Hashem reigned supreme over all of creation.
And that was the lesson that Noach and his family were expected to remember as they rebuilt the world. Hashem said, “Of course, under the water there’s still a world waiting for you. And by means of Noach and his family and all the animals that were saved the world is going to be rebuilt again. But the sight of an empty world is intended as a permanent reminder that I’m the One standing behind the scenes. And as long as you always remember Me; as long as you’re not distracted by it all, then it’s not hevel — it’s Me!”
It’s only hakol hevel if you’re distracted; then it’s one big nothing. But if you realize that it’s all the dvar Hashem then everything is transformed into reminders of Hakodosh Boruch Hu. And therefore, when a person is able to overcome the hevel of the world that distracts him and he’s able to think only about the genuine center of attraction – Hashem Echad – then nothing is hevel anymore.
My One and Only
And that’s why we say Shema Yisroel – Listen O’ Yisroel. What should you listen to? What’s the most important thing you have to hear? Hashem Echad! That’s the most important thing – to think about Hashem at all times. When you say Hashem Echad you’re not merely saying that He’s only One, that He’s not like the three-in-one shoe polish of the other religion. Oh no, it’s much more than that. “One” means that He’s the only one thing in the world worth thinking about! If you’re thinking about anything else, you’re thinking about hevel.
Now, I understand that there will be opposition to this. If you try to tell people these things they laugh at you; they’ll say it’s extreme and that it’s not realistic. “You have to be a frum Jew,” they say. “You have to daven and you have to learn Torah and do mitzvos; but to say everything is Hashem and if not, it’s hevel?! Only to think about Hashem?! Is that a life?!” And the answer is yes; a resounding yes! That’s the best life, the most successful life, the happiest life.
Now, in the ancient times people understood this. In the very ancient times, which are our model, we see that when Eisav asked Yankev Avinu, “Who are these people who are with you?” so Yaakov said, “בָּנַי הֵם אֲשֶׁר נָתַן לִי אֱלֹקִים – They’re the children that Elokim gave me.”
“These are my children;” that’s what we would say. Who are they? They’re my children. No! It’s the children “that Elokim gave me!” I knew a tzadik who said, “When I look at my wife, I think of Hashem.” He looks at his children, he thinks of Hashem. Where do these beautiful children come from? A nes. He’s thinking, “This child is a nes!”
Now I’m not saying that people should say that out loud because you certainly will look like a showoff or a fool today. Maybe it pays to be a fool; could be it pays. Mutav lihyos shoteh kol hayomim v’lo lhiyos rasha lifnei hamakom (Mishna Eduyos 5:6) It’s better to be a lunatic all your life in the eyes of Mankind, in order that Hakadosh Baruch Hu should approve of you. However, take that advice carefully. It’s a recipe for greatness, a prescription, but don’t just stam try to be a shoteh. But either way, that’s the ideal and we’re talking now about the ideal – to see Hashem everywhere, to see Him in everything.
Practice Makes Perfect
Now, I know that when you talk to people who are not amei ha’aretz, they’ll say they all know about it. “Of course, only Hashem; nothing else, of course, of course.” But nobody’s doing it l’maaseh and therefore we have to talk about it in practice, not just in theory. Because once a person begins to practice this lesson, everything that was once hevel is suddenly transformed from nothing into Hashem Echad.
Those are the words of the Mesilas Yesharim (Chapter 1). At first, a person is mima’es b’Olam Hazeh; it means he’s repulsed by this world. “Hakol hevel,” he says, “The world is nothing.” But then he reminds himself of what the Mabul was teaching, that Hakodosh Boruch Hu is the only thing worth thinking about. And once he realizes that Hakodosh Boruch Hu is everywhere and that it’s His wish that we should see Him everywhere, so he begins to study the world and the world now becomes important again but in a different way. Everything reminds him of Hakodosh Boruch Hu and now it’s not hevel anymore; it’s all Something. And by means of practicing this lesson again and again, he begins to realize that “this world is not something repulsive – to the contrary, he learns to love the world,” because he sees Hashem everywhere.
A Different Type Of Tree
When he looks out of the window and he sees a tree, he sees Hashem’s briyah; it’s not hevel – it’s Hashem’s tree. Oh wah! That’s a different type of tree already! And when he sees an apple on his table he doesn’t get distracted; he sees a nes that Hashem made. He’s thinking about how such a miracle happened that from a piece of wood something edible grew. It cooked on the tree and now it’s a package of tasty food – it has a little bit of sugar in it, a little bit of sourness; it’s just right. And it’s wrapped in a beautiful wrapper that protects the fruit and is edible too.
Look at a piece of bread. Where does the bread on my table come from? Hamotzi lechem min ha’aretz – He’s the one who brings it out of the earth! Oh, so it’s not hevel anymore – for the thinking person a tree and an apple and a slice of bread are reminders of Hashem Echad. If you’re looking at the things themselves, just to enjoy them, so hakol hevel. You eat up the food and it turns into manure, that’s all. But if you’re eating the food for the purpose of reminding yourself about Hashem then it’s the opposite of hevel.
It Never Rains
Now, those are only a few examples; actually the opportunities to take the world of hevel and transform it into a world of Hashem Echad are endless. You know, when it’s raining outside, some people get excited: “Look, it’s raining! It’s thundering! Oooh, it’s so windy!” But that’s hevel! In goyish they say, “es reggint – it’s raining.” But we say Morid Hageshem – Hashem brings down the rain. It doesn’t just rain; Hashem makes it rain! It means we’re not getting distracted by the rain; just the opposite – the raindrops remind us about Hashem.
As the drops come down we are expected to look at the rain and marvel at this miracle that is taking place now. Where is this fresh, pure water coming from? Is there a big reservoir somewhere in the sky?
No; all of the rain came from below, from the dirty and salt filled oceans. Only that the heat of the sun distills the water and it’s brought up in the form of pure vapor and now clouds filled with pure water are created. And then the heavy clouds are transported by Hashem’s winds – Mashiv ha’ruach – He is the One who blows the clouds over land and then He condenses it into water again and it falls back to the earth where it’s needed.
The Sun No Longer Shines
And as soon as the water comes down, it starts moving down mountains and hills by the miraculous force of gravity, and it spreads out to wherever it’s needed. And whatever is not used makes its way back to the sea: כָּל הַנְּחָלִים הֹלְכִים אֶל הַיָּם, all the streams go to the sea, וְהַיָּם אֵינֶנּוּ מָלֵא, but the sea is never filled (Koheles 1:7). Because as soon as the water comes to the sea the sun gets busy again; it means that Hashem gets busy once again lifting up from the sea huge masses of water vapor. It’s a tremendous miracle; an assembly line providing water to the earth in a constant cycle.
Suddenly the sun is not the sun anymore. The sunshine is not sunshine. The wind is not wind. The clouds are not the clouds. The oceans aren’t just oceans. If they are, then they’re just הֲבֵל הֲבָלִים הַכֹּל הָבֶל. But now, just because of our minds, everything is transformed from hakol hevel into Hashem Echad.
Seeing Through The Kaleidoscope
That’s the great test that we’re living with in this world, the test of גַּם אֶת הָעֹלָם נָתַן בְּלִבָּם – Hashem put the world into our hearts. Everything in this world is percolating within our hearts day and night, day and night. The important things – our family, our friends, parnasah – and the not so important things as well; all kinds of things to do and things to see, all kinds of people to meet and all kinds of circumstances.
And one of the purposes for this kaleidoscope of life is to make our minds occupied; it’s a test – will we get caught up in what we see and what we hear, and maybe we’ll forget about Hashem? The world is made especially complex in order to make people get lost in the complexity of the world. And the test of life is to be able to overcome the obstacle of hatipul v’hatirdah; the confusion of the environment. Because after all life does have a purpose – it doesn’t have to be hevel. And only when a man is able to battle against all the confusions of life, and despite all the things that are constantly happening to him, despite all the sights and sounds that constantly present themselves, he’s not masiach da’as from Hakodosh Boruch Hu, that’s the man who has succeeded in this world.
And because remembering Hakodosh Boruch Hu is the most important thing, it was worth it to bring a Mabul upon the world just to teach that lesson forever and ever. The great flood came to destroy everything in order to demonstrate that all the things that people considered important until now are really nothing. What’s left in the world? There’s nothing left to talk about, nothing to think about. Only water on all sides, just desolation. They were sitting in the teivah and there was nothing to do except to look out and see nothing. And that way the progenitors of the newly built world would experience at least once that actually it’s only Hakodosh Boruch Hu that belongs in our hearts and with that understanding they would rebuild the world again.
Have a Wonderful Shabbos
Let’s Get Practical
Remembering The Lesson of the Mabul Three Times A Day
The Rav zatzal said, “We have to talk about it in practice; not just in theory.” And now that we finished talking about how to practice it, it’s time to actually practice it. During this coming week I will stop three times a day and I will spend twenty seconds each time taking the world out of my mind and replacing it with Hakodosh Boruch Hu. For example, when I’m walking in the street and feel the sunlight, I will think for twenty seconds about how it’s Hashem shining His light and His warmth down on me.