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“The Hidden Things Belong To Him”

Rabbi Moshe Grylak

We’re always being watched, and the instruments of that lesson could be fascinating – like the wonder that is the GPS; or tragic and cruel, like the surveillance at the deadly bombing in Boston. But both are an analogy of the Watchful Eye that sees all, and never really lets us hide

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The recent atrocity in Boston brought to mind a story about the Chafetz Chaim.

Once, the Chaftetz Chaim was traveling by wagon with a non-Jewish driver. While passing by some farmland, the driver stopped his horses and stepped off the road to steal some hay for them from a nearby field. Suddenly, the man heard a voice calling after him in warning: “They see you! They see you!”

The driver hurried back to his wagon in fright. His passenger, the venerated rabbi, had shouted out the warning. Making a quick getaway, the man cracked his whip and drove the horses full speed ahead.

A short while later, as they passed another farmer’s field, the driver once again stopped and helped himself to a few bundles of fodder for his horses. And again, the rabbi called out, “They see you! They see you!” The driver dropped the stolen produce and made a dash for the wagon. As they sped off, he turned to the rabbi in puzzlement.

“I didn’t see anybody,” he said. “Nobody in the field, and nobody in the road. Why did the honorable rabbi say someone was watching?”

“Of course someone was watching,” the Chafetz Chaim replied. “Someone Above, in the Heavens.”


Of course, those who believe that Divine Providence oversees everything we do, even in secret, don’t need any additional proofs to validate their conviction. But our Sages taught us to contemplate the world around us and to learn lessons in faith from all the events we witness. Shlomo HaMelech even counsels us to watch the tiny ant and learn wisdom from its ways; and all the great sages from ancient times to the present have derived lessons both from nature and from human life. The quick capture of the suspects in the case of the abominable slaughter inBostonbrought all this to mind: nothing is concealed from His sight.

Here were a pair of youths who thought they could do their evil deed unnoticed; they expected to plant their bombs and slip away casually; but if there are those who have forgotten that “They see you! They see you,” modern technology is here to remind us all of that eternal truth. Cameras are everywhere, recording images of everything, and if people were indeed aware that every action might be photographed, they would refrain from doing much of what they do, at least in the public domain. This is the metaphor of our own faith, to have a sense of shame before the Watchful Eye that sees everything, and the presence of both security cameras and the cameras in the pockets of scores of passersby makes that Eye tangibly obvious. Now that the pictures have been publicized, all can see these two heartless terrorists in the act of planting their weapons of destruction and devastation. A Watchful Eye saw them all along.


Years ago I wrote a piece entitled “The Open University,” in which I brought examples of how our Sages of both past and present turned the whole world into a university without walls, where man could learn the way he is meant to live and find tangible illustrations of the reality of G‑d and ethical principles. At age 40, Rabi Akiva gazed at the stone hollowed out by dripping water and learned that there was still hope that he could become… Rabi Akiva.

Rav Yisrael Salanter once heard a musician playing a violin, and a great truth escaped the notes as the bow caressed the strings. As long as the strings are whole and tightened with precision, the music can play. And so it is with a man.

What lesson does a train teach?

To the great Torah personalities of the last generations, a train was not just a steam engine pulling freight or passenger cars behind it. There are three basic principles of life to be learned from a train: (1) You can miss out altogether by being a few seconds late; (2) A slight deviation from the tracks, the defined path, can end in total disaster; and (3) A passenger without a ticket will be punished and fined.

And that great observer of life, the Chafetz Chaim, pointed out what the telephone makes clear to man. What is said in one place is heard far away, across the ocean and and particularly Up There.

There is another modern invention which makes it very clear that not only are we seen from Above, but we are guided from Above by Divine hashgachah. As I saw once on a bumper sticker, “I drive, and G‑d takes me there.” Of course, I’m talking about the seemingly-miraculous GPS system. A person gets behind the wheel, and a voice takes him through a maze of streets and highways. On the way, it will tell him if he is exceeding the speed limit, where to make a left or right turn, and will “recalculate” an alternate route if he misses his turn. Finally, it will announce, “You have reached your destination.” The driver looks out the window at hundreds of other cars passing by, and he knows that each one has its own destination, different from his, and its own GPS system to guide it. And suddenly he realizes the infinite scope of hashgachah, overseeing the separate destinies of billions of people all at once.  


A non-religious friend recently shared with me his adventures with hisGPSsystem, from which I learned an even more powerful lesson.

We’ve all heard stories of how the GPS can lose its sense of direction and lead a driver astray. It could take him on a roundabout route, and sometimes it just takes him to the wrong place. After all, it is a device programmed by fallible human beings, and naturally it malfunctions at times.

But my friend’s story is truly amazing. He lives on a moshav somewhere near Tzfas and has an office in Tel Aviv. Whenever he drives home, he sets the GPSto guide him there. One day, as he approached the environs of Tzfas, the wonder device started directing him to take some sort of alternate route which he knew didn’t sound right. But, seized by a spirit of adventure, he decided to go with the flow and follow the electronic voice’s directions. After half an hour of driving along unfamiliar back roads, he suddenly found himself…  in Meron, at the tziyun of Rabi Shimon bar Yochai. “You have reached your destination,” theGPS informed him.

My friend admitted to me that he was flabbergasted, as he had set the GPSto take him to a completely different place. But despite his secular exterior, he tells me that he wears “an invisible kippah.” So, since he was there, he got out of his car all atremble and went to say a tefillah at the grave of the holy Tanna. Then when he returned to his car, the GPS system proceeded to guide him exactly to the address he had requested in the first place. Ever since then, he told me, he’s been calling it his “G.P. nes.” So, when I start my favorite speech about the lessons to be learned from a GPS, he can outdo me every time with his story about how hashgachah, disguised as aGPS, led him to Meron.

Sometimes the instruments of our lessons are fascinating, like the wonder that is the GPS; and sometimes they are tragic, painful and cruel, as with the bombing in Boston. But both are an analogy of the Watchful Eye that sees all, bearing the message, “They see you! They see you!”


Food for Thought

“The heavens are heavens to Hashem

and the earth He gave to the children of man” —

The heavens are heavenly in any case, and the earth was given to man

to make earthly things heavenly

(Rebbe Chanoch Henoch of Alexander)




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