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Presented here are three essays from the Rebbe highlighting the topic of Divine purpose and design:

1. A verse in Chumash with Rashi’s commentary

2. A Mishnah

3. A Talmudic essay on this topic.


Verse in Chumash

Moshe said [to Pharaoh], “You, too, will provide us with sacrifices and ascent offerings so that we may offer them to G‑d (Shmos 10:25).


Rashi’s commentary

Rashi comments (Shmos 10:26): “…Lest G‑d ask of us more than what we have in our possession.

The discussion between Moshe and Pharaoh concerning whose cattle will accompany the Jews as they exit Egypt seems trivial and without practical implication. What message lies in these words for a pure Jewish child who studies out of innocence and profound sincerity? Wouldn’t it be far more advisable from an educational standpoint to engage the child in a mitzvah-related Torah teaching? After all, isn’t Torah a guide of practical values and teachings?

To this the Rebbe explains that there are lessons in helping one better serve his Creator that derive from worldly experiences. The following verses attest to this concept:

Moshe said, “You (Pharaoh), too, will provide us with sacrifices and ascent offerings….” Rashi quotes: “Not only will our livestock go with us, but you, too, will give us animals of your own to sacrifice” for “G‑d might ask for more than we have in our possession.”

So, too, one must realize that upon discovering certain events in the outside world, be it involving non-Jews, matters of dissention, and even war-related issues, one is to view these as a direct message to him to derive lessons that will enhance his spiritual service.

This idea is articulated by Rashi as he explains the above-mentioned, seemingly superfluous, discussion. Rashi states that Moshe’s intention in insisting that Pharaoh send his own cattle with the Jews was in the event that G‑d would require of them more than they possessed in their hands. Therefore, they needed his cattle too.

One must realize an essential principle concerning the lessons we learn through Torah and those which we rely on from sources outside of the Torah, other elements of G‑d’s creation:

The lessons that one derives from worldly events involving gentiles, etc., cannot be found (clearly and directly) in the Torah. This is obvious from the mere fact that these events present themselves to us in real life. If they were clearly elucidated in Torah, they would not need to appear for us elsewhere to know and be aware of the lessons contained therein.

It follows that there are times when G‑d demands of His people Israel tasks and goals that are not in our possession, i.e., they exceed that which we discover in our own Torah. One may ask his mentor for a source for a given expected conduct but will only learn it from outside environments. This, then, was Moshe’s deeper intention, that “You, Pharaoh, must provide us with your cattle”; i. e., the positive worldly lessons that can only be obtained from outside sources.

Toras Menachem 5746, Vol. 2, p. 430


Mishnah

[Hillel] saw a skull floating on the water. He said to it: Because you drowned others, you were drowned, and those who drowned you will themselves be drowned.

Avos 2:6

Commentaries on the Mishnah explain that this was the skull of Pharaoh. Since he drowned so many Jewish males, he too was being drowned in the manner in which G‑d repays: measure for measure.

For Pharaoh’s skull to be floating on the water hundreds of years after his death and miles from his place of residence, this could only be due to a miracle. Knowing that miracles do not occur in vain, Hillel realized that G‑d’s desire was for Pharaoh to finally reach a state of peace.

By learning a lesson (in the ways of G‑d) and deriving a teaching from this experience, Hillel effected a sense of closure in Pharaoh’s death and brought about his rectification.

However, the words of Hillel: “Those who drowned you will themselves be drowned,” triggered a complaint from Pharaoh. “Why have they not yet been drowned?” This nagging, unanswered concern only added to the turmoil that Pharaoh’s skull was experiencing.

It was the promise and reassurance of Hillel, a Sage of the eternal nation of Israel that, “They too will be drowned,” that abated Pharaoh’s anguish and restlessness and allowed him to be settled in peace.

The lesson in one’s benevolence toward another is clear. When it came to the need of granting peace and tranquility, even to someone as evil as Pharaoh, it was Hillel himself, and not someone on a lower level, who preoccupied himself with this deed. Pharaoh qualified to benefit from Hillel’s attention and devotion by the sole virtue of having been created.

Toras Menachem 5744, Vol. 3, p. 1655


Talmudic Essay

From the Rebbe’s Reshimos, Reshimah 44

“In all that the Holy One, blessed be He, created in His world, He did not create even one thing needlessly.”

Shabbos 77b

1. “[There is a general principle pertaining to] everything which the Holy One, blessed be He, created in His world: He did not create anything without a purpose.”1 [For example, our Sages2 speak about the usefulness of a spider, recounting how one saved] Dovid [when he hid] in a cave [while being pursued by King Shaul. Similarly, they state:3 “Even things that appear superfluous in the world also provide benefit for the world, and] provide several examples, e.g., “The bast of a palm tree [is used] to make ropes.”

[This principle applies not only to the created beings themselves,] but to everything that occurs in the world: There is nothing without a purpose. Everything is controlled by Divine providence.

Indeed, His providence is manifest also in inanimate objects, plants, and animals, as reflected in the Baal Shem Tov’s renowned teaching4 [that even a leaf fluttering in the wind or a blade of straw being bandied from place to place is controlled by Divine providence]. The Alter Rebbe brought support for this statement, [citing our Sages’ statement:5 “When Rabbi Yochanan would see a seagull, he would exclaim:] ‘Your judgments are as profound as the fathomless depths’ ”; i.e., [Divine justice reaches even the watery depths. “You dispatch a seagullto judge and execute retribution on the fish of the sea.”]

Obviously, this applies to humans and everything that occurs to them. “A person does not stub his finger or toe… [unless it was decreed from Above.”6 And our Sages teach7 that even when a person [reaches into his pocket] to take three p’rutos, and] takes one less, this is an expression of “suffering visited on him because of [Divine] love.”8 And they teach:9 “A person’s feet are responsible for him; [they will bring him to the place he is destined to be.]”

This is the general principle: There is absolutely nothing — no entity, matter, or deed — that is without a purpose.

2. Man and the world at large were created because the Holy One, blessed be He, desired a dwelling in the lower realms.10 [This dwelling will be fashioned] through the performance of mitzvos [in this world, using everything that exists in this world for that Divine purpose, as implied by our Sages’ statement:]11 “They all were created to serve me and I was created solely to serve my Creator.”

It follows that everything a person does and everything that happens to him is [destined to enable him] to carry out the mission with which he was charged or is, [in some way,] for the sake of that [mission].

There is no entity or event that does not conform to this general principle, because everything [that G‑d brought into being] falls into one of three categories: a) forbidden things, b) mitzvos, and c) reshus, permitted things or activities.

[With regard to the first two categories,] man’s mission is clear: to perform the mitzvos and avoid the prohibitions. His primary challenge lies in the category of] reshus, the activities that are left to his own discretion. He must transform them into mitzvos. This is possible, [following the directives:] “Know G‑d in all your ways,”12 and “All your deeds should be for the sake of Heaven.”13

If so, in every moment of a person’s life and every situation in which he is found, from everything that he could possibly do, [“all your deeds,”] in the next moment and from all the ways, [“all your ways,”] on which he could proceed in the next point of time that follows the immediate present, there is one way and one deed that is appropriate, [the affirmation of G‑d’s will].

If one does not act in this manner, either:

a) he performed an actual transgression;

b) he failed to perform a mitzvah (and that is also a transgression), or he did not perform the mitzvah in a befitting way, in which instance, he did not fulfill the mitzvah behiddur, [I.e., in a meticulous manner that glorifies the mitzvah.] [in a manner of which it says:] “This is my G‑d and I will glorify Him,”14 [interpreted by our Sages15 to mean, “perform the mitzvos in a glorious manner before Him”;] and if he had the potential [to perform a mitzvah behiddur] and he failed to do so, that is also a transgression; or

c) [he did not transform permitted matters to a mitzvah, i.e., he did not carry them out “for the sake of Heaven,”] in which instance, “even if [the act] involves what is necessary for the body — what maintains it and gives it life — but [the person’s] intent is not for the sake of Heaven… the act derives and is drawn down from the second level of kelipah and sitra achra…16 an impression is left in the body…. And therefore, the body requires tribulations of the grave… to cleanse it and purify it from its impurity.”17

If so, when one hears something or learns of something: a) this is not without a purpose, but rather [leaves him] b) only one path of action, c) to carry out what he is commanded and obligated to do [in that instance]: to perform a mitzvah.

[These concepts apply] to every entity, everything that exists and is performed in our entire universe, and in all the worlds.

For example, if one learns about the world of Atzilus,18 and either through the very study about it one performs a mitzvah19 or it leads to a mitzvah, in one’s prayer20 or the like, it is for this reason alone, [i.e., the mitzvah that results from his knowledge,] that he became aware of the world of Atzilus.

(Perhaps this is the intent of our Sages’ statement cited above, that the entire world21 was created “solely to serve Me.”21 This applies not only to animals,22 but to the entire world, every entity within it and everything that occurs in it. For all the worlds including the very highest [spiritual realms] are all nothing but a large practice field for man in which he was placed to serve the Holy One, blessed be He.)

For if there was not the possibility, and as a natural consequence, the obligation that this particular entity or occurrence would lead to a mitzvah, this event or entity would not have entered this person’s life, for the entire purpose of his creation was only for the sake of the performance of mitzvos. The other two possible explanations [why something happened to a person]: a) that it was by chance; b) that it did not occur by chance, but through Divine providence, but for a purpose other than the performance (or that it lead to) a mitzvah, must be rejected. It can only be said that the event happened to a person so that it will help him in the performance of a mitzvah because there is nothing that happens by chance or without purpose.

3. As a consequence to the above, it follows that there is nothing in the world — i.e., in every individual’s private world — but G‑d and he. All other existence is nothing but an intermediary through which he can carry out his service of G‑d in a complete manner.

Whatever is not pertinent to his service of G‑d, he will not know about. For no entity or point of knowledge is without a purpose. And the entire world, i.e., each person’s individual world, is nothing more than a medium through which he can reach his goal, [the service of G‑d,] for which he was created.

* * *

The teaching of the Baal Shem Tov that “from everyone there is something to learn” is further reflected in an entire section of the Talmud.

The Talmud devotes special attention to prove the source in Torah for a variety of ordinary “street” expressions uttered by simple individuals. In the words of the Talmud, “From where can we learn a source for this thing that people say?” (Bava Kamma 92a)

One might normally disregard these expressions, as they are unimportant and stem from ordinary people who lack any measure of refinement. What lesson can it possibly have for a Torah Jew steeped in holy matters?

If Torah raises these points and attempts to validate them by pointing out their source in Torah, we can be sure that they are part of the very essence of Torah and carry a lesson with them for even the scholarly Jew.

The lesson is clear. Everyone and everything has a purpose and place (Toras Menachem 5743, Vol. 1, p. 487).

Footnotes
1.
Shabbos 77b.
2.
Yalkut Shimoni. [Although the Rebbe gives the source as Yalkut Shimoni, this narrative has not as of yet been located in that source. See Otzar Midrashim, Vol. 1, p. 74; Targum Yonason to Tehillim 57:3.]
3.
[Vayikra] Rabbah, [Parshas] Acharei, ch. 22:1; Koheles Rabbah on the verse (Koheles 5:8): “The virtue of the land….”
4.
[See Kesser Shem Tov, Hosafos, sec. 119; note the explanations in the treatise on Divine providence (the Rebbe’s Igros Kodesh, Vol. 1, p. 168ff.).]
5.
Chulin 63a.
6.
Ibid. 7b.
7.
Arachin 16b.
8.
[P’rutos are copper coins of minimal value. This illustrates that even an ordinary experience that appears meaningless or accidental was decreed from Above.]
9.
Sukkah 53a.
10.
[Midrash Tanchuma, Parshas Nasso, sec. 16; Tanya, ch. 36.]
11.
The conclusion of tractate Kiddushin.
12.
[Mishlei 3:6.]
13.
[Avos 2:12; see Rambam, Hilchos Deos 3:3; the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch 156:2.]
14.
[Shmos 15:2.]
15.
[Shabbos 133b.]
16.
[Two kabbalistic terms for the forces of evil.]
17.
Tanya, chs. 7-8.
18.
[The highest of the four spiritual worlds.]
19.
[For the knowledge of Seder HaHishtalshelus, the Spiritual Cosmos, also constitutes a mitzvah (Tanya, Kuntreis Acharon, p. 156b).]
20.
[I.e., the knowledge of G‑d’s oneness in the world of Atzilus elevates one’s prayer to a higher level.]
21.
[See also Berachos 6b, “The entire world was created only for this,” i.e., for a G‑d-fearing person.]
22.
[The immediate subject of the teaching in Kiddushin.]
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory; adapted by Dovid Shraga Polter.
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