My buddy Shmully was an excellent rabbi. He is learned, charismatic, caring and all-round great guy. Sadly, the emphasis is on the word ‘was.’ After getting his semicha (ordination) he went to work for a couple of years in a big synagogue under a tough senior rabbi. The personality clashes were too much for Shmully and he decided to leave the rabbinate.
Shmully had the good fortune of marrying a girl from a well-to-do family and Shmully’s parents also do okay. Left with a poor taste in his mouth, Shmully decided to go to law school and today he is a successful lawyer. Good for him. But is it good for Klal Yisrael (our people)?
The Bible records two instances of our greatest prophets who requested to see G-d reveal Himself to them. In both cases, G-d does not do so, since “a man shall not see Me and live.” Nevertheless, G-d “passes by” Moses and Elijah, protecting them in a cave or rock cleft as He does, so that they can catch a glimpse of the Divine light.
In the first story, Moses asks G-d to forgive the Children of Israel for worshipping the Golden Calf. Having accomplished this goal, Moses decides to capitalize on the opportunity of Divine favour and asks G-d to reveal Himself to Him, as described in the Book of Exodus:
“And he (Moses) said: Please show me Your glory. And He (G-d) said: I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the L-rd before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. And He said: You cannot not see My face, for man shall not see Me and live. And the L-rd said: Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand upon the rock. And it shall come to pass, while My glory passes by, that I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and will cover you with My hand until I have passed by. And I will take away My hand, and you shall see My back; but My face shall not be seen.”
In the second story, Elijah flees for his life from the wrath of King Ahab. In the desert, he finds a cave where G-d appears to him, as described in the Book of I Kings:
“And he (Elijah) came there to a cave, and lodged there; and, behold, the word of the L-rd came to him, and He said unto him: What are you doing here, Elijah? And he said: I have been very jealous for the L-rd, the G-d of Hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, thrown down Your altars, and slain Your prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away. And He said: Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the L-rd. And, behold, the L-rd passed by.”
Rabbi Chiya bar Aba quoted Rabbi Yochanan: Had an opening the size of a fine needle remained in the cave where Moses and Elijah stood, they would not have been able to stand due to the [Divine] light.
Nahmanides explains: Imagine a king passing through a crowded street. Before him walk his bodyguards who clear the way for him, pushing and shoving the people out of the way. You want to make sure that you are out of harm’s way, because they will have no mercy on any obstacle in their way. Similarly, when G-d in all His glory passes by, as He did for the final plague in Egypt and as He did it when He revealed Himself to Moses and Elijah, it is dangerous to be around. G-d is ‘accompanied’ by fiery angels who destroy any obstacle in the way of His path.
By placing Moses and Elijah in a tight space in the cleft of the rock or cave, no Divine light was able to enter and they were protected from any danger posed by the Almighty’s ‘entourage.’
Imagine how Moses and Elijah must have felt in the tight spaces of their respective cave/rock clefts! The space was so tight, says Rabbi Yochanan, that there was not so much as a needlepoint’s space left for the Divine light to enter. Physically, it must have been pretty uncomfortable! But of course they understood that the tightness was there for their protection. They were able to experience the Divine light passing by, but not be harmed by the fiery angels.
Have you ever felt stressed out by the constrictions of life? Maybe you felt you were in a very tight financial spot and you wondered how G-d could do that to you. Rabbi Yochanan teaches us that sometimes G-d places us in a tight spot in order to show us His light and at the same time protect us. Sometimes we can only achieve our potential when we are constricted.
Take my buddy, Shmully, bless him. He had some issues in the rabbinate and so he went into law. He’s still an active volunteer in his community, but imagine if he’d stayed the course and dedicated his life full-time to serving G-d and man! But he had family money to fall back on and so he failed to reach his potential. If money had been tight, he would have had to bite his tongue and figure things out in the rabbinate, either by subordinating himself to the senior rabbi or finding another pulpit. But since things weren’t tight, Klal Yisrael lost out on Shmully.
Next time you feel like G-d has placed you in a tight spot, just think, ‘How can I grow from this challenge? What is G-d forcing me to do with my life?’ Maybe He’s protecting you. Maybe He’s placing you in exactly the right spot to see the Divine light. Don’t fight it, embrace it and work with it. The Almighty has incredible plans for you in life!