The weekly portion Ki Tisa tells of the tragic fall of the Jewish people — the sin of the Golden Calf. Moshe Rabbeinu’s reaction was to smash the Tablets that he had carried down from Mt. Sinai and to destroy the Calf and punish the wrongdoers. On the other hand, he then ascended the mountain to plead for mercy on behalf of his flock. After praying to Hashem for the restoration of the people to their post-Sinai loftiness and for His return to dwell amongst them, Moshe asked certain questions regarding the ways of G-d in His running of the Creation. What baffled Moshe most was the age-old question: “Why do the righteous suffer and why do the wicked prosper?” Hashem’s answer was a cryptic reply that requires the wisdom of the commentators to understand. “Then I will remove My hand and you will see My back, but My face may not be seen!”
The Chatam Sofer, zt”l, explains: “Sometimes G-d does good for a person and the person does not realize it immediately; only after time does the kindness of His action become clear.” It is easy for one to claim: “All that G-d does is for the best,” when the problem or pain strikes another. However, when one is oneself the victim, one’s mouth opens immediately with complaints about the injustice.
In Slabodka, a girl with an unsightly birthmark behind her ear was born to a good family. This physical flaw caused the parents much mental anguish, as they envisioned the problems she would face in her school years and even more so when she reached marriageable age.
During a period of wartime, a gentile army officer abducted the girl, claiming she was his sister who was lost. One of the girl’s brothers, upset by the kidnapping, ran hotly in pursuit of the officer’s brigades in order to recover his captured sibling. He brazenly entered the officer’s tent and demanded the return of his sister. The officer, embarrassed by the accusation made before his fellows, said, “She is my long-lost sister — but if you have an irrefutable physical sign of your sister’s identity, I will be glad to correct the wrong!”
“Yes, she does have a sign. There is an unsightly birthmark behind her right ear which is not visible when facing her.” The inspection, of course, verified her identity and she was returned to her genuine brother.
Only G-d who can see the future to the end of time knew that this girl would be abducted by the gentile officer and He prepared the unsightly blemish as the “cure for the wound” before the kidnapping ever occurred.
The answer Hashem gave to Moshe was that no one knows the whole picture. G-d does only good and His plan cannot be understood until the final scene is played out. “You will see My back” — i.e., only after the fact can we understand the ultimate good of all that He does. Our trust in Him is our consolation.
Rabbi Raymond Beyda serves in the Sephardic Community in Brooklyn, N.Y. He lectures to audiences all over the world. He has distributed over 500,000 recorded lessons free of charge. He is author of the book 1 Minute Wwith Yourself: A Minute a Day to Self-Improvement, Sephardic Press, 2008.