Imagine that you hear about this Rabbi from Monsey. Rumor has it that he’s a real nice man. In fact, every Friday afternoon he helps out this old widow. He shops for her. He does her laundry. He’s even on his knees, scrubbing her floors. You are very impressed; he sounds like a real tzaddik.
But, then you find out one little detail. It seems that this poor, old widow has no living heirs—and owns an estate worth fifteen million dollars. Oh… big tzaddik!
Here is the point: my intentions don’t color my actions—they define them. If my intentions are to help an unfortunate woman, then it is a commendable act. If my intentions are to walk off with someone’s fortune, then it’s deplorable. My intentions determine what the act is.
With this understanding comes a powerful recognition. If I believe in reward and punishment, then I believe that Hashem knows my thoughts. Because if Hashem doesn’t know my thoughts, there can be no justice. It’s not just what I did that matters—it’s why I did it. What did it mean to me? Was my act pure or selfish? Self-centered or not?
If I believe that at the end of my days, I will be richly rewarded for what I did right, and held accountable for what I transgressed, then I accept that Hashem knows my intentions.
We think we know
One of the ironies of life is when we play judge and jury of others. We make all types of assumptions about other people’s upbringing and background. We take it as a given that we know what’s going on in their life. And then we reach value judgments, about the act and about the person. Yet, how often do we find out that we really don’t have a clue?
A small shtiebel
A number of years ago, the members of a small shul were asked not to bring little children for the Rosh Hashanah davening. It was a small building, and they wanted a higher level of decorum. As there were a number of other shuls in close proximity, they asked that anyone who wished to bring their little children to shul to daven, to please go to one of the other choices. The notices went out, signs went up and everyone knew the policy.
On Rosh Hashanah day, the gabbai was in shul, with his tallis over his head, absorbed in prayer. Right after Barechu, in walks a man with five little boys in tow. Together, they make their way across the shul, and find the row right in front of the gabbai. The man sits down and, one by one, the five little boys plunk down.
The gabbai is furious. He sent out the e-mails. He put up the signs himself. “How could he just walk in here,” he screams to himself, “and sit down as if nothing’s wrong!?” But it’s Rosh Hashanah, it’s the middle of davening, and the gabbai doesn’t say anything.
After a few minutes, the candies start coming out. The wrappers get noisily tossed around. It’s not long before one child nudges the one next to him. That one nudges him back. Back and forth. Back and forth. By now, the gabbai is livid. “The nerve! Some people…” he says to himself. “But still, it’s Rosh Hashanah.” And he does everything he can to hold his tongue.
It wasn’t until a little while later, when that man and his five sons stood up to say Kaddish, that things became clear. It turns out that a woman in the community had passed away a few days ago. The man didn’t see the signs, because he was sitting shivah for his wife, and his sons were sitting shivah for their mother. Then the gabbai was very glad that he held his tongue.
We think we know where other people are holding. We think we know what their challenges and tests are. We don’t.
But if I accept that Hashem is the True Judge, then I accept that Hashem knows my intentions. Hashem knows my past; He knows me since I was born. He knows my nature and my personality. He knows what I have worked on and what I still need to work on. And, he knows exactly what this situation means to me.
As an illustration: Most school science labs have a transparent model of a man. The outside figure of the man is made of Lucite, and you can peer right into him. There are his kidneys. There is his heart, his lungs, and his pancreas.
That is an apt parable for us. When we stand in front of Hashem, we are made of Lucite. Hashem peers into the essence of us, and knows exactly what we are thinking as we think it.
This concept shouldn’t be foreign to us. We end every Shemoneh Esrei with the pasuk (Tehillim 19:15): “May the words of my lips, and the thoughts of my heart be pleasing to you.”
With those words, I acknowledge that Hashem knows my thoughts. When I daven, I don’t have to speak out words for Hashem to hear them. My words are for myself. Hashem knows exactly what I want to say.
The first level of emunah is knowing there is a Creator. The second level is knowing that Hashem is involved in the running of the world. And this is the third level of emunah—knowing that Hashem reads right through me.