Look to the LORD and his strength;
seek his face always. — 1 Chronicles 16:11
Maybe at times you have wondered why God runs the world as He does. Even the most righteous among us has seen things that don’t seem to make sense. We’ve seen tragedies, good things happening to bad people, and bad things happening to the good. How are we to digest these apparent incongruities?
In 1 Chronicles 16, we read about how King David brought the Holy Ark back to Israel and then appointed Levites to sing and minister before it. In directing theses leaders to connect with and give praise to God, he says: “Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always.”
However, these instructions seem to be in direct contradiction with what God told Moses when he asked to see God’s face. God said, “you will see my back; but my face must not be seen” (Exodus 33:23). The Jewish sages explain God’s declaration to mean the following: In retrospect, when we see the “back side” of events, we will be able to make sense of them; however, it is not possible to understand God’s ways while events are unfolding.
With that interpretation as background, I’d like to share the following story about a rabbi who lived in the early 18th century in Ukraine. This rabbi, called the Teacher of Mezeritch, was known for his great spiritual accomplishments and closeness to God. During his lifetime, there were no harsh decrees against the Jewish people – an anomaly for the time. However, once the saintly rabbi passed on, the harsh decrees returned.
There is a principle in Judaism that a righteous person is greater after his or her death than while that person was alive. Therefore, all the rabbi’s followers could not understand why their leader was not able to save them from his lofty place in heaven while he was able to protect them while he was alive.
According to Jewish tradition, the rabbi appeared to one of his disciples in a dream to explain. He said, “When I was on earth, I looked at things through mortal eyes, and when I saw matters that I thought were harmful, I interceded and prayed that they be annulled. But from my vantage point in the Eternal World, I can see the ultimate good that will [come] from the adversities, and I cannot interceded to annul something which has an ultimate good.”
The rabbi was explaining that while we cannot always see how everything is for the best, it is all for good. In that case, while we cannot see God’s face – see how things are really for the good – we can still heed David’s advice and seek God’s face, knowing that all is good and waiting patiently to see how.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President