The Divine Providence by Rabbi Haim Kanievsky, from the "Orchot Yosher"


Translated by Ralph Anzarouth and an anonymous friend

The Divine Providence

We have seen in every generation the blessed Lord's providence over the righteous to save them from every evil and to bless them as is said (Psalm 34, 8): "The angel of the Lord encamped around those who fear Him, and saves them". It is further related concerning Nachum Ish Gam Zu, whose bed was in an unstable house, that he said to those who were with him (Talmud Bavli, tractate Taanit 21a): "My sons, first remove the other effects from the house and afterwards remove my bed, since you can be assured that as long as I am in the house, it will not fall". In a similar vein, it is told there (folio 20b) concerning Rav Ada bar Ahava, that Rav Huna sent him into an unstable house in order to remove the wine from it , since he was certain that as long as [Rav Ada bar Ahava] was in the house, it would not fall, and this was indeed the case.

A further example (ibid. folio 21b): "There was a plague in the town of Sura, but it did non affect the neighborhood of Rav. It was inferred that this was due to the numerous merits of Rav. It subsequently appeared to them in a dream that this did not need the numerous merits of Rav, and it was due to the merits of a man who used to lend [his] tools for digging graves. In the town of Drokrat was a conflagration which did not affect the neighborhood of Rav Huna. It was inferred that this was due to the numerous merits of Rav Huna. It subsequently appeared to them in a dream that this did not need the numerous merits of Rav, and it was due to the merits of a woman who used to heat up her oven so that her neighbors could use it."

The Gaon Rabbi Yitzchak Melzen of blessed memory said, in his commentary on the Siddur of the Vilna Gaon: what does it matter if he had so many merits, since this does not exclude this salvation from his merit? The answer is given in the name of the Yaarot Dvash and the Ohaley Yaakov, that since it is already been said (Talmud Bavli, tractate Baba Batra 60a) "Since, once the destructive force has been released, it does not distinguish between the righteous person and the evil person", this relates to someone not perfectly righteous, whereas the perfectly righteous will not be affected, as it is said (Psalm 91, 7): "A thousand will be stationed at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand; but it will not approach you". So that in the case of that person, whose merits were not so great, it was necessary to save the whole neighborhood in order that he would not be harmed. We have also found (Talmud Bavli, tractate Sanhedrin 67b) that a certain woman sought to take earth from under the feet of Rabbi Hanina1. He said to her: "If that will help you, go ahead, since it is written (Devarim 4, 35): 'There is nothing but Him'2!" This could be refuted, since Rabbi Yochanan said [there]: why witchcraft is called "Kshafim? Since these acts reject the Heavenly host3. The teaching is that Rabbi Hanina's case was different, since his merits were numerous and he did not fear it.

We further learn (Talmud Bavli, tractate Kiddushin 29b) that there was one a harmful spirit in the house of learning of Abaye that would harm the students even when they would enter in pairs and during the day. He ordered the students to make certain that Rav Acha bar Yaakov would spend the night [in the house of study] and he would certainly kill the spirit. And this is what indeed happened, see the text for further study.

We also find similar cases with our early Sages, see Otzar Midrashim page 336, where it relates an instance in which a gentile wished to kill Rabbi Yehuda Hachassid. When he put his head through the window, the window closed around it and he could not extricate it, see the text for fuller details.

The Seder Hadorot (year 4865) relates an occurrence when a gentile came to kill Rashi and could not see him since he became invisible, see the text for the full account.

We find similar occurrences also in the later generations, see the book Igrot Sofrim (commentary to letter 43), where the holy Gaon Rabbi Akiva Eiger of blessed memory once came to Warsaw where he visited the Rabbi of the community, our master and Rabbi the Gaon Zalman of blessed memory4, author of the responsa Chemdat Shlomo and other books. While he was visiting, a woman came in tears before the holy Gaonim. Her husband had become an apostate some years previously, Heaven forbid, and he would not consent to grant her a Get5. The Gaon author of the Chemdat Shlomo had already invested much effort in this case without success. Now when she heard that the Rabbi of Posen was in Warsaw, she came in her bitter distress with the hope that perhaps by joining forces, such Gaonim of the generation would find counsel and a stratagem to extricate her from her shackles of Aguna. The Gaon Chemdat Shlomo turned to the Rabbi Akiva Eiger of blessed memory and said: "It is fitting that you, the Gaon, should help her, since hers is a pitiful case". The Gaon Rabbi Akiva Eiger of blessed memory suggested that perhaps the apostate could be persuaded to appear before them. They attempted to influence the friends and acquaintances of the apostate to convince him to come before the Rabbis when they summoned him. They said to him in a lighthearted and joking manner: "Why should you fear them? Since if you stick to your own opinions, what can the Rabbis do to you?".

Accordingly, the apostate came and the Gaon Rabbi Akiva Eiger of blessed memory said to him: "Why don't you release your wife? Even if you have taken the path you have chosen for yourself, why should this affect this poor distressed soul?" He replied mockingly that he did not want to release her. The holy Gaon Rabbi Akiva Eiger of blessed memory continued and said: "Have I not heard that you learned Gemara in the house of study in your younger days?" He replied in the affirmative. At this the Gaon Rabbi Akiva Eiger of blessed memory ordered that a tractate Kiddushin of the Talmud be brought. He opened it at the beginning of the tractate, pointed with his finger to the page and said as follows: "Have not our Sages of blessed memory said 'Woman is married [...] and is released from marriage by a Get4 or by the death of the husband'? This being so, you have a choice either to release her by Get or, if you so desire, this can happen in the second way, by the death of the husband." The apostate laughed and mocked the words of Rabbi Akiva Eiger of blessed memory and left the Rabbi's house. And it happened that as he went from the house and began to descend the steps, he suddenly felt his eyes dim and covered by darkness. He was seized by a convulsion, he fell from the steps and was killed on the spot, in a miraculous way. Here ends the account from the Igrot Sofrim. [...]

I heard from my brother-in-law, the righteous Gaon Rabbi Shaul Barzam of blessed memory6 that our Master the Chazon Ish told him that until the last generation everybody saw the divine providence over the great Sages of the Jewish People. [...] Only in the very last generation have this providence ceased (apparently to increase the trials of the Ikveta De'Meshicha7). In spite of all this, one who wishes can see it even today. [The Chazon Ish] also told that when he was in Minsk during the war, he had no passport, and whoever was caught without a passport was shot on the spot. When he heard that soldiers had come to the city to conduct a search, he went to escape from the town but made a mistake and instead of running away from them, he fled to where the soldier were standing. They were standing in two rows and he passed between them and nobody said a word to him, so that he passed until the end and made his escape. He said that he was confident that he would not be harmed since at that time he had decided to write his book on tractate Eruvin. This is what Rabbi Shaul of blessed memory told me in the name of our Master [Chazon Ish] of blessed and saintly memory. There are numerous other instances regarding the great Sages of the Jewish People, supported by incontrovertible evidence. And one who wishes, may see for himself.

Notes of the translators:
[1] She was trying to perform some sort of witchcraft.
[2] By this, he meant that he was not afraid, since nothing happens outside the will of Hashem.
[3] The word כישוף can be read as the abbreviation of the words מכחישים פמליה של מעלה, which means that it weakens the Heavenly forces.
[4] This is Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Lipshitz, Rabbi of Warsaw about two hundred years ago.
[5] A divorce document.
[6] The late husband of Rabbi Haim's sister Yosefa.
[7] The period preceding the coming of our righteous Mashiach.

This text from the book Orchot Yosher has been republished and commented by the organization by that name in a series of booklets called Orchot Hamusar. In general, translations of the Orchot Hamusar are not allowed and our site has received an exceptional authorization. The Orchot Hamusar series is dedicated to the blessed memory of the author's late wife, Rabbanit Batsheva Kaniewsky עה"ש. Also the translation of the above text in English is dedicated to her blessed memory and to the Rephuah Shelema of her father יל"א Rabbi Yossef Shalom Elyashiv ben Chaya Musha together with all the other sick of the Jewish People.