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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Tafkid: Every Person is Born With a Specific Mission תפקיד ויעוד

This idea of Tafkid, תפקיד, or יעוד, has become ubiquitous: that God entrusted every Jew with a specific job to accomplish, placed him in the time and location where he can do that job, and endowed him with the particular talents he needs to do it.  We are told we need to identify our purpose, to find out what we were created to do, to learn what specific task it is with which we were entrusted.  Once we know that, we can focus our energy on accomplishing that task.

This sounds nice.  But as with any idea, one has to be aware that there are several possibilities: 
  • it might be self-evident, so obviously true that it doesn't need to be proven;
  • it might be an idea that we find in Chazal and which has been recognized for milennia;
  • it might be found only in the recent baalei hashkafa;
  • it might be New Age Judaism, something to inscribe on your moebius energy bracelet;
  • or it might just be wishful thinking.
These five possibilities are not, unfortunately, mutually exclusive.

So, what do you think?  Let me clarify that.  I'm not interested in your opinion.  I want authoritative sources.

Here's what turned up.  There is no order to the sources.  I listed them either as I thought of them or as they were sent in. 

1. The Gaon in his new edition of his pirush on Mishlei, 16:4.  The Gaon says that some nevi'im, like Shmuel, were called "Haro'eh", the seer, because people would come to them and ask them for what specific job they were created לפי שורש נשמתו ולפי טבע גופו, in consonance with the root of their soul and their physical nature.  He also says that when nevua'h ended, this information would be imparted with Ruach Hakodesh.  However, the Gaon says that with the passage of time, our ability to hear what Ruach Hakodesh is telling us has become extremely attenuated.  It is highly unlikely that any of us can know what our true tafkid is.  Therefore, every person should do whatever mitzvos come to hand.

2. Tiferes Yisrael in Avos 4:3 on the Mishna of
אל תהי בז לכל אדם, ואל תהי מפליג לכל דבר, שאין לך אדם שאין לו שעה.

אף שעכשיו לא תראה בו צורך כלל בעולם, מדהוא משולל מכל דעת, ולא עוד אלא
שתראהו ג״כ דוחק עבדי ה' ורודפם, והוא כשחפת בעולם; עכ״פ דע שלא לחנם הניחו הקביה בחיים עדיין, על כרחך שיש בו עכשיו צורך הנעלם ממך, או שיבוא שעה שיהיה צורך בו, ומי יודע מהו הטוב שיתגלגל על ידו, ואל דעות השם'
Brief translation:
(The Mishna says "Do not denigrate any person...because every person has his hour.")  The Tiferes Yisrael says "Even though now you can't imagine of what possible use is such a man, because he is completely lacking sense, and even worse, he persecutes and pursues the servants of Hashem, he is like a disease in human form, even so- know that not for nothing does Hashem let him live; there must be some hidden need for his existence, or the time will come when he is needed.  Who knows what good can come through him?  Hashem is the Master of Wisdom.

3. Netziv: The Netziv is in the end of Parshas Shlach, Bamidbar 15:41, in the parsha of Tzitzis. He says that the passuk ‘velo sasuru acharei levavchem’ means that although Koheles says “ שמח בחור בילדותיך, ... והלך בדרכי לבך ” (rejoice in your youth, young man...and walk in the way of your heart), which means that “אם בא אדם לשאול איזהו דרך ישרה שיבור לו בדרך לימודו או במה להיות זהיר טפי על זה אמר קוהלת והלך בדרכי לבך מה שלבו נמשך אחריו ברור שמזלו חזי שזה ענין לפי כח נפשו” (if a man asks, what is the right path for me in learning or in scrupulousness, Koheles tells him to walk in the way of his heart, what his heart feels drawn to; it is clear that he subcounciously realizes that this type of thing is good for his specific abilities), because a person should choose to dedicate himself with special joy and diligence to a certain derech halimud or a mitzvah that he enjoys.  (Of course, he continues, the Torah warns that he should only choose from among the options that the Torah gives, and he shouldn’t innovate new paths and concepts, as did the mekosheish, even if it’s le'sheim shamayim. This is what the Torah means with “lo sasuru”-- like “vayasuru es Eretz Kna’an.”)

Please note that the Netziv is NOT saying that people were born with specific tasks, just that we were born with unique talents and predilections, and that one should work within that framework in order to succeed. The Netziv is using the concept of “chanoch l’naar ahl pi darko” for choosing a direction in life.

4.  The Satmerer in Vayo’eil Moshe in the beginning of Parshas Nasso says that a person that enjoys a particular mitzvah, and always looks for and finds opportunities to do it, was born for that mitzva. He uses this to explain why Kehas and not the bechor, Gershon, was given the task of carrying the Aron.

5.  Rav Kook: (echoing the Tiferes Yisrael)
אלקי, עד שלא נוצרתי איני כדאי, ועכשיו שנוצרתי כאלו לא נוצרתי. לפני שנוצרתי, כל אותו הזמן הבלתי מוגבל שמעולם עד שנוצרתי, ודאי לא היה דבר בעולם שהי' צריך לי. כי אם הייתי חסר בשביל איזו תכלית והשלמה הייתי נוצר, וכיון שלא נוצרתי עד אותו הזמן הוא אות, שלא הייתי כדאי עד אז להבראות, ולא היה בי צורך כי אם לעת כזאת שנבראתי, מפני שהגיעה השעה שאני צריך למלא איזה דבר להשלמת המציאות. ואילו הייתי מיחד מעשי אל תכלית בריאתי הנני עכשיו כדאי, אבל כיון שאין מעשי מכוונים לטוב התכלית הרי לא הגעתי אל תכלית בריאתי ואיני עדיין כדאי כמו קודם לכן
עולת ראיה ח"ב עמ' שנ"ו.
(Thank you, Micha.  Also, thank you to Rav Pinchas Rubenstein of

Brief translation:
....I was created because the time came for me to fill some need for the perfection of the real world.  If I were to dedicate my efforts toward fulfilling the purpose of my creation, I would be considered "worthy." ....

6.  Reb Tzadok :
אבל באמת כל אחד מישראל הוא מדוגל בדבר אחד על כל ישראל, ובדבר זה הוא בחינת מלך על כל ישראל ... וכל אחד יש לו דבר אחד, שבזה הוא נכתר בכתר על כל ישראל
פרי צדיק ח"ב עמ' 117.
Brief translation:
Every Jew is uniquely qualified in one aspect, superior in that respect to any other person. In that one matter, he is like a king over the Jewish People....

and also, almost identical with the Tiferes Yisrael,-  `
אין לך אדם שאין לו שעה: והיינו, שכל א' מישראל באותו שעה ובאותו עניין הוא הגדול מכל ישראל, וכן חבירו בשעה אחרת. והיינו, מפני שכל א' מישראל יש לו חלק בתורה, אות או חלק מאות, אשר בחוסר אותו האות או חלק ממנו הס"ת פסול 

פרי צדיק ח"ד עמ' 6
Brief translation:

Every Jew has a time and place when he is the only one that can do a necessary task.... this is because every Jew has his own portion in the Torah, he is represented by one of the 600,000 "letters" in the Torah, and without him, the Sefer Torah is passul.

7.  The Sfas Emes in Parshas Korach 5647, (sent in by Chaim B.) quotes his grandfather as having said exactly this idea in the Mishna of Im ein ani li mi li.  See it at the marvelous here

במשנה כל מחלוקת שהיא לש״ש סופה להתקיים זו מחלוקת שמאי והלל ושאינה לשם שמים מחלוקת קרח וכו' וכן הוא בזוה״ק דפליג על שבת שנק׳ שלום ואחיד במחלוקת ע״ש. כי בודאי יש מקום לחילוקי דיעות שנמצא בבנ״י כמ״ש כשם שאין פרצופיהם שוה כן אין דיעותיהם שווה. והענין עפ״י מ״ש אא״ז מו״ר ז'ל על המשנה אם אין אני לי מי לי כי כל אדם נברא לתקן דבר מיוחד שאין אחר יכול לתקן וכן בכל זמן וזמן מיוחד תיקון אחר.עכ״ז כשאני לעצמי מה אני שצריך כל אחד לבטל חלק פרטי שלו אל הכלל ע״כ דפח״ח

Brief translation:
In the mishna (in Avos) "any dispute that is motivated by a desire to do Hashem's work will have a positive result, such as the disputes between Shamai and Hillel, but if the disputants are motivated by self-interest, it will end badly, such as the dispute of Korach etc. .....  Certainly, there is a place for the inevitable differences of opinion among G-d fearing Jews.... As my grandfather said regarding the Mishna "If I am not for myself, who will be for me," that every man was created to correct one specific problem that nobody else can correct, and every moment presents its own particular task.  Still, if I focus only on my personal purpose, what am I?  Because every person needs to subordinate his own share to the community.

8.  Rav Rudderman used to say this pshat in the davening of the Yamim Nora'im.  מעשה איש ופקודתו, Ma'asei Ish Ufekodaso, he said, meant that Hashem compares what each man has done, מעשה איש,  and  פקודתו, his Pekidah, his tafkid.  Unfortunately, for most of us, there is a vast gulf between what we could have and should have done and what we do.

9.  Reb Yosef Ber Soloveichik (quoted by Rabbi Shachter) used to say that (Kiddushin 31b and Yerushalim Pei'ah 1:1) someone said that Reb Tarfon used to do tremendous Kibbud Eim, and the other Tannaim said "Ha! He hasn't even come close to fulfilling the mitzvah!"  It seems that they are denigrating his great sacrifices and efforts.  Rav Yosef Ber explained that when a person fulfills his purpose, Hashem takes him to Gan Eden.  The Tannaim were saying that he has not even a little done what he is capable of doing, so there is good reason for Hashem to let him stay in this world.

So, we have great geonim who do say this idea, and even read it into two mishnayos in Avos, though more in the way of drash than pshat in the Mishna.  The Shiurei Daas probably says something about this too.  According to great unknown, everything I ought to know and don't know is in the Shiurei Daas.  Or maybe its "I ought to know everything in the Shiurei Daas, and I don't."  But I do know there's no such Gemara, and I would be thrilled to find out that it's in some Medrash or Rishon.

Micha and Chaim B brought up very nice points, as follows.

Micha: Given that we are all made unique and Hashem intervenes to give each of us what He feels is appropriate (Hashgacha Pratis for all people), and given that Hakadosh Baruch Hu isn't arbitrary, one is compelled to believe He has a unique purpose for each of us.

Chaim B: When people talk about gilgulim, they either say that they're going around because they need to correct an error they committed in a previous life, or because they didn't do what they were sent to do. If a soul has a specific mission, then it makes sense that it has to keep coming back until its job is done.

After all was said and done, I added the following:
From the forensic perspective, I would say that both ideas, universal Hashgacha and gilgulim, plus the absence of earlier sources, point to the Ari zal. I have a feeling we'll eventually find a reference to the idea in his writings or in the Ramchal. As Alexandre Dumas might say, Cherchez le Arizal.

So now that we've determined that is an idea with strong support among our gedolim, we should take it seriously.  How do we use the idea in our daily lives?

First, as the Gaon pointed out, you have to realize that nobody can know with certainty what his tafkid is.  It's not like we get marching orders from the famalia shel ma'ala.  We're left to try to figure out what we ought to be doing, based on hints and intuition and so on.  I guess this process is part of learning to know yourself, which is valuable in itself.  So it's worth spending some time assessing our abilities and circumstances, and pondering what role we might effectively play in Hashem's plan.

Speculatively, one might say that finding your life's work is like finding your life's mate.  The Gemara in Sotah 2a says that forty days before a child is formed, a voice comes from Heaven and proclaims the appropriate shidduch for that child.  All things being equal, (and despite the Gemara in Moed Kattan 18b about Shema yekadmenu and the Meiri about what zivug sheini means and Ibn Kreskas about hashgacha and hishtadlus,) we believe that the person one marries is the person that was designated for him.  Perhaps the same can be said of the Tafkid: we are obligated to do our best to discover what we were meant to do, and all things being equal, what we focus on is what we were meant to do.  And perhaps it might not be us that does our assignment, but rather a descendant who carries something of us within them.

Second, the idea that each person is created with a tafkid is a consolation to people who are not gifted with natural talents, or who are handicapped; it doesn't matter.  Every person with a spark of self-awareness is created with the opportunity to do something important, we all contribute in some way to the betterment of the world and to the fulfillment of Hashem's plan.  Our only obligation is to play the hand we're dealt as best we can.  No person's achievements can be judged by comparison to others'.  As the Gemara (Erchin 11b) says, Meshorer sheshi'eir bemissa: a Levi whose job it is to guard the doors is not expected to sing, and if he attempts it, it is a mortal sin.  If you're a meshoreir, then sing! If you're a sho'eir, then guard!

Third, if you're convinced that you are uniquely qualified to do a certain job, and someone tries to take it away from you, don't just quietly walk away.  Fight for your destiny!  To silently abdicate your crown you were born to wear is not only shameful, it is a denial of the significance of your entire existence.

I found that Reb Chaim Vital in his Hakdama to Shaar Hahakdamos says this idea.  Here it is, three quarters of the way through the hakdama.  Starting with the words "Ki chol hatzadikim vechol ba'ei olam mizera yisrael."  Here's part of it:

וכבר נרמז כ"ז גם בדברי רז"ל במדרשים וכמ"ש בשמות רבה פ' כי תשא וכן במדרש תנחומא בפ' כי תשא ע"פ איפה היית ביסדי ארץ וגם ע"פ ראו קרא ה' בשם בצלאל וכו' כי כל הצדיקים וכל באי עולם מזרע ישראל תלוים בגופו של אדה"ר זה בגופו וזה בראשו וזה באזנו וזה בצוארו וכו' וכן עד"ז כל הנפשות תלויות בנפשו וכל הרוחות ברוחו וכל הנשמות בנשמתו וכמו שגופו של אדה"ר כלול מרמ"ח אברים ושס"ה גודים כן נפשו רוחו ונשמתו גם כלם תלויים בתורה שיש בה רמ"ח מצות עשה ושס"ה מצות לא תעשה אשר ז"ס מ"ש רז"ל א"ל ר' פלוני אבוך במאי הוה זהיר וכו' ואל זה רמזו ז"ל המאמר הזה בשיר השירים במ"ש ועל מה אתיא להאי גופה סרוחה וכו' גם כל העולמות כלם הם בחי' אדם אחד כלול מתרי"ג אברים וגידים וכמו שמצינו כנפי הארץ טבור הארץ עין הארץ לב השמים וכיוצא באלו וכנזכר בפרשת הזהר בריש פרשת תולדות דף קל"ד ע"א וז"ל לית לך כל שייפא ושייפא דקיימא ביה בב"נ דלא הוי לקבליה בריה בעלמא דהא כמה דב"נ איהו מתפליג שייפין וכו' הכי נמי עלמא כל אינן בריין כלהו שייפין שייפין קיימין על אילין וכו' ואל זה רמז מ"ש למעלה למינדע ליה לגופא ולאשתמודע מן איהו וכו' ואמר עוד וחד למנדע ולאסתכלא בהאי עלמא דאיהו ביה ועל מה אתתקן באופן כי האדם צריך להשיג ע"י טרחו בחכמה הזאת עד שידע שורשו ואחיזתו בגוף האדם העליון היכן וכן ברוחו ונפשו ונשמתו וכן אחיזתו במצות התורה בפרטות היכן עיקר אחיזתו ובזה תבין ותשכיל מ"ש חז"ל כל העושה מצוה אחת מטיבין לו ומאריכין ימיו ונוחל את הארץ וכל מי שאינו עושה מצוה אחת אין מטיבין לו ואין מאריכין ימיו וכו'

To my untrained eye, this is much closer to the Netziv's idea than to Reb Tzadok's.   But the Lubavitcher Rebbe in his Likute Sichos (12 Tamuz '14 and 16 Tamuz '12) uses it like the latter.

From the Lubavitcher, briefly:
Sein chelkeinu be'sorasecha (Avos 5:20) means that each person has an insight to Torah that nobody else can reveal, as we see that Moshe Rabbeinu didn't know the things that Reb Akiva taught (Menachos 29a.)
We find that certain Tana'im took particular care to do certain mizvos, in a sense specializing in fulfilling that mitzva as perfectly and fully as possible.  This is because each person has his own unique connection to the Torah and the Mitzvos.
When a person sees that his attempts to do a certain mitzva always are unusually difficult, he should realize that those are the mitzvos he was born to do, and the Yetzer Hara is being moser nefesh to stop him.  (This, by the way, is something the Chasidim often say; I also saw it in the Slonimer's sefer.  The Netziv, on the other hand, says that the way to know what you were born to do is to think about what comes most easily to you.  This sounds like a diametric contradiction, but it's not.  They're both talking about things that you are drawn to do but find difficult to achieve.)

A new citation:  The Chasam Sofer quotes the Rambam as having said a very similar thing in a letter to his son. The Chasam Sofer quotes this Rambam three times that I know of; in his drashos in Parshas Ki Savo, in his introduction to his teshuvos in Yoreh Deiah, and in his pirush on Maseches Gittin. But I haven't found the Rambam inside yet, despite all the databases I have.  In any case, Rabbi Klein cites it in his Mishna Halachos vol 13 #210 as follows:
למאן דלא חזינא קמברכינא ה"ה כבוד האי צורב עוסק בחוקי חורב יחזקאל אלימלך אייזענבערג הי"ו בישיבה הגדולה צאנז נתניה.
דבר אשר נסתבך בענין מה שאמרו ז"ל שצריך לבקש רחמים על החולה שהרי ידוע שיסורין ממרקין עונותיו של אדם א"כ טובה הוא לו מה שיסורין באים עליו וזה הוא גם בכלל להתפלל עליו לרפואה ואולי מוטב שימות קודם זמנו והלא בחנוך כתיב ויתהלך חנוך את האלקים ואיננו כי לקח אותו שלא יתקלקל והביא גם מה שכתב הרמב"ם באגרת דמוטב לו לאדם כשמת צעיר שיקלקל פחות והח"ס הקשה על זה והאריך עוד בזה.

הנה ראשונה הנני להעיר שנשתבש מאד ונתקלקל לו יסוד הדברים ונתערבו זה בזה, והלוא מקרא מפורש בתורה שמצוה להתפלל על חולה, ויחל משה מכאן שמצוה להתפלל על החולה עד שיחלה עצמו עליו, ובשמו"ע בברכת רפאינו ועוד והקב"ה מתאוה לתפלתן של צדיקים ומה שכתב בשם אגרת הרמב"ם דמוטב לו לאדם כשמת צעיר והקשה עליו הח"ס וכתב דלא ידע מקומו אמת דיבר דאין מכתב כזה  ולא כתב הרמב"ם כן אלא שכתב הרמב"ם ז"ל אשרי מי שחתם ימיו במהרה כלומר אשרי לו לאדם שהשלים את כל מצותיו ותפקידו בעוה"ז והולך לו למנוחות לעוה"ב כאדם השלם שהשלים על מה שבא לעוה"ז וע"ז הקשה מרן הח"ס דא"כ כשרואין צדיקים מאריכין ימים יש ח"ו מקום לטעות שלא שלמו ימיהם במהרה ואינם צדיקים גמורין ותי' שהקב"ה מניחן בשביל הבנים שיגדלם או בשביל שצריכין לטובת הצבור וזה שאמר והותירך ה' לטובה בפרי בטנך ובזה נראה לישב הצדיק אבד ואין איש שם על לב וגו' כי מפני הרעה נאסף הצדיק ולכאורה אולי מת מפני שבא זמנו למות ולהנ"ל זה אינו שהרי הצדיק זמנו כבר השלים בעודו צעיר לימים ומה שהאריך ימים הוא רק לטובת הכלל שצריכין לו ואם רואים בשמים שאינם כדאי שיחי' עוד מפני הרעה ח"ו יאבד הצדיק מן העולם וז"ש הצדיק אבד ולא שמת דלצדקתו כבר השלים ימיו ועכשיו לדורו הוא דאבד והבן.
And another teshuva from Rabbi Klein there #214:

ומיהו אלו אין להם שייכות עם מה שכתב הרמב"ם אשרי מי שחתם ימיו במהרה כי הרמב"ם ז"ל מיירי במי  שיש לו תפקיד מיוחד להשלים את עצמו בהשלמה זו ולמשל מי שנשלח מחוץ למדינתו לרכוש כמה דברים  והוא בזריזות עשה הכל ורכש כל הצריך וגדולה מזו בזמן קצר הרי הוא שמח לחזור לביתו במוקדם האפשר  כל שאין לו עוד שם מה לעשות וכן הוא אם מי שחתם ימיו במהרה שכבר תקן הכל ולא כן אלו שהרי נלקחו  מפני הסכנה להם או החשש שלא יתקלקלו וזה פשוט מאד. 

And here's the Chasam Sofer himself in his pirush to Gittin 55b, talking about the same Rambam:

ידוע מ"ש רמב"ם באגרותיו כי לכל אדם ניתן מדה ופלס מה יתקן בעולמו וכשגמר תיקונו יפטר לעולם הבא ואשרי מי שחתם ימיו מהרה אלו דבריו שם, ואומר אני אשרי הנ"ל נאמר לאפוקי המתעצל ומתרשל אבל מי שגמר תיקונו המחויב ומנדבת לבו רוצה וחפץ לעבוד ה' עוד באחריתו טוב מראשיתו אזי טוב לו חיותו בעולם הזה.

The only Rambam I found that was anywhere near this was what he wrote in a Mussar to his son, which is worth reading for many reasons, as will become clear.

ודע בני כי האדם המסכן בזה העולם השפל הנבזה אין לו מנוחה בו ואשריו למי שחתמו ימיו מהרה בלא טרדת נפשו. ולולי זה החכם הנזכר רבי אברהם אבן עזרא זצ"ל אשר העירני על ענינים רבים ולא ידעתי בהם אלא אחר שחברתי פירוש המשנה והחבור שקראתיו משנה תורה וספר מורה הנבוכים, הייתי מעירך על סודותיו שרמז בחבוריו ובספריו. והשמר לך שלא תטריד שכלך הזך ונפשך היקרה אלא בחבורינו וחבוריו וזולתם שוא ותפל ויכלה הזמן והם לא יכלו. ושמור נפשך מאד מדברי רוב חבורי אנשי צרפת היא פרנצ"ה אשר לא יראה להם שהם מכירים הבורא יתברך אלא בעת אכלם בשר השור שלוק מטובל בחומץ ובשומים והוא טבול הנקרא בלשונם סלס"א ויעלה איד החומץ ועשן השומים אל מוחם ויחשבו אז להשיג בהם הבורא יתברך בכל שעה, ושהוא קרוב בתפילותיהן וצעקותיהן בקראם בתלמוד וזולתו מחבורים ומדברי ראשי ישיבות, גם בשומם הבורא יתברך מדרס לשונם בספרם ובזכרם הבורא ית' בכל שעה באותם הדברים המגשימים הבורא ית' עלוי רב וגדול מדברי הכופרים חלילה לו. ויוציאו ספרי תורה ללא צורך יברכו בהם הקהלות:

It's interesting because it seems to say what Rabbi Klein says was not said by the Rambam, and because of his high regard for the Ibn Ezra, and because of his less respectful opinion of the French Bnei Torah.


micha said...

Add to that both the Chafeitz Chaim and R' AY Kook.

The CC comments on "asher Anokhi metzavkha hayom" (Shema) that the "hayom" refers to our being place in the right time to accomplish out tafqid.

A similar point is made by RAYK -- not just that every person has a tafqid, but that the time and place they're put in is the one suited for that tafqid.

A way to look for earlier sources:
I'm pretty sure we can prove from some rishon or another that everything subject to hashgachah has a tafqid, otherwise why would it exist. And since, most rishonim (Rambam excluded) believe that all people are subject to hashgachah peratis (not kelalis), it would imply that every person has a tafqid.


B said...

I'm going to post the mekoros that I have: if you happen to have the addresses of your mekoros, I would appreciate them.

Still, I wonder why people say this. Who says we have any specific tafkid? We're all chayav to do avodas Hashem, of course, but who says we have any specific tafkid? Bishlema Klal Yisrael as a whole, or great souls like Moshe Rabbeinu, it's obvious they have specific tasks and expectations. But the common man? Meiheichi teisi? We are just chayav to do what we can, and it doesn't matter if we do any particular thing.

For example: Each blade of grass has a tafkid and an enforcing malach. But each blade doesn't have a specific task, it just is supposed to grow. Unless you are a little vermaleh that needs shade, which is not at all believable. There's no reason to make believe that everything is some infinitely complex puzzle with each piece needed in a particular shape and place.

micha said...

The rishonim didn't believe that each blade of grass had its own hashgachah. Hashem's plan really only involves most blades in a overall statistical sense, and therefore He only customizes their fate in an overall, statistical sense -- hashgachah minis.

People are unique, and each receives our own hashgachah peratis. Our souls are unique, our fates are tailored. Does that not imply that how we do avodas Hashem is also distinct? If Hashem gave Yankl a great mind, and Shimon a ready smile, why did He do so? Is it not because His plan for Yankl is an avodah centered on an intellectual pursuit, and Shimon's avodah on simchah?

In other words, the alternative is to entertain the possibility that HQBH created a unique being and intervenes to provide it with a specific life story but doesn't have for that being a specific plan or goal. That there is a person with a unique design by G-d but that's all pretty arbitrary, not made for a specific function.


Devorah said...

very interesting, thanks.

Nosson Gestetner said...

I'm waiting for the big guns to get involved, as I have nothing to contribute.

Re R' Tzadok, what of the issue that there are only half that number of letters? (I have an answer btw if you'd care to know.) The real issue with the R' Tzadok is that it is very poetic, but the metziusis that there aren't 600k Jews, and what of women and children?
R' Tzadok isn't just similar to TY, it is mamash the same, but he gave a nicer mashal.

B said...

Reb Nosson, please notice that I wrote "letters." I've also heard many answers. I'm looking forward to seeing your teretz at I suppose the reason it doesn't mention women is because a man and a woman function as one, they are given their Torah in a shutfus, like Reb Akiva and Rachel.

Chaim B. said...

>>>Re R' Tzadok, what of the issue that there are only half that number of letters?

R' Tzadok answers that some letters are composites , e.g. a cheis is a zayin and a vav, or two zayins (depending on whether you have ksav B"Y or ksav AR"I).

>>>or great souls like Moshe Rabbeinu

The point of many torahs of chassidus is that every soul is great in its own way.

micha said...

The 600k isn't really the number of men, as 19 yr olds wouldn't be counted -- despite being old enough to learn.

It's the draftable men, and by implication, the number of separate units of defense -- homes. The 600 thousand letters concept (Zohar Chadash, Shir haShirim 74d) means one letter per nuclear family. And R' Tzadoq could be speaking about each home having their own perspective in how they understand the Torah, not tafqid. An applause for diversity.

R' Kornfeld of Kollel Iyun haDaf offers a nice survey of answers about how the mashal works. However, the point is still the nimshal. Worrying about it is a distraction.


Chaim B. said...

I suspect that the issue of tafkid comes into play as an extention of the gilgul idea. If a soul has a specific mission, then it makes sense that it has to keep coming back until its job is done. I know nothing about gilgul and am just speculating. If I'm right then you are only going to find references in post-ARI works but nothing explicit in gemara / Rishonim.

B said...

I like both Micha's and Chaim's approaches:

Micha- the fact of hashgacha pratis, (or even the potential for attaining hashgacha pratis,) plus the fact of enormously varying skills and circumstances, forces the conclusion that each person has been tailored to perform a specific task, or at least a specific type of tasks.

Chaim- when people talk about gilgulim, they either say that they're going around because they need to correct an error they committed in a previous life, or because they didn't do what they were sent to do. I, too, have neither the skill set nor the desire to investigate this in the sources, but it sounds right.

From the forensic perspective, I would say that both ideas, universal Hashgacha and gilgulim, plus the absence of earlier sources, all point to the Ari zal. I have a feeling we'll eventually find a reference to the idea in his writings or in the Ramchal. As Alexandre Dumas might say, Cherchez le Arizal.

micha said...


Hashgachah peratis (HP) being universal across humanity is well before Ari, and all we're really invoking. In fact, the Rambam might be a daas yachid in rejecting it. In the Moreh 3:17 he cites HP for all people as being the position of Chazal, and then the next pereq uses some philosophy to argue that personhood is something a homo sapien could have more or less of -- and thus more or less HP as well.

It is only extending HP to every blade of grass that one really can't find pre-Ari.

My point was also a little more forceful than you framed it. Given that we are all made unique and Hashem intervenes to give each of us what He feels is appropriate (HP for all people), and given that HQBH isn't arbitrary, one is compelled to believe He has a unique purpose for each of us.


Nosson Gestetner said...

300k letters:

There is a Gemara that the Torah was written with a black fire on a white fire. While this sounds rather metaphorical the gemara brings it down quite often. Thus explains the rabbi that the white parchment that we see today on a torah scroll is also considered letters hence 600k.
Moreover explains the rabbi there are Jews that their purpose is to
stick out to be heard the equivalent of the black fire whilst there are Jews that have to remain passive - not everyone can be a leader, or nothing works (there's a reason you only have one brain).

To clarify, I am not a rabbi, I do not have smicha, nor anything approaching it.

Nosson Gestetner said...

Prob with that is that we are not baki in malei/chaser, so even if it does equat to exactly 600k, so what? Besides, it doesn't detract form the main point of the drasha, so we're talking semantics :)

micha said...


1- The number of men counted in Naso or in Pinechas isn't exactly 600k either.

2- I'm not sure it is even a side-point of the derashah. The Zohar Chadash could be saying: The number of REAL osios in the Torah isn't the little over 300k letters, it's the 600k people. Torah is not limited to the physical document, "Yisrael veOraisa ... chad" (which a quote from the same seifer, BTW). If so many baalei mesorah hadn't try to make the numbers equal, it wouldn't have crossed my mind that any claim was being made about letters at all!


B said...

Many have suggested counting the spaces, but the is so much leeway regarding spacing that it's basically like a blank tile in Scrabble. Micha linked to a good source for teirutzim; I saw a very fine one as well developed with the help of a computer, involving the hidden letters (e.g. alef counting as three, since the letter is called aleph lamed fei), plus the big letters counting as two, plus MNTZPCH counting as two, actually equals exactly 600,000.

As for our not knowing chaseiros and ye'seiros, well, if our errors are random, it stands to reason that they would be a wash- the extras would be exactly the same number as the lacunae.

But, as Micha said, speculating about how it works out is a distraction from thinking about what it means in how we ought to perceive our personal significance as being incarnate manifestations of Hashem's will.

Anonymous said...

In his parsha shiur of this week, RHS speaks about this topic. The shiur can be found here (starting at minute 42):,_Rabbi_Hershel

b said...

Anonymous of October 7, 2010- thank you. Rabbi Schecher brings several ideas connected with this concept, which I plan to put into the post eventually. The most interesting is his cite to the Sefer Chareidim. Very very good.

Trying to think said...

I enjoyed your posting very much. It gives a person something to think about. The answer to the 600k is that we look at ourselves as physical beings, not a neshama. A husband and wife are one neshama, split and placed down here to become perfected. That's by the way pshat in זיווג שני קשה כקריאת ים סוף.
The first match is easy, 40 days befor birth it's declared so and so will marry. When H- shem has to make the Zivug Sheni, a lot of things have to get moved around.

Also take a look at the Shaar tziyon in the mishne brura, hilchos Mincha on you kipper. He explains your tafkid here and references gilgulim if you choose not to comply.

Barzilai/Eliezer Eisenberg said...

Yasher Koach, Trying to Think! I was not aware of that Shaarei Tziyun. It is in 622 6, and he says that we each have a job, and we're going to fulfill it in this life or come back and try again until we get it right, so why not do it this time and avoid the pain of life and death and everything in between. Excellent. I'll have to put it into the post- I hope I have time.