Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Grow! Now!

I’ve been sending out daily “Torah Thought” emails for 13 years now; these are just straight texts, almost always without editorial comment (other than that which naturally occurs in translation). Quite often, I use a well-known midrash or a passage of gemara, and as I look at it, I realize that I never really comprehended it before.

This morning I used the following midrash:
א"ר סימון אין לך כל עשב ועשב, שאין לו מזל ברקיע שמכה אותו, ואומר לו גדל, הה"ד (איוב לח) הידעת חקות שמים אם תשים משטרו בארץ וגו', לשון שוטר

Rabbi Simon said: Every single blade of grass has a force [lit. constellation] in the heavens which strikes it and says, ‘Grow!’
This is the meaning of the verse (Job 38:33), ‘Do you know the laws of the heavens, and can you place their control [mishtar] over the earth?’ Mishtar is an expression of shoteir [meaning, an enforcing officer].

A few thoughts here:

1. We often think of this as a lesson in hashgachah pratit, Divine supervision of all elements of Creation. Even an individual blade of grass, lost in the sameness of billions of other blades, is supervised by an agent of Gd.

2. This is meant to translate to us as humans, of course; we are the blades of grass, and although we may feel lost in the crowd, we each have our own constellation guiding our growth. Further, the passage cited from Job notes that the stars/Heavens are given power, but only in order to service life on Earth. We remain the teleological center of the universe.

3. But the brutality of the line takes it in yet another direction. An officer standing over the blade of grass/human being, striking it and ordering, ‘Grow!’… This raises images of taskmasters whipping Jewish slaves in Egypt, or of more modern versions of cruelty.

Certainly, this constellation wishes the best for us; the blade of grass that does not grow will be crowded out, choked and overshadowed. Growth is to its/our eternal advantage. But here we see how someone may have the best of intentions for us, and yet manifest those intentions in a way that is harsh, perhaps unnecessarily and painfully so, perhaps even counterproductively so.

4. And perhaps that’s why a constellation is specified as the helper here, to make that point about inferior management. Divine nurturing is generally rendered as benevolent, even gentle; this voice is demanding, stentorian, even abusive. Gd is a protector, complete and perfect, but His agents are inferior, and their work, while directed by high ideals, is imperfect.

Clearly, there is more here; this is a quick read. What additional lessons are we meant to glean from the celestial approach to every blade of grass?


  1. I'd be interested in the history of medrashim - when did the concept of HKB"H's subcontractors develop (or when HKB"H says "my face" will go with you - what did this mean?)

    I'd also be interested in whether folks feel that the medrash you cite (and ones like it ) should be reconciled with those that seem to imply hasgacha pratit is more limited, or does one assume chazal were not of one mind on this issue?
    Joel Rich

  2. Re: subcontractors - I think that idea is in Tanach already, as in the case of the משחית in Egypt.

    Re: Hashgachah - I believe your latter suggestion is correct; there is significant machlokes in the matter.

  3. this fits in well with the Ramban at the end of Achrei Mos of why Eretz Yisrael is different than all other lands

  4. Check out this story that quotes that midrash:

    This midrash was also part of basis for the derech of mussar forged by the Alter of Slabodka.

  5. The Talmid-
    Good point; thanks!

    Good excerpt, but they left out the hitting part...