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Acts of G-d

Friday, 6 December, 2013 - 1:00 pm

Ever reviewed the fine print of your homeowner’s insurance policy? Likely, there is a clause in it addressing – and possibly excluding coverage for – “acts of G-d.”

Acts of G-d are usually defined as events outside of human control which cannot be prevented. Examples include tornadoes, hurricanes, lightning, volcanoes, severe hail, earthquakes and floods.

Insurance companies usually worship the mighty dollar. But, for certain events, they become earnestly religious and consider G-d to be the responsible party.

Do we believe in “acts of G-d”? Should certain occurrences be designated as different than others?


When Yoseph finally reveals his identity to his dumbstruck brothers, he tells them, “But now do not be sad, and let it not trouble you that you sold me here, for it was to preserve life that G-d sent me before you.”


Yoseph’s exceptional anger management notwithstanding, why did he believe that G-d was responsible for this? Weren’t his brothers the ones that chose – of their own free will – to sell him into slavery? How is G-d responsible for their poor choices?


I remember arriving in South Africa in 1996 – two years after the end of apartheid.  Although, Johannesburg was still dealing with transition – crime was a big problem – I was surprised by the lack of animosity between blacks and whites. I was expecting a harsh attitude from every black man or woman I would encounter. Amazingly, that was not the norm.  True, inequality was still rampant – it takes years, perhaps generations, to undo the damage of discrimination – but the grudge I had expected was not noticeable, at least not on the surface.

One major reason for that was Nelson Mandela.  Yesterday we learned of his passing.

After suffering in a prison cell for 27 years, Mandela and his ANC party took control of a government and country that had treated them as second class.  Reprisals would have been predictable. Instead a spirit of reconciliation and unity emerged.

Mandela was not perfect – his record on Israel fell short and he once famously defined himself as “a sinner who keeps trying” – but he was a leader par excellence.  And at a time when his country needed true guidance and stability – he stepped forward.  Transcending ego and self-interest, he did not act bitterly with his former oppressors, but formed a partnership of peace.

I don’t know Mandela’s spiritual convictions, but one wonders what drove him to such remarkable actions? Was it public interest? Was it faith?


The Baal Shem Tov taught that everything that happens – good or bad – is divinely ordained. Yes, my neighbor may have been nasty to me – and he will be held accountable for his behavior. But, what happened to me is part of my personal destiny.  For some reason, perhaps known only to G-d Himself, this was supposed to happen to me. I may not understand why, but I believe that He is involved in every detail of my life.

Exhibit A for this type of faith is Yoseph.  He did not downplay his brothers’ culpability in selling him into slavery (see last week’s parsha for the great lengths he went to determine their change of heart). Yet, he attributed his personal journey – including 12 hard years in prison – as divinely ordained.


In Jewish tradition, all acts are “acts of G-d.” Some may be more obvious than others. Some may be easier for us to wrap our minds around. But, ultimately, G-d knows what is best for me.

With Yoseph, this theme rings true in the story’s ending. But even when it doesn’t have a rosy conclusion, and even when others are responsible – it remains part of my destiny.


My insurance company has its own definitions on acts of G-d, but I will take a cue from Yoseph.  The next time I am tempted to impatience or anger, I will be better served to learn from Yoseph. If I remember that G-d plays a role in everything that happens to me, I just might prevail.

Comments on: Acts of G-d

Claire Kanner wrote...

Thank you, Rabbi Mendel! This write-up was very interesting and helpful, and I have shared it with others.
Shavua Tov,
Kochava P'nina