Obvious and hidden meanings

Thank God, and thanks to international assistance the fires in the north of Israel are more under control now. What is the meaning of this particular situation? The first step in logotherapy is to see reality as it is. I will borrow from the rules of understanding text and apply it to understanding reality.

In Jewish tradition the obvious, simple reading of the text is called pshat. A basic rule of exegesis states: “the text does not diverge from its pshat.” Numerous levels of meaning can be found alongside the obvious meaning. Yet these multiple layers and aspects cannot replace the simple and the obvious.

Similarly when we see a phenomenon in reality we have to try to understand it on the level of pshat and on the deeper levels at the same time. The fires in the north of Israel destroyed half of the Carmel forests, two whole resort communities and took 41 lives. I want to preserve my memory of one of the resort communities, Nir Etzion with a picture of how it looked before the fire.

The obvious meaning is that either arson or negligence started them. Anything we say on a deeper level does not come to negate and make any less important the simple level. This is part of the confusion people have regarding belief in divine providence. If we point to deeper levels of meaning the tendency is to ignore the obvious and if we point to the obvious the tendency is to ignore the deeper levels. Yet they are both true at the same time. The perpetrators of the fire should be prosecuted. At the same time to what degree has God been orchestrating events here?

Our understanding is too limited to answer this. Yet, we can a) look at the reality very closely to get a clearer focus on it and b) try to hear how it is calling us, tugging on us to respond in some way.

Frankl refers to meaning as “what is meant.” This can be misleading for the person of faith. Even if we believe that everything that happens comes from God’s directive we can’t pretend to know what God meant by it. All we can do is consider what is meant by the situation itself, how it cries out to us saying, “Look at me!” Just look and see the situation for what it is. See it on the obvious (pshat) level and lift up your gaze to see something beyond the obvious as well, no matter how fuzzy the view.

If I see a baby crying I cannot know if it needs a diaper change, if it’s hungry or if it misses its mother. But I cannot see a baby crying and walk away. The baby is calling me. It doesn’t matter that the baby doesn’t know how to communicate. It doesn’t need to. The situation calls upon me to respond.

What are some of the things we can see in this reality?

One of the meanings is that it served as a test

What is the meaning of a test? When there is no divine providence then we see what the person can do without any assistance from above. The Hebrew word for test (nisayon) is derived from nes, which is a banner. In the process of passing the test a person is elevated. Frankl refers to a person’s capacity to rise above his situation or his instinctual reaction as self-transcendence. The word nes referred to as banner also refers to miracle. A miracle is part of life that transcends the natural biological plane.

A test brings a person’s potential into actuality. After the Biblical story of Abraham it is written: Now I know that you are God-fearing. God tests those He knows will pass the test. They have to take the test nonetheless, because in this way a person’s potential is actualized. A badge of honor is not given to someone who has the potential for bravery but to someone who displays bravery in a situation that calls for it.

Israel found itself in a desperate situation and it called upon Jordan, Egypt and other countries to help with fire-fighting planes. Several countries came though and now, thank God it’s under control. Israel is at peace with Jordan and Egypt but relations are strained. This was a good opportunity for Egypt and Jordan to show they do care. They don’t want Israel to be wiped off the face of the earth. Israel had a recent crisis with Turkey yet Turkey also came through for Israel.

Let it be clear that those who condemned Egypt and Jordan and other countries for helping Israel are not interested in Israel’s continued existence. Many of those who cheered the raging fires are unfortunately living in our midst.

And how ironic that during the holiday of Chanukah when we celebrate overcoming the ancient Greeks from forcing us to give up our religion, the modern-day Greece helped us. There is something that feels like the end-of-days here, something one can sense without being able to explain it.

There is more to see. Let us continue to look.


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