Chicago Chesed Fund

Friday, January 1, 2021

Bashert באַשערט

 Ponovezher Rov used to stay with my parents when he came to Chicago. Our families were very close in Litteh and afterwards. He was close with my mother's brothers, and with the Pogramanskies, and his daughter and my mother were good friends.  Only my mother and the Rov and Reb Avrom survived the war, but they remained as close as only survivors can be. I remember my mother having to buy pure white china for Pesach when the Rov was by us, because he was machmir to not use colored tableware on Pesach, as the Rama brings from the Maharil in 451, ויש מקומות שמחמירים שלא להשתמש בכלים צבועים אפי' הן חדשים . 

Once, my father was driving Ponovezher Rov to the airport, and the Rov was very upset. It was late for the flight, and if he missed it, it would throw his itinerary into disarray, including parlor meetings, and personal meetings, and everything else he so carefully arranged long before.  My father tried to comfort him, saying that if he would miss the flight, it just showed "אז עס איז געווען באשערט." Ponovezher Rov responded, v'zeh leshono,  " אללע בטלנים פארשפעטעגן און זאגן אז עס איז באשערט געווען." Every wastrel, every laggard, comes late, and misses opportunity, and then he says "It was bashert." (The airline delayed the plane's departure for the Rov.)

The lesson I learned is that one should not blame the Ribono shel Olam. Ninety nine percent of our disappointments in life are our own fault. There's that one percent that is a gzeira, sure, but the rest of it? If the Ribono shel Olam gives you opportunity, and He gives you the intelligence and the means and the circumstances, and you squander it out of laziness or negligence or inertia or willful stupidity, whose fault it that? As Shlomo HaMelech said, טָמַן עָצֵל יָדוֹ בַּצַּלָּחַת גַּם אֶל פִּיהוּ לֹא יְשִׁיבֶנָּה. You were seated at the table, you were given a plate full of food and a knife and fork, and you're too stupid or lazy to put the food into your mouth? Don't suddenly become a baal bitochon and say "Ah, the Ribono shel Olam wanted me to be hungry."

You see this concept in Ksuvos 30a, where it talks about צינים ופחים, and many other places as well. So by the Birkos Yaakov, he doesn't tell them that they will sit and watch television and food will fall into their laps. He tells them that they will be gifted with opportunities and skills. But they have to have the energy and alacrity to seize them.

Someone wrote in to point out a passuk in Mishlei that really should be the pivot point for this vort.

משלי י"ט ג 

אולת אדם תסלף דרכו ועל ה' יזעף לבו

A man’s folly subverts his way, And his heart rages against the LORD.

In other words, the man ruins his own life, and then he complains, Ribono shel Olam, why did you do this to me????

Some learn this refers to simple negligence and laziness, nothing to do with ruchniyus. Hashem gives you opportunitites and you waste them, it's your fault.


אולת אדם תסלף דרכו ועל יי' יזעף לבו. הערה המונית להיות האדם מתנהג בכל דבר בדעת ובשכל , בפת בגו וביין משתיו ושאר הנאותיו , וכן בהוצאותיו ובכל ענייניו. כי הנטייה אל הקצה בכולם רע , וישחית סדרו וירחיקהו מהשיג חפצו , והתקצף במלכו ובאלהיו (ע"פ יש' ח , כא) במה שאולתו סבבה לו כן

Also see חובות הלבבות, שער חמישי - שער ייחוד המעשה ה׳:צ״ד and the following paragraphs.

Of course the passuk applies equally to people who ruin their lives by doing aveiros and deserving punishment, like the Dor HaMidbar that was supposed to go straight to Eretz Yisrael, but instead all died in the forty years of wandering.  But that, too, is just another example of a person that throws away opportunity. Whether it is by aveiros or by negligence and laziness, he has only himself to blame, and saying "bashert" is just a self serving way to deny responsibility.

The Gemara in Taanis, for example, applies the passuk in Mishlei to the Mechiras Yosef.

תענית ט:א

אשכחיה ר' יוחנן לינוקיה דריש לקיש דיתיב ואמר (משלי יט, ג) אולת אדם תסלף דרכו ועל ה' יזעף לבו ויתיב רבי יוחנן וקא מתמה אמר מי איכא מידי דכתיבי בכתובי דלא רמיזי באורייתא א"ל אטו הא מי לא רמיזי והכתיב (בראשית מב, כח) ויצא לבם ויחרדו איש אל אחיו לאמר מה זאת עשה אלהים לנו

If that is the case, and the passuk refers to aveiros that push away Hashem's brachos, it echoes the passuk in Haazinu (5:5) שחת לו לא בניו מומם דור עקש ופתלתל, where, for example, the Or HaChaim explains

שחת לו לא בניו. פירוש כשמשחיתים דרכם גורמים רעה לעצמם, ומה רעה גורמים לא בניו פירוש שאינם נקראים בני אל חי כאומרם ז''ל (ב''ב י'.) כשישראל הולכים בדרכו של מקום נקראים בנים וכשאין הולכים וכו' נקראים עבדים, והוא אומרו שחת לו שלא יקראו בניו של הקדוש ברוך הוא, ואומרו מומם לפי שיש מקום לומר סוף סוף יגיע הדבר לאב מום הבנים ח''ו, לזה אמר מומם פירוש המום מהם בא לא מאבינו כי הוא ברא את האדם ישר, וכמאמר הנביא (ישעי' ה' א ב) כרם היה וגו' ויעזקהו ויסקלהו ויטעהו שורק וגו' ויקו לעשות ענבים וגו', והוא אומרו מומם פירוש המום מהם בא, ופירוש מום על דרך אומרם ז''ל (סוטה ג'.) אין אדם עובר עבירה אלא אם כן נכנסה בו רוח שטות, שהוא רוח רעה והיא תקרא מום בסוד אומרו (לעיל ט''ו כא) מום רע, והמשכת חלק זה הרע אינו אלא מצד מעשה האדם:

But as Menachem reminds us in the comments, this does not mean that it subverts Hashem's plan for the world. Ultimately, the result will tend towards the original goal.  But that does not mean that what you did does not change anything, that you are not to blame. That is just the talk of someone that is not man enough to admit his failure, so he makes a bigger fool of himself by putting on the mask of a big baal mussar and baal bitachon.  

First, even if the ultimate result is exactly the Ribono shel Olam's plan, that does not absolve the baal bechira who fulfilled the plan, just as the Egyptians were responsible for their behavior, and Nevuchadnetzar, and the Kasdim, and Tzur, and the Bavlim, and all the great resha'im. These reshaim were mere instruments in Hashem's hand.  Even Genghis Khan knew this. He is quoted as having said, before he sacked a city and murdered every one of its inhabitants, “If you had not committed great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you.” But every one of these reshaim paid for every drop of blood they shed,as the Neviim Yirmiahu and Yechezel say literally dozens of times.  

Second, Hashem's plan can be fulfilled in many ways, some pleasant, some the opposite. As the Gemara in Shabbos says about Yaakov going to Mitzrayim, and, by implication, about Yosef's very different experience- They both got where they needed to be, but in very, very, different ways.

שבת פ"ט:

אמר רבי חייא בר אבא אמר רבי יוחנן: ראוי היה יעקב אבינו לירד למצרים בשלשלאות של ברזל, אלא שזכותו גרמה לו, דכתיב: ״בחבלי אדם אמשכם בעבתות אהבה ואהיה להם כמרימי על על לחיהם ואט אליו אוכיל״.

שוחר טוב: תהלים ק"ה

יקרא רעב על הארץ, אמר רבי יהודה בן נחמן בשם רבי שמעון בן לקיש, ראוי היה יעקב לירד למצרים בשלשלאות של ברזל ובקולרין, ועשה לו הקב"ה כמה עלילות וכמה מנגנאות ונמכר יוסף למצרים כדי לירד, ויקרא רעב על הארץ, וכל כך למה, (בראשית מ"ו) ויבא יעקב מצרימה. אמר רבי פנחס הכהן בר חמא, משל לפרה אחת שהיו רוצין למשוך אותה למקולין שלה, ולא היתה נמשכת, מה עשו, משכו את בנה תחלה, והיתה רצה אחריו, כך עשה הקב"ה מנגנאות שעשו אחי יוסף כל אותם הדברים, כדי שירדו למצרים, גם כן כדי שירד גם יעקב, שנאמר (הושע י"א) בחבלי אדם אמשכם.

סוטה י"א:א

כיוצא בדבר אתה אומר (בראשית לז, יד) וישלחהו מעמק חברון א"ר חנינא בר פפא בעצה עמוקה של אותו צדיק שקבור בחברון 

Harav Avraham Bukspan sent the following to me, in which he brings that R Yosef Ber used this concept to explain a Yerushalmi:

In Talmud Yerushalmi (Berachos 2:8, see also Bereishis Rabbah 91:9), we find that after the death of Rabbi Simon, Rabbi Levi mentioned the above incident with the shevatim in his eulogy: “The shevatim found something in their bags and the pasuk says, ‘Their hearts left them,’ and we, who have lost Rabbi Simon, all the more so should we be upset!” If they bemoaned the finding of valuables in their sacks, then the Sages should certainly bemoan the loss of the talmid chacham, Rabbi Simon.

             The connection between the events is far from clear. The shevatim were not bemoaning the finding of money, a seemingly good thing, but the sudden appearance of the money that they had spent on the food. Because of this find, they knew they would be accused of a crime. What does lamenting an impending criminal accusation have to do with lamenting the loss of a talmid chacham?

            In his hesped on Rav Chaim Heller, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (Divrei Heggos VeHaarachah pp.143-144) explained that Rabbi Levi was educating us in regard to the pain we should feel regarding lost opportunities. The trouble the shevatim were now facing was all from a small error in timing. If they would only have opened their bags a bit earlier and checked that they had been given the correct merchandise, they could have solved the problem right then by pointing out the wrongly returned money. But by not opening the bags until they reached an inn, well into their journey, it became dangerous to appear at the palace claiming there was a mistake. At this point, the damage was done, and when they realized the extent of the damage, their hearts left them and they shook with fear.

            The shevatim lamented not only the predicament they now faced but its antecedent, the fact that a little bit of effort would have saved them all this grief. Realizing the opportunity that they squandered, they trembled.  

(ed.: The idea is that when a person experiences a terrible thing, and he realizes that it could have so easily been avoided by using basic seichel and elementary precautions, the agony of the self-flagellation can be even worse than the dismay over the actual damage.)

            Rav Soloveitchik explains that that was the lesson Rabbi Levi was teaching. The Sages had just lost the wonderful gift of Rabbi Simon. While he was still alive and with them, they had the opportunity to benefit from his Torah and knowledge; he could inspire them and be a mentor. Had they taken advantage of every chance to learn from him, his death would not have been that tragic. But now that it was all in the past, they were left looking at Rabbi Simon at “the inn,” after the fact. Rabbi Levi was mourning not only the loss of the Torah scholar, but the lost opportunity — the opportunity to grow and gain from him.

            We must make the most of all opportunities and chances given us in This World, rather than having to look back later and lament opportunities squandered and chances lost.


In case anyone's interested, bashert is Yiddish, from From Middle High German beschern (“to preordain, destine, allot, distribute”).  The fact that there is no Hebrew word for the concept, at least not directly used for this in the classical sources, means nothing. The word "מחילה" or "מחל" also appears nowhere in Tanach.

Whether it is an article of faith for us, depends on who you listen to. From the Gemara in MK 18b it seems to apply to spouse and house, the Gemara in Sotah 2a expands it to property in general. And even there it is of limited application - zivug rishon/sheini, can be changed through tefilla - it is just one of those things, like gilgulim, that people want to believe because they're good to lean on in hard times. 

If you really want an excuse for a wasted life, or even for obesity, you can rely on the Tanchuma in Pekudei 3:4-5.

אמר רבי יוחנן, מאי דכתיב, עושה גדולות עד אין חקר נפלאות עד אין מספר (איוב ט י). תדע לך, שכל הנשמות שהיו מן אדם הראשון ושיהיו עד סוף כל העולם, כולן נבראו בששת ימי בראשית. וכולן בגן עדן, וכולן היו במתן תורה, שנאמר, כי את אשר ישנו פה עמנו עומד היום, ואת אשר איננו פה עמנו היום (דבר' כט יד). ומה שאמר, עושה גדולות עד אין חקר, אלו גדולות שעושה הקדוש ברוך הוא ביצירת הולד. (אלא) בשעה שבא אדם לשמש עם אשתו, רומז הקדוש ברוך הוא למלאך הממונה על ההריון, ושמו לילה.

והקדוש ברוך הוא אומר לו, דע שזו הלילה נוצר אדם מזרע פלוני, דע לך והשמר בזו הטיפה וטול אותה בכפך וזרע אותה בגורן לשלש מאות וששים וחמשה חלקים. והוא עושה לו כן. מיד נוטל בידו ומביא לפני מי שאמר והיה העולם, ואומר לפניו, עשיתי ככל אשר צויתני, וטיפה זו מה תהא נגזר עליה. מיד הקדוש ברוך הוא גוזר על הטיפה מה יהא בסופה, אם זכר אם נקבה, אם חלש גבור, אם עני אם עשיר, אם קצר או ארוך, אם מכוער או נאה, אם עבה או דק, אם בזוי או גס. וכן גוזר על כל קורותיו. אבל אם צדיק אם רשע, לא, אלא הדבר ההוא נותנו בידו של אדם בלבד, שנאמר, ראה נתתי לפניך היום את החיים ואת הטוב, ואת המות ואת הרע (דב' ל טו).


  1. I teach wonderful, frum, high school girls for a living and every time I try teaching this exact point the discussion ends with them thinking I'm an Apikorus. Would you like to come give it a shot? (Also by S"H: אולת אדם תסלף דרכו ועל ה' יזעף לבו) {For obvious reasons, please keep my name anonymous).

    1. Oh, I love the connection to that passuk! Thank you! (It's tempting to bring in שחת לו לא , but of course that's not what that passuk means.)

  2. This is not a stirah to anything above, but of course we have a concept that must be balanced with this. For example, we just read the passuk ve'atem chashavtem alai ra'ah etc. as well as last week the passuk ki lemichyah shelachani etc.
    However, it is clear that this concept is not to absolve anyone; on the contrary, the effects of mechiras Yosef were detrimental and everlasting, resulting in klalos from Yaakov Avinu and even in the asarah harugei malchus. But when all is said and done, we see the importance of knowing that nothing really gets in the way of the master plan, and every deed and misdeed is incorporated into it.

    1. 100%. So I will have to put in the passuk in Mishlei, and the meforshim that learn it to mean that we need to see that our own choices have consequences, and that while ultimately all is Hashem's plan, the way the plan unfolds depends entirely on our choices, without being forced. And I will try to do this without triggering the ידיעה ובחירה issue.

    2. Menachem, I put this discussion into the post. By the way, I did discuss the plasticity of gzeiros here:

  3. Perhaps this idea is hinted at in yet another passuk from Shlomo. Koheles 9,7 says Lech echol bisimcha etc ki k'var ratza haElokim es maasecha. The Ibn Ezra (unlike most other meforshim) learns that these are the words of holelus that people think. According to him, what do they mean by k'var ratza etc? Maybe they are saying "everything is bashert..."

    1. Sounds like something would say in Candide, making fun of Leibniz....
      As for "everything is bashert," you know the mishna in the end of Sotah that says על מי לנו להשען, על אבינו שבשמים. Reb Meir Simcha once attended a kneisiah where the gedolim were discussing the challenges facing klal yisrael, and he said that he just realized that על מי לנו להשען, על אבינו שבשמים is part of the klalah. Instead of saying "we have to do something about it!" people throw their hands up in the air and leave it up to the Ribono shel Olam.