You, Hashem, do not withhold your mercy from me; may Your kindness and Your truth always protect me. For innumerable evils have encircled me, my sins have overtaken me and I am unable to see; they have become more numerous than the hairs on my head and my courage has abandoned me. –Psalm 40:12-13 (The Stone Edition Tanakh)
Were He to kill me, I would still yearn for Him. –Job 13:15 (The Stone Edition Tanakh)
Have you ever been sick or hurt? I don’t mean have you ever had the flu or a cold or hit your thumb with a hammer, but have you every really been sick or hurt? Have you been in the hospital? Have you ever worried that you might not see another day, or that your health and well-being would take a permanent turn for the worse?
Imagine Job, who lost everything and was completely bewildered as to the cause. He had always been steadfast in his faith and virtually walked in the footsteps of God, yet in nearly the wink of an eye, he was laid destitute and at death’s doorstep. His friends all turned against him, blaming him for his own misfortune. Even his wife cried out to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!” Job did not have a happy life during this time and for all he knew, it would all end in his agonizing death. Yet his words recorded in Job 13:15 relate the nature of his faith and trust in God and the character of this man in the face of harsh tragedy.
Rabbi Yaakov Menken at Project Genesis wrote a commentary for Torah Portion Miketz that speaks to this kind of trust and the consequences when we lack it.
We read this week that two years after Pharoah’s wine steward and chief baker had their dreams, Pharoah had one of his own, and as a result, they rushed Joseph from jail.
Obviously Pharoah needed Joseph, but the Torah tells us something deeper: that Joseph was only in jail for the precise amount of time decreed from above. In fact, Joseph would have gotten out of jail earlier, but the Torah tells us that “the wine steward did not remember Joseph, and he forgot him.”
Why did he forget? Rabbi Shimon Yitzchaki quotes the Medrash, which explains that Joseph placed his trust in the wine steward, rather than G-d. For that reason, G-d made sure that the wine steward forgot him.
We celebrate the holiday of Chanukah because Judah “the Maccabee” and his brothers did the opposite. Yehudah may have been strong, but he wasn’t insane. His was a small group, vastly outnumbered by not only the well-trained Greek army, but even by the Hellenized Jews of the era. They went out to wage war, against impossible odds, expressing their trust that G-d would help them.
This, too, drives home the lesson that we discussed two weeks ago — that we are obligated to make our own efforts, but “know that if they succeed, it is only because G-d granted them success.” It doesn’t matter if the person we might trust is a friend or relative or even ourselves… in the end, success comes from a Higher Authority.
Quite some time ago, I wrote about the difference between faith and trust. Faith is knowing God exists. Trust is putting your life literally in His hands. But in spite of the fact that all people of faith desire to have a perfect trust in God, we are frail and mortal; “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41). When we’re alone and afraid, how many of us can sweep away anxiety and terror with a wave of our hand and summon the full might of God as our courage?
I know I can’t. The best I can do is to try and echo the words of Job (Job 13:15), fearfully acknowledging at such desperate moments that my health, safety, and my very life are completely in His hands to do with as He wills. There is no bargaining with God. Paul quotes Moses (Exodus 33:19) to teach us this lesson.
What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses,
“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. –Romans 9:14-16
Rabbi Menken teaches that we are obligated to make our own efforts, but “know that if they succeed, it is only because G-d granted them success,” so we cannot sit passively and expect God to raise miracles for us. We must participate, as best we can, in God’s efforts but knowing that success is not because of us, but because of Him. Yet there are times when we can do nothing for ourselves and must rely totally on God’s mercy and His will. When someone who is having a heart attack or a stroke is in the emergency room, all they can do is to trust in God for their life, even if it should end in death because that is the nature of man in relationship to God. When a person has cancer, they can undergo various therapies and treatments, but their life remains solely in God’s hands. Job also teaches, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21) That we pray for life does not mean that God is obligated to always give life. All people live in His hands and all people die in His hands.
I know this sounds dismal and depressing, especially on the day when the vast majority of the Christian world is celebrating the birth of the King of Kings, but lest we imagine that God is obligated to grant us a perfect, stress free existence, the counterpoint is that we are but dust and ashes; we are grass that is growing today, and tomorrow, is withered and thrown into the fire. In the end, we can try to live healthy lives, lives of faith, devotion, charity, and study; we try take care of ourselves and others, but still, no one knows the hour of his own death.
In those moments of hideous uncertainty or in that final “moment of truth”, we can only summon whatever trust in God we may possess and cry out to Him for His infinite mercy. If he should turn the hand of sickness and death away, we rejoice, and if not, we are with Him.
In His hands are the deep places of the earth: the strength of the hills is His also. –Psalm 95:4 (KJV)
May they rejoice and be glad in You, all who seek You; may they always say, “Hashem be magnified!” those who live Your salvation. As for me, I am poor and destitute, the Lord will think of me. You are my help and my Rescuer, my God do not delay. –Psalm 40:17-18 (The Stone Edition Tanakh)