Crying Out to God

Standing before GodWhen the son of Reb Michel Blinner of Nevel was in mortal danger, he asked Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch, the “Tzemach Tzedek,” for a blessing. The Tzemach Tzedek responded, “Awaken the power of trust in G‑d with simple faith that He, blessed be He, will save your son. Thought helps. Think good and it will be good.”

And so it was that Reb Michel’s son was saved.

-Rabbi Yosef Yitzchaak Schneerson of Lubavitch
Igrot Kodesh (letters), vol. 7, pg. 197
Quoted from Chabad.org

A request is an expression of what we want, but the most effective prayer is an expression of what we desperately need. Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, one of today’s great Torah sages, once told a visitor, “Last year you said you wanted this. So I asked you then, ‘Who says G-d wants this too?’ This year you said you needed this. In that case you should be successful in getting it, because our Father makes sure His children have what they need.”

-Rabbi Mordechai Dixler
“Who Needs Him?”
ProjectGenesis.org

I wrote my “morning meditation” Shemot: Trusting God yesterday, and so it wasn’t until last night that my wife sent me a link to Rabbi Tzvi Freeman’s article Is the Law of Attraction a Jewish Idea?

According to Wikipedia, the Law of attraction “is the name given to the belief that “like attracts like” and that by focusing on positive or negative thoughts, one can bring about positive or negative result.” It’s also the source of more books and materials than you can shake a stick at including The Law of Attraction: The Basics of the Teachings of Abraham by Esther and Jerry Hicks (no, I haven’t read it) and the very famous Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill (no, I haven’t read this one, either).

But as Rabbi Freeman says, the “law of attraction places the human being smack in the center of the universe, pulling all the strings. You create your own reality.” For this to work, a person must make himself his own god and then have complete faith in that god. Sounds silly from a Christian’s point of view, but what if there’s something to all this “attraction” business after all?

The Law of Attraction is a popular idea that states that a person’s attitude attracts matching happenstance. Pessimism attracts misfortune, while optimism attracts good fortune.

The power of attitude to change the flow of a person’s life is a tacit assumption of much of Torah literature, particularly in that most influential source of common wisdom, the Psalms. “One who trusts in G‑d, kindness surrounds him!” (Psalm 32:10) “Fortunate is the man who puts his trust in G‑d!” (Ibid 40:5)

The sages of the Talmud similarly appear to take this law for granted. For example, in dismissing as useless superstition a folk-omen to determine whether one’s journey will meet with success or doom, the sages advise, “But don’t do it.” Why not? “Because perhaps the omen will be negative, the person will worry, and his fortune will go sour.” (Horayot 12a)

The idea is correct, at least according to Jewish philosophy and mysticism, but people tend to put their focus and trust on themselves rather than the One and true living God.

I quoted Rabbi Kalman Packouz in my earlier meditation, and I mentioned his list of 7 Principles for Trusting in God:

  1. The Creator of the universe loves me more than anybody else in the world possibly can.
  2. The Almighty is aware of all my struggles, desires and dreams. All I need is to ask Him for help.
  3. The Almighty has the power to give me anything I want.
  4. There is no other power in the universe other than the Almighty. Only He can grant me success and give me what I want.
  5. The Almighty has a track record for giving me more than I am asking for.
  6. The Almighty gives with no strings attached. I don’t need to earn it or deserve it. He will give it to me anyway.
  7. The Almighty knows what is best for me and everything He does is only for my good.

For Rabbi Freeman’s conceptualization of the “law of attraction” to work, we must trust in the God of Heaven for all things rather than in ourselves. If we trust that God will provide, then it stands to reason He will, at least according to Rabbi Freeman. If we are constantly worried, on the other hand…

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Matthew 6:25-34 (ESV)

Tree of LifeI mentioned Jewish mysticism before. Here is the parallel to the above from the Zohar:

The Lower World is always ready to receive and is called a precious stone. The Upper World only gives it according to its state. If its state is of a bright countenance from below, in the same manner it is shone upon from above; but if it is in sadness, it is correspondingly given judgment. Similarly, it is written, “Serve G‑d with joy!”—because human joy draws another supernal joy. Thus, just as the Lower World is crowned, so it draws from above.

-Zohar, volume 3, 56a

I’m not holding up Kabbalah as, in any sense, equal to the words of the Master, but I do want to show that there are different directions from which we can approach trusting God and having confidence that He will provide. It’s in that confidence that we are healed.

And there was a woman who had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and though she had spent all her living on physicians, she could not be healed by anyone. She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, and immediately her discharge of blood ceased. And Jesus said, “Who was it that touched me?” When all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds surround you and are pressing in on you!” But Jesus said, “Someone touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out from me.” And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

Luke 8:43-48 (ESV)

Maybe I’m taking this too far, but look again at what Jesus says in verse 48: “Daughter, your faith has made you well.”

He didn’t say “I have made you well” but rather Your faith has made you well.”

Let’s take another example:

And as Jesus passed on from there, two blind men followed him, crying aloud, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” When he entered the house, the blind men came to him, and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to him, “Yes, Lord.” Then he touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith be it done to you.” And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them, “See that no one knows about it.”

Matthew 9:27-30 (ESV)

Look at the question Jesus asks in verse 28: “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” The two blind men had to ascent that they did believe Jesus could restore their sight. Once they did (I guess Jesus didn’t necessarily take them at their word), the Master said, “According to your faith be it done to you.” In other words, the ability of Jesus to heal these two men was directly related to their faith in his ability to do so.

Woman prayingOK, I don’t want to create a formula or mechanical set of steps for healing and manipulating God, but this does seem to positively connect back to what Rabbis Freeman and Packouz have been saying about trusting God and its effects. No, I’m not saying that God is powerless in the face of a faithless humanity, but I am saying that it seems as if those of us who are aware of God are in some mysterious sense “partners” in His activity in our lives.

In my examples from the Gospels, we seem to see that a lack of faith would have resulted in few or no miracles from Jesus and that, conversely, great faith (even without the conscious awareness of Christ in the case of the woman with the “issue of blood”) produces great miracles. We further see this relationship between faith and “attracting” the power of God here:

And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.

Matthew 13:58 (ESV)

Again, I don’t want to suggest that we can exploit some sort of “system” for getting God to do what we want Him to do. After all, how many people of sincere and fervent faith have prayed for the healing of a loved one and instead of a bodily healing, the person being prayed for died? (I know of a number of such people and families)

I’ve said before that there are no guarantees and that we trust in God because, as believers, we simply have no choice. Except we have a choice and we often choose not to trust God. It gets more complicated when we realize that trust or lack thereof, isn’t a matter of our just doing or not doing something, since even a person with supreme trust in the Almighty is still expected to take an active role, not only in prayer, but any other activity involved in achieving what we need.

A meditation for when things get rough:

The world was brought into being with Goodness. And the ultimate good for Man is that he should not be shamed, but feel as a partner in the fulfillment of the divine plan. Free bread is to us bread of shame—such is the nature of Man.

That is why nothing good comes without toil. And according to the toil can be known the harvest that will be reaped in the end.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Toil”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

Groaning by itself won’t do a bit of good. A groan is only a key to open the heart and eyes, so as not to sit there with folded arms, but to plan orderly work and activity, each person wherever he can be effective…

“Today’s Day”
Thursday, Tevet 23, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

Blessed by GodI suppose I’m writing all of this because I’m trying to convince myself to just “let go and let God,” as the popular Christian saying goes. But it’s still not that easy.

Where were you when I established the earth?

Job 38:4

One who reads the book of Job cannot but have compassion for just and pious Job, who appears to be unfairly subjected to suffering. All the rational arguments that his friends offer to account for his innocent suffering appear hollow, and the only acceptable answer is God’s remark to Job, “Where were you when I established the earth?”

In other words, a human being can see only a tiny fragment of the universe, an infinitesimally small bit of time and space. Our vantage point is much like a single piece of a huge jigsaw puzzle, a tiny fragment of the whole picture, which makes no sense on its own. Only when the entire puzzle is assembled do we realize how this odd-shaped piece fits properly. Since no human being can have a view of the totality of the universe in both time and space, we cannot possibly grasp the meaning of one tiny fragment of it.

This explanation does not tell us why the innocent may suffer, but only why there cannot be a satisfactory explanation. Acceptance of suffering therefore requires faith in a Creator who designed the universe with a master plan in which everything that happens has a valid reason. This belief may not comfort a sufferer nor prevent the sufferer from becoming angry at the Designer of the universe. The Torah does not in fact condemn the anger of the sufferer (Bava Basra 16b), but does require that he accept adversity with trust that God is just (Deuteronomy 32:4).

Acceptance does not mean approval, but it does allow us to avoid the paralyzing rage of righteous rage, and to go on with the business of living.

Today I shall …

… try to realize that nothing ever happens that is purposeless, and that I must go on living even when I disapprove of the way the world operates.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Tevet 23”
Aish.com

Which in my mind, leads to this:

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

attributed to Plato

I’m trying to write a more optimistic counterpoint to my earlier “Shemot” commentary, but I’m not doing a very good job. I can’t seem to summon up the will, the trust, or whatever it takes to just say “God is good,” and leave it at that. I continue to look at my life and at the world around me and find things that could be better (I’m employing understatement here). We’re all fighting a hard battle and we are begging God to please be kind. We don’t always receive the kindness we ask for, sometimes even in spite of our faith and trust.

But my wife sent me the link to the “law of attraction” article for a reason, so regardless of what I see or what I think about it, perhaps it wouldn’t hurt (and maybe…just maybe it would help) to be a little more trusting and optimistic.

My wife was listening to “When the Heart Cries” by Sarit Hadad on YouTube the other evening. Somehow, it seems appropriate to include that in this “extra meditation” as well.

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2 thoughts on “Crying Out to God”

  1. thank you. this is such an interesting read. i like how you were able to compare the same points form both “faiths.” this only goes to show that we do go back to the same Source, whichever way we may reach it.

  2. Thank you, xeia. We do indeed go back to the same source, but it’s important to remember that for the past 2,000 years, Judaism and Christianity have been traveling on divergent trajectories so that in the early 21st century, the two don’t appear to be very much alike. However, it’s the struggle to find the continued common thread of God running through both that drives a good part of this blog. Since my wife is Jewish and I’m a Christian, it’s a personal mission as well as a theological one. When the Jewish Messiah King returns, the mission will go worldwide. He’s coming soon. We must be ready.

    Blessings.

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