A guy is riding his motorcycle down a mountain road when suddenly he loses control and goes hurtling off the cliff. As he’s sailing through the air, he shouts out: “God! Please make a miracle! Save me!”
Within moments his shirt gets caught on a protruding branch – and he is left dangling thousands of feet above the ground.
There’s no way out, so he looks heavenward and shouts: “God! Please save me!”
“Do you trust Me, my beloved son?” calls the voice from heaven.
“Yes, God, I trust you. Just please save me!”
“Okay then,” says God. “Let go of the branch and I’ll catch you.”
The man thinks for a moment, looks around, and calls out: “Is anyone else out there?!”
-from “Ask the Rabbi”
I’ve been writing a lot lately on topics that seem to inspire not only conversation (which is good) but emotional disagreement (which isn’t always good). I thought I’d back off a bit and discuss something that we all have in common: trusting God. I say we all have it in common (assuming you have faith in the living God of Israel), because trusting God isn’t always easy. The little story I quoted above is a joke but jokes are funny because they contain a truth we all understand.
Not only is trusting God difficult but the worse the situation is we find ourselves in, the more difficult of a time we have in trusting. Hence the punchline, “Is anyone else out there?”
Trusting God isn’t a matter of how well our lives are going. If we trust God only when things are doing well with us, it’s not trust. Trusting God is about the relationship we have with Him and to some degree, who we are as an individual personality.
The Aish Rabbi continues:
The key to forging a relationship with God is to trust Him. God is not some vindictive, punishing old man in the sky. God is our loving Creator, who wants only our best. Sometimes that calls for Him to “test” us with difficulties; but the intention is only to bring out our very best.
When we are children, we think we are the center of the universe. Then, through experience and trials, we become increasingly aware of the fact that there are things in life beyond our control. Whether it’s earthquakes, cancer, the rise and fall of fortunes, circumstances of our birth – and even birth itself… this can only be ascribed to a Higher Power.
Maimonides writes that there are two primary ways to attain recognition of God: by observing the wonders of Creation, and by performing mitzvot. Through nature, we see the beauty, splendor, and perfect unity of the world. Through mitzvot, we see how humanity can likewise attain unity and perfection.
In a way, we learn to trust God by acting the way we want Him to act (speaking of mitzvot). If we live a life that is upright, generous, charitable, merciful, compassionate, and wholesome, we will tend to think of God in that way. If our natures (which are sinful and thus very bad) are stingy, mean-spirited, cruel, hard-hearted, base, and immoral, we tend not to think of God that way, but we think we are going to be struck down any second by God. We expect, when hard times come, that we deserve it and we can’t trust God to help us out.
Trusting God depends on how well we can trust ourselves and how well others trust us.
Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky at Torah.org has a commentary based on last week’s Torah reading that also illustrates this point.
My dear friend Rabbi Benyamin Brenig of Golders Green, London recently related this wonderful story to me: Reuvain and Shimon were two men, who lived on opposite ends of town. They each inherited a fortune of gold. Each of them decided to bury their fortunes in their backyards. They wanted to make sure that they would have something to sustain them in their old age. On their respective properties, they each picked a landmark, paced twenty steps due north and dug a large hole.
Reuvain, the more nervous of the two, was careful to make sure that no one was watching. Every other second he glanced furtively over his shoulder to make sure that no one saw him bury the treasure. No one did.
Shimon, by nature, was trusting and carefree and he was not so careful. He was not worried that anyone would steal his fortune. But he was wrong. He was spotted by a nosy neighbor, who was also a thief.
In the middle of the night, the thief dug up the fortune. Out of mercy, he left few coins at the bottom of the pit, and removed the coins. He refilled the hole and packed the ground perfectly as if nothing was disturbed. Then he took off with the fortune.
Reuvain’s fortune, however, remained intact. But he was, by nature, a worrier. And so, the next day he decided to dig up the hole to make sure that the gold was still there. Accidentally, he counted only fifteen paces from his landmark and dug. There was nothing there. Reuvain was frantic. Someone must have seen him dig the pit, he figured. For the rest of his life, he worried. On his property, he had a pit filled with gold coins, but all Reuvain did was worry!
Shimon on the other hand had nothing but the remnants of a few coins. Everything else was stolen. But he never checked the fortune, and was merrily content, assured that when the time would come he could dig up the pit and retrieve his fortune. Reuvain, the millionaire, died heartbroken and frantic. Shimon, the man with but a few coins left for his old-age lived his life content as if he was the wealthiest man in the world.
The Torah tells us about the different types of blessings. For the faithful, Hashem says, “I will command my blessing in the sixth year,” in which Rashi assures us that even a bit will feel like a bounty. But we must acknowledge that despite Heavenly assurances, there are those who always worry. They need to see the money! They ask, “What will we eat in the seventh year? Behold! We will not sow and not gather in our crops!” Hashem must assure them that he will increase their bounty in a way that is visible to them.
Some of us can believe without seeing immediate results. We can sleep well, with full satisfaction on empty stomachs. The greatest expression of faith is when we do not see the blessing, but we feel it in our hearts and even in our stomachs. That blessing transcends tangibility, and the fear of deficiency. I think that is a noble goal.
For the rest of us, those who keep looking over their shoulder and check their fortunes every day, they need a different type of blessing. Sometimes we dig for tangible salvation, even though the treasure is sitting undisturbed in our own backyard.
I know that was a long quote, but I think it’s a good story and it tells us something about God and who we choose to be in God. Once you bury gold in the backyard, you can no longer see if it is there or not unless you dig it up. You can be like Shimon who lost most of his gold but because he trusted in something more precious than gold, lived his life in security and happiness as if he were a wealthy man. Reuvain, by contrast, didn’t lose a dime, but because he thought he had lost everything due to his untrusting nature, he could not trust the One who is worth far more than gold coins, and thus he lived out his life, though wealthy, as if he were a pauper dressed in rags.
We can’t control the circumstances of our lives with any certainty. Yes, we can invest in IRAs, spend cautiously on personal comforts, give generously to the poor, treat the lonely and grieving with kindness and compassion, but like the residents of New York and New Jersey, we cannot anticipate when the next superstorm Sandy will come and wipe all of our material possessions away like a sandcastle on a beach.
Like Job, we can learn to trust in God whether he grants us much or little. And we can strive to learn to trust God as did Paul.
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
I’ll freely admit that I sometimes have trouble with matters of trust, but that’s my problem, not God’s. God is not only immensely trustworthy but infinitely so. And even if I were to lose everything, I could only try to aspire to be like Job when he said, “Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face” (Job 13:15). The part about “argue my ways” may seem a little off base, but if I trust God, then I can trust Him with my heart, which includes all of my emotions, my disappointments, and my anguish, even my problems of trust in Him.
But in the end, we all will arrive at the same destination. In the end, we must all trust God and cry out to Him, “Save me!” Will we “let go” and let Him catch us?