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Longing for Mercy in an Ordinary Life

When Moses got up that morning and counted the sheep, he did not say to himself, “I think I’ll take the sheep out on the west side of the wilderness over by the Mountain of God.” Mount Horeb was simply Mount Horeb, an indistinct rock in the wilderness like so many other hills and mountains, completely ordinary looking. There was nothing special about it. Mount Horeb became Mount Sinai, the mountain of God, simply because God chose it, not because it was taller, mightier or holier than any of the surrounding hills and mountains.

-from “Ordinary Life” the Torah Club commentary on Shemot
First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)

This topic pops up periodically in Christian circles, usually in response to a question such as:

How could God use me for anything? I’m no one special. I’m just an ordinary person with an ordinary life.

Another part of the answer goes like this:

Most of us do not regard ourselves as extraordinary people. You probably think of yourself as a fairly ordinary person with a fairly mundane life. From God’s perspective, that is perfect. You are the perfect person with whom He can do extraordinary things. He is not looking for prophets; He is looking for normal people who are carrying on under normal circumstances.

Frankly, I’d be elated to live an ordinary and mundane life perfectly or even just reasonably within the bounds of God’s expectations. I don’t have to be Moses. I don’t want to be Moses. I am unworthy to be anything like Moses. I just want to be “me” but a better “me” than I am today.

Teshuvah within an “ordinary life” is a lot of hard work with no guarantee that life will get immediately better even upon turning away from sin. An “extraordinary” life seems exhausting by comparison.

Of course with God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26) but God is God and I’m just me.

When I became chief rabbi, I had to undergo a medical examination. The doctor put me on a treadmill, walking at a very brisk pace. “What are you testing?” I asked him. “How fast I can go, or how long?” “Neither,” he replied. “What I am testing is how long it takes, when you come off the treadmill, for your pulse to return to normal.” That is when I discovered that health is measured by the power of recovery. That is true for everyone, but doubly so for leaders and for the Jewish people, a nation of leaders (that, I believe, is what the phrase “a kingdom of priests” means).

-Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
“Light in Dark Times”
Chabad.org

Man alonePart how I measure my physical health is how quickly my heart rate recovers after a cardio workout. However, that principle can be applied to a completely different context. How quickly a person recovers after a major failure in making teshuvah and restoring relationships with God and people is also a measure of health.

Of course, there could be a problem:

Question: What if the person to whom you want to apologize won’t speak to you?

Answer: Here is what Maimonides writes on the matter:

If his colleague does not desire to forgive him, he should bring a group of three of his friends and approach him with them and request [forgiveness]. If [the wronged party] is not appeased, he should repeat the process a second and third time. If he [still] does not want [to forgive him], he may let him alone and need not pursue [the matter further]. On the contrary, the person who refuses to grant forgiveness is the one considered as the sinner.

-Rabbi Menachem Posner
Comments from the article:
“Teshuvah — Repentance”
Chabad.org

While facing God with your sin and asking for forgiveness as part of true teshuvah is daunting, we have certain promises in the Bible that God will indeed forgive us of our sin, cleansing us and making us white as snow (Psalm 51:7). However, with the people we have hurt, they are quite likely, at least initially, to react with blame, anger, and rejection.

In Rabbi Posner’s comment above citing Maimonides, we should repeatedly approach the offended party and continue to ask for their forgiveness. However, there is a limit as to how many times we are expected to extend ourselves and, at least from the Rambam’s point of view, anyone who refuses to forgive a true Baal Teshuvah is considered a sinner themselves.

Not that this is much help if you’re trying to repair relationships.

Every prayer of the heart is answered. It’s the packaging that doesn’t always meet our taste.

Maamar Vayigash Elav 5725, 6—based on a statement of the Baal Shem Tov, Keter Shem Tov.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Bad Packaging”
Chabad.org

Yes, we can pray for a positive outcome, and as Rabbi Freeman says, God answers all prayers, but the “packaging,” that is, exactly how God answers the prayers, may not be what we desired or hoped for.

Hearken and hear Israel (Devarim 27:9), this is the time marked for the redemption by Mashiach. The sufferings befalling us are the birth-pangs of Mashiach. Israel will be redeemed only through teshuva (Jerusalem Talmud, Taanit I:1). Have no faith in the false prophets who assure you of glories and salvation after the War (Note that this was during the early 1940’s). Remember the word of G-d, “Cursed is the man who puts his trust in man, who places his reliance for help in mortals, and turns his heart from G-d” (Yirmiyahu 17:5). Return Israel unto the Eternal your G-d (Hoshei’a 14:2); prepare yourself and your family to go forth and receive Mashiach, whose coming is imminent.

-from “Today’s Day” for Wednesday, Tevet 15, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe; Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

praying aloneThis is heralding a very extraordinary time that will lead to the ultimate redemption of Israel and the nations, but in the meantime, there are still many mundane matters we all struggle with. I find it hard to always pray for the return of the Master when all I really want is to be successful in teshuvah, for God to grant me mercy and forgiveness, and for His Spirit to soften the hearts of those who have been hurt so they will be moved to mercy and forgiveness.

May God grant this to all of us, for who hasn’t failed?

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2 thoughts on “Longing for Mercy in an Ordinary Life”

  1. Recovery after failure is an excellent test; but there is another good one, which is recovery of humility after a resounding success. This may be likened even more to the return of one’s heart rate to normal after one’s physical capabilities are stressed. Pity also the truly extraordinary individuals who have been lifted to greater heights and have farther to fall, and from whom more is continually demanded. This also is a consequence that befalls a kingdom of priests — who strive for greater and may be granted it, only to find in it an even more severe test.

  2. “Do not say in your heart when the Lord your God has driven them out before you, ‘Because of my righteousness the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,’ but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is dispossessing them before you. It is not for your righteousness or for the uprightness of your heart that you are going to possess their land, but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord your God is driving them out before you, in order to confirm the oath which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

    Deuteronomy 9:4-5

    “But Jeshurun grew fat and kicked—
    You are grown fat, thick, and sleek—
    Then he forsook God who made him,
    And scorned the Rock of his salvation.”

    Deuteronomy 32:15

    True and Moshe warned the Children of Israel of such a thing. It seems that when we encounter either extreme, the challenge is to recover to a state that acknowledges the sovereignty of God and also the worth that He placed upon each of us.

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