Tag Archives: trust

The Lessons of Failure

Few of us like tests. However, what if your child comes home from school and tells you that he has the greatest science teacher this year — he’s too busy to grade tests, so there won’t be any tests the whole year! Likely, you’d be heading for the phone to call the principal. Why? Tests ensure that your child pays attention to the material, does the assignments and achieves the ultimate that he can achieve in the subject. No tests, the child will likely slack off and learn little.

However, when WE get a test in life — be it health, economic, interpersonal — we ask “Why is this happening to me?” Why does the Almighty send us a test? Because He loves us and He wants us to get the most out of life, to develop ourselves and our character, to have the greatest life possible and to achieve our potential. The Talmud tells us that the Almighty does not send us a test that we cannot handle.

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
from the Shabbat Shalom Weekly commentary on Torah Portion Ve’eira (Exodus 6:2-9:35)
Aish.com

So the Talmud says that the Almighty does not send a test the person being tested cannot handle. I’ve heard something similar in Christian circles and I’m not sure I agree with either source. I think there are plenty of Christians and Jews (and lots of others) who have encountered horrifying experiences that completely overwhelmed them.

How many Jews didn’t survive the Holocaust, and even of those who lived, how many did not survive with their emotional and physical health intact?

While I don’t believe Christians are persecuted in the United States, there are plenty in other countries run by oppressive and anti-Christian regimes where Christians are beaten, tortured, raped, and murdered for their faith. Sure, just like in examples of Holocaust survivors, we hear miraculous testimonies from Christians who have been terrifically brutalized, but who endured nonetheless with their faith and other facilities remaining whole.

But what about the stories we’ll never hear because they’re unpopular, of Jews and Christians who were totally broken by these tests and trials, those who never recovered, those who lost faith?

What about things that we don’t see as persecution? What of the Christian father who loses his five-year old little girl in a car accident and turns to alcohol instead of God? What about the Jewish mother whose baby boy dies of SIDS and she responds by ceasing to ever again speak to Hashem in prayer?

God provides the tests, but their’s no guarantee we’ll pass.

failureWhat happens when we fail? I don’t think Rabbi Packouz’s commentary is very helpful here:

How do you know it’s a test? If it’s hard. Test are tailored made for each individual. It may be hard for one person, but not for another. Know that the choice you make will determine whether you get closer to reaching your potential or further away. Think back to a difficult situation. Beforehand you might have thought that you couldn’t handle it, yet you did — and you grew tremendously from it. We only grow from that which is difficult and challenging. We draw upon something inside of us that we didn’t know we had.

That’s assuming we have whatever it takes inside in the first place. But then there’s this:

People think that they are being punished with bad things. The Torah teaches us that ultimate reward and punishment are not in this world, but in the next world, the World to Come (Mesilat Yesharim, Path of the Just, ch.1). In this world, it is not punishment; He’s teaching you a lesson, giving you a message. If you gave tzedakah (charity) and your stocks went up — it’s not a reward, but a message that you are using your money properly and here’s more to use wisely. Likewise, if you misused your wealth and your stocks declined.

It is important to understand that what happens to you may be bitter, painful, but it is not necessarily bad. It depends on how you view what happens and how you respond to it. Bad is what takes you away from a connection with the Almighty.

The flip side is what happens when something good happens to us, something really good? Imagine you win the lottery and win big. Suddenly, you’re set for life. You now can devote much more time and resources to charity, prayer, and Bible study because you don’t have to work, you can hire others to clean your house and take care of your yard, and free you from all the “ordinary” tasks in life.

Just like “bad” tests, “good” tests don’t always have the desired result.

“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.

“They made Him jealous with strange gods;
With abominations they provoked Him to anger.

“They sacrificed to demons who were not God,
To gods whom they have not known,
New gods who came lately,
Whom your fathers did not dread.

“You neglected the Rock who begot you,
And forgot the God who gave you birth.”

Deuteronomy 32:15-18 (NASB)

moses mount neboJust as in difficult tests, there’s no promise we will respond as God desires when He makes life easier for us, there’s no guarantee we’ll come closer to Him either.

I hate tests. I’m not very good at them, at least the ones Hashem provides. It’s disappointing. I sometimes wish for things that would make my life easier, at least from my point of view, rather than having to endure all of God’s “tests.” All this occurred to me again as I was pouring a cup of coffee this morning in an effort to wake up my brain.

It also occurred to me that, just like the test a young student has to take in school, what I receive or don’t receive from God is for my own (ultimate) good, even if I don’t see it that way. If I don’t win the lottery, for example, while that means I still have to work and struggle to save for an eventual retirement, there is something “good” about that. I don’t know what it is, but God must.

And of all the tests Hashem puts in my path that I find uncomfortable or even downright painful, even though I don’t see the “good” in them, it must be there. I have to believe that if I have faith and trust in God. Otherwise, life is just random and meaningless and we have no support from God when we suffer…we simply suffer.

How empty and vain a life is that?

But it’s not easy. Rabbi Packouz teaches us what we learn when we pass a test, but what do we learn when we fail?

Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.

-Napoleon Hill

Our best successes often come after our greatest disappointments.

-Henry Ward Beecher

Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.

-Theodore Roosevelt

You can Google “failure quotes” and find a seemingly endless supply of inspirational statements about learning from failure. Of course, the quotes of famous people don’t necessarily reflect the viewpoint of God on the matter.

Having arrested Him, they led Him away and brought Him to the house of the high priest; but Peter was following at a distance. After they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter was sitting among them. And a servant-girl, seeing him as he sat in the firelight and looking intently at him, said, “This man was with Him too.” But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know Him.” A little later, another saw him and said, “You are one of them too!” But Peter said, “Man, I am not!” After about an hour had passed, another man began to insist, saying, “Certainly this man also was with Him, for he is a Galilean too.” But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” Immediately, while he was still speaking, a rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had told him, “Before a rooster crows today, you will deny Me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

Luke 22:54-62

peters-denialPeter’s failure. But it wasn’t the end, even though the failure was great.

So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.”  He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.

John 21:15-17

Rav Yeshua gave Peter (Kefa) another chance to show how he loved his Master. Peter recovered from his failure and recovered well.

But Peter, along with John, fixed his gaze on him and said, “Look at us!” And he began to give them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!” And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened. With a leap he stood upright and began to walk; and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God; and they were taking note of him as being the one who used to sit at the Beautiful Gate of the temple to beg alms, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

Acts 3:4-10

This is just one small example of Peter the empowered Apostle and the result of his recovery from failure. He’d never be perfect and sometimes he’d make mistakes, but he never denied his Master again.

But what about us? We could attribute Peter’s boldness to his having received the Holy Spirit in the Acts 2 as opposed to his deliberately choosing to pass God’s tests rather than fail them. He was an Apostle full of the Holy Spirit of God. What about us? What about we poor, dim, ordinary human beings?

As Acts 10 attests, we Gentile Yeshua Talmidei are also supposed to possess the Spirit of the Almighty. Where is our greatness? Why aren’t we like the Apostles? What’s the difference between them and us?

Why do we continue to fail, what does that mean, and what do we learn, if anything at all?

The Torah states:

“And Pharaoh sent word and summoned Moses and Aaron. He said to them, ‘I have sinned this time. The Almighty is righteous. I and my people are wicked! … I will let you leave. You will not be delayed again.’ ”

Shortly thereafter, Pharaoh refused to let them leave.

Why did Pharaoh change his mind once the pressure of the plague was removed? Rabbi Noson Tzvi Finkel of the Mir Yeshiva explained that Pharaoh viewed suffering as a punishment. That is why he said, “The Almighty is a righteous judge and His punishment is fair because I have done evil.”

The reality is that there is a strong element of kindness in the suffering that the Almighty sends to us. In part, it is a divine message that we have something to improve. The goal of suffering is to motivate a person to improve his behavior. Pharaoh viewed suffering only as a punishment. Therefore, as soon as the punishment was over, he changed his mind and refused to let them leave.

Our lesson: View suffering as a means to elevate yourself and you will find meaning in your suffering. Try to accept it with love and appreciation. Even though there is still pain involved, it is much easier to cope. Whenever you find yourself suffering, ask yourself, “How can I use this as a tool for self-improvement?”

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Commentary on Torah Portion Va’eira
from Growth Through Torah

runI think that’s what we learn from failure. If we see our failures as a punishment from God or some sort of inherent quality in ourselves we can never overcome, we will continue to fail. If, however, we choose to consider our failures as tests, they point to the areas in our lives where we need to improve. They show us a target to aim at, a goal to achieve, they illuminate a sort of “finish line” in a race.

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3

We fail, but as long as we persevere and do not give up, we will never be defeated.

I know, easier said than done, but as people of faith, every time we are knocked down, we must either get up again, dust ourselves off, and keep moving forward, or we surrender our faith, give up on God, and go off in our own direction, becoming truly lost.

Passing God’s tests strengthens us, brings us closer to God, and shows us that God has built within us more persistence and empowerment than we realized we had. In fact, without tests, we’d never know just who God has made us to be. Even if we fail and fail often, as long as we keep trying, we never lose our way or step off the path God has placed before us.

Even in abject failure, abandoned by everyone we ever thought loved us, we are never alone.

When you have nothing left but God, you become aware that God is enough.

―A. Maude Royden

May this always be true of each of us.

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Living With God Everyday

What we are talking about here is developing Messianic Jewish Household Spirituality. At Intefaithfulness we are doing this through an initiative called HaB’er (“The Well”). As resources of time, finances, and personnel allow, we will be providing materials, instruction and encouragement to Jewish and Intermarried households who recognize the priority of developing “The Three-Stranded Cord” of ever-deepening engagement with Jewish life, Yeshua-faith, and with God’s Presence. Our mission statement is “Living well at home in Jewish life with the Messiah.”

-Rabbi Stuart Dauermann
“Toward a New Solution to Current Problems in the Messianic Jewish Religious World”
Interfaithfulness.org

In Christianity, the main location for worship and prayer is the Church. In Judaism, it’s the home. Rabbi Dauermann points out in his article that, for Yeshua-believing Jews, whether they are in the Church or in the Messianic Jewish synagogue, they were “shaped” by American evangelicalism and thus, tend to be institution-oriented rather than home-oriented as are other religious Jews.

I’m not writing to comment on Jewish religious praxis, whether in the Messianic arena or otherwise. I’m here to write about the rest of us.

Actually, I can’t count myself as one of the Gentiles I want to discuss since, for a lot of reasons, the “practice” of my faith in the home is affected by the presence of my Jewish wife and children, none of whom are “Messianic”.

But I think the points Rabbi Dauermann brings up about the Messianic Jewish movement could be adapted to Jesus-following non-Jews, whether we call ourselves Christians, believers, “Messianic Gentiles,” or anything else.

churchFor a lot of us, our faith consists of going to church on Sunday, which includes the worship service, the sermon, and Sunday school. Then, if we’re really ambitious, there are programs, usually offered on Wednesday evening, in which we can participate.

But what about the rest of the time? What about our day-to-day lives?

In this, I think particularly an Orthodox or perhaps Conservative Jew might have an advantage.

Oh, Christians wouldn’t consider it such. I recall being in a Sunday school class a few years ago and hearing the teacher remark how we are so fortunate not to be “under the law” anymore (not that we ever were), and having been freed by the grace of Jesus Christ.

But free to do what? Play a few holes of golf after leaving church services and going out to lunch? How many Christians even say grace before eating if they’re in a public place?

Jewish practice may seem cumbersome to many non-Jews, but it has the advantage of continually reminding the Jewish person that God is always present. If you wear a kippah in acknowledgement of God being above you, your awareness is a persistent as your apparel.

Add to this all of the blessings to be said on a wide variety of occasions. If you were raised in an observant Jewish home, you started learning this practice in childhood, but for a Jew who was raised secular and became religious as an adult, there is probably something of a learning curve. Nevertheless, the message seems to be that a Jew is always obligated to acknowledge God in everything.

An observant Jewish life doesn’t occur just on certain days of the week or only between the hours of such and thus, it occurs from the moment you wake up until you go to bed at night.

Modeh AniAbout the only thing I’ve allowed myself to carry over from my past is reciting the Modeh Ani (in English) when I discover I’m awake in the morning and about to get out of bed. It’s a basic confirmation that I owe each day of my life to God.

The day-to-day religious practice of a Christian or otherwise religious non-Jew is not well-defined. We don’t have the rich history of tradition of the Jewish people to draw upon. Sure, some non-Jews have chosen to adapt bits and pieces of those traditions in their lives, but we don’t share Jewish history and, in most cases, Jewish community, so it seems at least a bit out-of-place.

I should say at this point that I’ve met Christians who have fully-realized and completely integrated lives of faith. Every thought and action is directed to the service of Christ and to people around them. However, I wouldn’t consider this a very common practice, more’s the pity.

But returning to practical praxis, among the very first non-Jewish Yeshua-followers who had learned from Jewish mentors, such as the Apostle Paul, their day-by-day behavior probably looked pretty “Jewish,” since it was the only model they had available, but nearly twenty centuries have passed and that connection has long since been lost.

Some congregations and other collections of Jews and Gentiles who are devoted to Yeshua as Messiah are attempting to reinvent that relationship, but it’s pretty inconsistent. I think I recently mentioned how fragmented the body of Messiah happens to be, and I don’t see it becoming any more unified in the near future.

But regardless of our religious orientation and our access to community of any kind, we still, as individuals, have a responsibility to not only maintain our awareness of the God above our heads day-by-day, hour-by-hour, but to act out of that awareness. For the non-Jewish believer, as I’ve already said, there isn’t a well-defined set of behaviors and traditions for us to draw upon. Nevertheless, we can do something. We just need to be more deliberate and maybe more creative about it.

followIf we are walking in the dust of the footsteps of our Rav, so to speak, what should we do?

“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’”

Matthew 25:34-40 (NASB)

Do kindness everyday. No, you don’t have to save the world every hour on the hour, but you can take advantage of your opportunities, even in very tiny ways. Pick up a bit of litter and throw it in the trash. Hold the door open for someone. At this time of year, there are plenty of people ringing bells in front of stores taking in donations. Drop your loose change into the bucket. The next time someone cuts you off in traffic, instead of getting mad at them or competing with them on the road, let them have their way. Maybe they have a really good reason for being in a hurry.

A few days ago, I came across a news story about a homeless Jesus statue that is being erected in numerous communities. The concept and application are controversial, and while I agree that $40,000 per statue could be better spent actually sheltering the homeless, feeding them, and clothing them, the symbolism invoked, for me, the quote from Matthew 25.

homeless Jesus
Photo: Kelly Wilkinson / The Star

Jesus is already homeless, and poor, and hungry, and needy. He is because we have homeless, poor, hungry, and needy people in our communities. If we wish to serve our Rav and to “do what Jesus would do,” then the Bible makes it abundantly clear how to respond.

But what about this?

If the world of Messianic Jewish believers is to be established, sustained, renewed and passed on from generation to generation, the efforts of religious school, seminary and congregation will fail unless we begin at the center: the home. It is for this reason that Jewish religious discourse terms the home a Mikdash M’at, a little holy sanctuary. This is the center. This is the microcosm from which blessing proceeds to the macrocosm of life, and socially, this is the seed from which the Kingdom of God will grow in the Messianic Jewish context, or not. Similarly, we find in Scripture that it is at the center, the Holy of Holies, where holiness is most concentrated and from which it radiates out into the community of the people of God and to the wider world. Think of the design of the tabernacle in the wilderness and each of the First and Second Temples, each termed a “Beit Mikdash.” In Jewish life the home, the mikdash m’at, is the Holy of Holies from which spiritual identity and vitality radiates out into the world and daily life. Apart from this center, all is empty religious noise and clamor, gongs and cymbals, and too often, as we will admit if we are honest, smoke and mirrors.

This is how Rabbi Dauermann ended his essay, with a plea to re-establish Messianic Jewish homes as Jewish homes, making them the “Holy of Holies.”

I’m not sure how this is done in non-Jewish homes. I’ve known a few Christians who make a little “altar” in their homes, putting a cross, a Bible, and other religious objects on a table to be the center of family prayer.

I’m not particularly keen on building “altars,” but the idea of family prayer and family Bible study time seems to be a good start.

Moon and StarsI don’t have any practical suggestions beyond what I just mentioned, and as I’ve already said, this isn’t an option for me personally, but if somehow it were possible to treat our own homes as sacred places, to realize that God dwells among us as we eat dinner, watch TV, help our kids with their homework, read our Bibles, read anything else, surf the web, answer text messages, then maybe, just maybe we’d act differently in our own homes…and everyplace else.

A little bit of light pushes away a lot of darkness.

-Jewish proverb

We Are Students of Abraham Communing with God

We find that G-d’s love for our father Avraham was mainly because “…he will command (yetzaveh) his children and his household.”[1] Yetzaveh here connotes “bring into a communion (with G-d).” All of Avraham’s towering avoda in the tests to which he was subjected,[2] cannot be compared to his commanding others and bringing them into communion, i.e. to his bringing merit to others.

“Today’s Day” for Sunday, Tammuz 8, 5703/1943
Compiled and arranged by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, in 5703 (1943) from the talks and letters of the sixth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory.
Chabad.org

This is a follow up to yesterday’s morning meditation, and although it, and my previous missive, may seem a bit schmaltzy for some of you, I feel it’s necessary to add some spiritual “ascent” to counter balance some of the “descent” we’ve been discussing lately.

I know that the phrase from Genesis 18:19 where God references Abraham saying “so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice,” has been taken by some to mean that, as spiritual children of Abraham, we should be obligated to the Torah mitzvot in the same manner as the descendants of Abraham’s offspring Isaac and Jacob, that is, the Jewish people.

This would make things deceptively easy (not that they’d actually be easy) in terms of defining the role of the non-Jew within Messianic Jewish space. We’d just have the same role as the Jewish participants and thus we’d all be one big, happy family (not really, but that’s wish, anyway).

But the commentary about the aforementioned portion of scripture is very interesting. It states “…he will command (yetzaveh) his children and his household,” as meaning he [Abraham] will “bring [his children and his household] into a communion (with G-d).”

Except, because of our Abraham-like faith in Hashem through Yeshua, we can and are brought into communion with God. Having a halachic path identical to the Jewish people is completely unnecessary. How complicated does coming into communion with God have to be?

abrahams visitorsAlthough the Jewish Sages believe that Abraham kept all of the Torah mitzvot in the manner later commanded at Sinai, I don’t think we have to go that far in considering what Abraham may have taught, based on a reading of the plain meaning of the relevant texts.

At a very, very basic level, Abraham talked to God and God talked back. Their relationship was founded on Abraham’s unbounded trust in God, a trust that allowed Abraham to do the unthinkable; to trust God enough to place Isaac on the altar and risk losing his “child of promise.”

While I think most of us as parents have a terrifically difficult time imagining how Abraham was able to do this and what he was thinking (not to mention what Isaac was thinking when he allowed it) at the Akedah, we have to believe that Abraham trusted God and His promises enough to know that Isaac would not die or that, if he did, God would resurrect him.

After all, if Isaac was the sole source of Abraham’s future legacy, how could that be fulfilled if Isaac died, particularly by his father’s hand, before having children?

So to be in communion with God, to follow Abraham’s teachings may be as straightforward as continually talking with God and continually developing our trust in God so that we too may face our life difficulties with the same calm and grace as Avinu Avraham.

A lot of the issues we discuss among ourselves as “Messianics” have to do with how Jews and Gentiles are supposed to interact, particularly within a Jewish social and worship environment, but the question we seem to avoid is how are each of us as individuals (regardless of being Jewish or Gentile) supposed to relate to God?

Abraham and the starsIf following Abraham’s teaching for both his biological descendants and those of us who are counted as children of Abraham by our trust in God is the key, then the door we’re trying to open is the one that leads us into the presence of Hashem.

G‑d desires to have a presence in this world, and in each mitzvah we do, however it is done, He is there.

G‑d desires that His light shine in this world, and in every word of divine wisdom and every heartfelt prayer, His light shines.

G‑d desires yet more—that He be found here in all His essence, that which can neither be spoken nor kept silent, neither of heaven nor of earth, neither of being nor of not-being—that which transcends all of these and from which all extends.

And that is how He is found in a simple, physical deed that shines brightly with divine light.

Torat Menachem, vol. 34 (Likkutei Sichot, vol. 4), Parshat Korach; Maamar Hasam Ragleinu 5718.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Acts of Light”
Chabad.org

Everything we do in the service of God brings a little bit more of His presence into our reality. That’s the meaning of Tikkun Olam or repairing the world.

In that, anything we do to elevate ourselves spiritually, and that delivers charitable, righteous, and just acts to our fellow human beings, is part of bringing light into the world and are the behaviors that result from our communion with God.

We are students of Abraham it seems, Jew and Gentile alike. We all just have our own unique ways of acting out what we’ve learned.

Touching on the Keb’ Mo’ YouTube video of his chart “I’m Amazing” which I posted yesterday, I’m inserting this link to Rabbi Freeman’s short article You Are the World (and so am I).

I encourage you to read it all (it’s not very long), but he ends his missive by saying:

As another ancient Jewish teaching goes, “Every person has to say, ‘The whole world was created with me in mind.’” Meaning, for me to tip the scales. For me to make the entire world the way it was meant to be.

Because you are the world.

Inner lightWhether you understand it or not, you (and I) were created to fulfill a specific purpose in life (and maybe more than one). As you are doing it, you may not even be aware of what or how you are part of God’s plan in the world. You may only realize it in the world to come when it is revealed.

Half the time, I have no idea what God wants out of me, either.

That’s where trust in God, the kind of trust Abraham had at the Akedah, comes in. We have to believe and live out our trust that the universe and our individual lives are unfolding as God intends them to.

Good Shabbos.

Footnotes

1. Bereishit 18:19.

2. Pirkei Avot 5:3.

Bitachon and Hishtadlus for the Rest of Us

How does one balance these two seemingly contradictory ideas? It all depends on the person’s spiritual level. The closer a person is to perfection in his belief in Hashem, the more he is expected to rely on Hashem, and his level of hishtadlus (effort) must drop accordingly. Until a person reaches that level he may — and must — work, to achieve whatever he needs to function and sustain himself and his family. As his belief and trust in Hashem grow — and he must work on this mitzvah constantly, to reach ever higher levels of bitachon (trust) — he must adjust his level of hishtadlus and rely more on Hashem.

-from Torah Thought for the Day, p.56
Commentary for Parashas Mikeitz for Sunday
A Daily Dose of Torah

As I mentioned yesterday, for a person to trust God for his every need and be content in every circumstance as was the Apostle Paul (Philippians 4:10-13), that person would already have to be operating at a very high level spiritually. For the rest of us…well, we worry sometimes.

But I don’t entirely agree with the Rabbinic statement I quoted above. It seems that it could be abused by some people who state that they have achieved so high a spiritual level that they don’t (or shouldn’t) have to work to support themselves and their families at all, and instead, should be allowed to study Torah uninterrupted almost every waking moment. We can see such an example in the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish population of Israel who refuse mandatory military service and many who choose not to work and have the Israeli government providing them with support.

I suppose any principle can be taken too far. The Bible is replete with examples of very holy men who were close to God and who nevertheless also labored to support themselves.

workI do agree with the principle of hishtadus, which is that we are to work to support ourselves and not to rely on God’s miracles for our “daily bread,” so to speak. But I don’t think that necessarily changes as we learn to believe and trust in God to greater degrees over our lifetimes. Sure, God could cause us to win the lottery by a miracle, but don’t count on it.

As I’ve also previously mentioned, we know that at the end of last week’s Torah portion, we saw that Joseph is in prison. After giving the Chamberlain of the Cupbearers a favorable interpretation of his dream, Joseph asked that the Chamberlain put in a good word for him to Pharaoh, King of Egypt (Genesis 40:14-15). But according to midrash, this was a mistake (although what mistake Joseph actually made is debated by the Rabbis) and as a result, Joseph spent two more years in prison.

The plain text of the scripture doesn’t seem to indicate this and it seems more likely that once the Chamberlain of the Cupbearers had regained his freedom, he simply didn’t bother himself with the request of one insignificant Hebrew slave.

But we do see in this example the delicate balance between trust in God and the necessity of our own efforts. Technically, there was nothing wrong with Joseph asking for help and indeed, God may have arranged this very situation. After all, we find that two years later, the Chamberlain does remember Joseph, but only because Pharaoh has a dream that no one can interpret (Genesis 41:1-13). If the Chamberlain had spoken to Pharaoh two years previously, Pharaoh could either have denied the request or in granting it, possibly make Joseph unavailable when he was needed to interpret Pharaoh’s most important dream.

Sometimes bitachon or trust in God isn’t a matter of asking or not asking a person’s help in a tough situation. Sometimes and perhaps quite often, it’s a matter of asking and then waiting.

The true description of bitachon is the belief that there is no coincidence in this world, and that everything that transpires occurs with Hashem’s approval and instruction.

When a person finds himself in a situation which appears dangerous according to the natural way of the world, and he is powerless to help himself, he must overcome his fear by realizing that the One Who controls everything in this world can cause a positive outcome just as easily as a negative one. This is called bitachon.

-from A Mussar Thought for the Day, p.60
Commentary for Parashas Mikeitz for Sunday
A Daily Dose of Torah

Sometimes we know that saying something will make a situation worse. We can tell ourselves to, “Just keep silent.” If we feel tempted to speak negatively about someone, we can strengthen our resolve not to say it by telling ourselves, “Just keep silent.”

The more difficult it is to keep silent, the greater the resulting spiritual elevation. When you tell yourself, “Just keep silent,” your silence isn’t just a passive state of being. Rather, it is an act of remaining silent.

In Tehillim (Psalms 34), King David tells us: “Who is the person who wants life and loves days that he may see good? Guard your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.” Remaining silent instead of speaking against others enhances and lengthens life.

(from Rabbi Zelig Pliskin’s book: “Conversations With Yourself”, p.145) [Artscroll.com])

-from Just Keep Silent
Daily Lift #194
Aish.com

SilenceThat last quote is more directed at a person who wants to say something to another person, usually something insulting, but who choses for the sake of Heaven to refrain, but I think it fits in our current discussion as well. Sometimes we can only say and do so much, and when we reach the limit of our ability to positively affect our situation, then all we can do is rely on God’s mercy.

The issue though is that even a complete trust in God is no guarantee that the outcome will always be good. True bitachon enables a person to realize that good or bad, everything comes from the hand of God.

And that is a very difficult middah, yet there is hope, at least according to the Sages:

Chazon Ish states that just as there are levels in other middos, such as mercy, humility, etc., there are many levels of bitachon. As long as one possesses even a small trace of bitachon, he is not excluded from the group of believers, and will merit ultimate redemption.

-from A Mussar Thought for the Day, p.60

Asking to Walk with God

father-son-walkingOn further reflection, a person might also become disheartened, G‑d forbid, wondering how is one to fulfill adequately one’s real purpose in life on this earth, which is, to quote our Sages, “I was created to serve my Creator” — seeing that most of one’s time is necessarily taken up with materialistic things, such as eating and drinking, sleeping, earning a livelihood, etc. What with the fact that the earliest years of a human being, before reaching maturity and knowledgeability, are spent in an entirely materialistic mode of living.

-Translation of a letter from the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson
“Is Most of My Life a Waste?”
Chabad.org

Some people feel discouraged. They then assume that these feelings are facts: since they feel discouraged that is a “proof” there is no hope. But feelings only represent a person’s present state of mind, they cannot predict the future.

They can ask themselves: “Do my present feelings actually prove that there is no hope?” Of course not. There is never absolute proof that your situation will not improve. By believing you have no hope, you are causing yourself great harm. Adopt the attitude: “It is always possible that the future will turn out much brighter than I presently feel it will. What constructive action can I take for improvement?”

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Daily Lift 943: “Feelings Aren’t Facts”
Aish.com

Last Sunday afternoon, a friend challenged me. I hate these sorts of challenges because they always mean that I have to crawl out of my comfort zone. Yes, we all have one. The place where we spend most of our lives or want to, anyway. The place where we excel. The place where people see us as competent, and significant, and see all of the good things in us we want them to see.

And we see them in ourselves.

But…

…but there isn’t so much to actually achieve there. The comfort zone is where you exercise all of the skill sets you are already really good at. There’s nothing more to learn in the comfort zone. Oh, you may learn some stuff, but it’s stuff that never really surprises you. It never shocks you. It certainly never scares you.

That’s why when my friend suggested that I get out of my comfort zone and ask God to show me more of Himself…a real encounter with Him, I experienced true dread. I know that sounds horrible. After all, in the realm of religious people, who doesn’t ask, plead, beg to experience a closer walk with God?

Most of us. A closer walk with God means having to change, not just a little bit and not in the direction we feel comfortable changing (or not changing and just pretending to change). I mean real, unanticipated, unpredictable, uncomfortable, “I don’t wanna go there” change.

Yuck! Who wants that?

But what’s the alternative?

My soul thirsts for You; my flesh pines for You.

Psalms 63:2

One Yom Kippur, after the Maariv (evening) services that ended the 25-hour fast, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berdichev exclaimed, “I am thirsty! I am thirsty!” Quickly someone brought him water, but the Rabbi said, “No! I am thirsty!” Hastily they boiled water and brought him coffee, but again he said, “No! No! I am thirsty!” His attendant then asked, “Just what is it you desire?”

“A tractate Succah (the volume of the Talmud dealing with the laws of the festival of Succos).” They brought the desired volume, and the Rabbi began to study the Talmud with great enthusiasm, ignoring the food and drink that were placed before him.

Only after several hours of intense study did the Rabbi breathe a sigh of relief and break his fast. The approaching festival of Succos with its many commandments – only five days after Yom Kippur – had aroused so intense a craving that it obscured the hunger and thirst of the fast.

It is also related that at the end of Succos and Pesach, festivals during which one does not put on tefillin, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok sat at the window, waiting for the first glimmer of dawn which would allow him to fulfill the mitzvah of tefillin after a respite of eight or nine days.

Today I shall…

…try to realize that Torah and mitzvos are the nutrients of my life, so that I crave them just as I do food and water when I am hungry or thirsty.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Tishrei 11”
Aish.com

plead1Particularly in Jewish thought, performing the mitzvot are the nutrients of life but what you do lacks meaning if you do not employ kavanah, otherwise known as “intention” or “direction of the heart.”

When asking for a closer connection with God, it’s always important to consider that time-honored caveat, “Be careful what you ask for.”

It’s sort of like dying of thirst but being afraid to drink because you might drown. It’s like dying of thirst, but the only source of water is at the bottom of a massive waterfall. You only need a few drops or a glassful, but your only option is a raging torrent.

How about just a little revelation, God…something I can handle, something not too scary or overwhelming. Let’s warm up with that and see where we should go from there.

Believing in God is easy. Trusting God is hard, and yet we have this.

Do not trust in princes,
In mortal man, in whom there is no salvation.
His spirit departs, he returns to the earth;
In that very day his thoughts perish.
How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
Whose hope is in the Lord his God,
Who made heaven and earth,
The sea and all that is in them;
Who keeps faith forever;
Who executes justice for the oppressed;
Who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free.

Psalm 146:3-7 (NASB)

I have plenty of experience being disappointed in human beings, including me. I don’t think I’ve ever been disappointed by God, but then again, have I ever given Him the chance?

Has this ever happened to you?

It’s Time To Let Go

finding-nemo-let-goMARLIN: “Dory!”

DORY: “He says, “It’s time to let go!”. Everything’s going to be all right.”

MARLIN: “How do you know, how do you know something bad isn’t gonna happen?”

DORY: “I don’t!”

-dialog from the film Finding Nemo (2003)

You’ve probably seen this film at one point or another and if you have kids, you’ve probably seen it a lot. Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks) and Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres), after having gone through many adventures, have been swallowed by a whale. The forgetful Dory, who apparently can speak whale, was asking the sea mammal for directions to Sydney, Australia when the creature gulped down her and Marlin with a chaser of krill. We all know that this was the whale’s best effort to give Dory and Marlin a free ride to their destination, but the ever pessimistic Marlin just feels like today’s hot lunch special.

Dory has another point of view made of optimism and trust (and short-term memory loss). When the water inside the whale recedes and Dory and Marlin are about to fall down the whale’s throat, Marlin grabs onto something and clutches it and Dory for dear life. The whale tells Dory (in whale talk) to let go and Dory translates for Marlin. That’s where we pick up the dialog above.

MARLIN: “How do you know, how do you know something bad isn’t gonna happen?”

DORY: “I don’t!”

You won’t read this until Tuesday, but I’m writing it on Sunday afternoon. Three times at church this morning, I must have heard someone say to humbly trust God for everything and not our own efforts.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.

Proverbs 3:5 (NASB)

Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s the basis for such a thing in the Bible.

I’m not always happy with the sorts of religious systems we develop just to try to understand what God is saying to us in the Bible. It’s sometimes amazing to me that so many different and contradictory meanings can be squeezed out of the scriptures. Really, if God caused the Bible to be written in human language so that human beings could understand what He’s saying (and since He’s God, what He’s saying to us must be pretty important), then why is the Bible so incredibly difficult to comprehend in a unified fashion?

But then sometimes, suddenly the Bible can be very clear.

‘You shall also count for yourselves from the day after the sabbath, from the day when you brought in the sheaf of the wave offering; there shall be seven complete sabbaths. You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh sabbath; then you shall present a new grain offering to the Lord. You shall bring in from your dwelling places two loaves of bread for a wave offering, made of two-tenths of an ephah; they shall be of a fine flour, baked with leaven as first fruits to the Lord.’

Leviticus 23:15-17 (NASB)

In his sermon, Pastor said this was the command for the people of Israel to acknowledge God’s provision to them on Shavuot. Last week, we talked about offering God the firstfruits, the very best of the barley crop before anyone else could “sample the goods.”

God gives us everything. He needs nothing from us in return. And yet, He directed the Children of Israel to give back to Him by these festivals so that the Israelites could realize where everything comes from and acknowledge God’s goodness and generosity.

You open Your hand And satisfy the desire of every living thing.

Psalm 145:16 (NASB)

I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread.

Psalm 37:25 (ESV)

birkat-hamazonBoth of those scriptures are incorporated in the Birkat Hamazon or “Grace After Meals,” a blessing typically said by observant Jews after a meal. In my previous congregation, on Shabbat, we would recite it after our oneg meal and before the teaching began. It’s a wonderful reminder of God’s provision for all humanity and that everything we have truly comes from Him.

In my struggles with “religious systems” and trying to integrate within traditional Christianity, I haven’t really been relying on God. Oh, it’s not as if God hasn’t been involved and has been absent when I needed help, I just haven’t been asking Him, at least very regularly. If I have to rely only on the brain I have inside my skull, I’m not going to get very far. Maybe that’s why I haven’t gotten very far. Then again, I’m not sure how far God wants me to go, or in what direction.

I know I still want to write about things like the comparison between Christian Dispensationalism and Rabbinic Judaism and how they both seem to rely on a post-Biblical evolution of their religious design structures in order to adapt to changes in environment and history (and this is a comparison that wouldn’t find much traction in the church). I also have to decide to finally follow Dory’s advice and let go.

It’s not up to just me to fight, let alone win any battles. Sure, I have to show up and be prepared, but I’m hardly the star attraction. I’m not the general. I’m not leading the army. The spotlight isn’t centered on me, nor to I want it to be.

Well, sometimes, maybe a little, but that’s my error.

I’ve been trying too hard to hang on because I was afraid something bad might happen…well, not exactly, but close enough. I’ve been fighting too hard and worrying too much about getting my point across when I know it’s not my point. It’s God’s. And if it’s God’s point, it’ll get across. Who can resist God? If I’m not speaking about God’s point, then no one will listen anyway.

So in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.”

Acts 5:38-39 (NASB)

I probably have been resisting God. Most of us do, though we are loath to admit it.

I still need to do what I believe God wants me to do, but I also need to let God take the lead, so to speak, and not think that it’s all my effort. I also need to better realize that whatever I have is from God and not find it so difficult to give back. If I really trust God, then it’ll all work out by His will.

Let me hear your kindness at dawn, for in You have I placed my trust; let me know the way I should walk, for to You have I lifted my soul.

Psalm 143:8 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

It’s time to let go.