Headlines »

October 13, 2018 – 11:16 pm | 24 views

 
Do you have unhealthy dependencies? Can you give up your smart phone, luxury car, and golf clubs, or have you grown too dependent to let them go? Have you given them power over you?
I am not actually advocating that we give them away. I don’t feel guilty for enjoying the …

Read the full story »
Parsha Insights

Where Biblical law and Torah tale is brought vividly to life

Concepts

The Jewish perspective on topical and controversial subjects

Life Cycle

Probing for meaning in our journey and its milestones.

Yearly Cycle

Discover depth and mystique in the annual Jewish festivals

Rabbi’s Desk

Seeking life’s lessons in news items and current events

Home » Emor

Emor: Effective Perspective

Submitted by on April 29, 2018 – 12:16 amNo Comment | 260 views

Perspective is the key ingredient in life. Some people take the perspective that life owes them. Others take the perspective that no one owes them anything. The former, do nothing to help themselves, the latter do all that they can to help themselves. In our generation, too many are growing up with the perspective that life owes them. This is why I decided to write this essay.

Shortly before the destruction of the first Temple, three Jewish prophets were taken prisoner by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, and were drafted into the palace to serve as royal advisors. When these three Jews refused to acknowledge Nebuchadnezzar as the ultimate god, he flew into a rage and ordered them thrown into a cauldron of fire to see if the Jewish G-d would save them.

Chananya, Mishael, and Azarya, made it plain that they did not expect G-d to save them. If we die, they proclaimed, it is not because G-d couldn’t save us. It is because we did not deserve to be saved. They allowed themselves to be hurled into the flames expecting to die. And because they were prepared to give their lives for G-d, they merited a miracle. Indeed, their bonds were singed and burned, but their garments and bodies went miraculously unharmed.

Ever since, these three are held up as a model for sanctifying G-d’s name. When the Torah tells us, “You shall keep My commandments and perform them. I am the Lord. You shall not desecrate My Holy Name. I shall be sanctified amidst the children of Israel,”[1] Rashi, the famed eleventh-century biblical commentator, remarks that we must be prepared to die for G-d, as were Chananya, Mishael, and Azarya.

Three Prayers

Although they were prepared to die for G-d, their primary concern was to live for G-d. They were not looking to die. They were hoping to live. But to live for G-d in the Babylonian palace, they had to stand ready to die for G-d. How do I know this? Because the Talmud tells us that before they were hurled into the fire, they prayed for salvation.

Chananya prayed, “Not for us, O Lord, not for us.” Mishael prayed, “but for Your name give honor.” Azarya prayed, “for Your kindness and for Your truthfulness.”[2] Each offered his own prayer, but collectively, their prayers teach us a lot about perspective, which is the subject of this article.

The name Chananya is rooted in the Hebrew word chinam, which means free or undeserved. The Talmud tells us that truly righteous people don’t make demands on G-d. They take the perspective that despite their piety, G-d owes them nothing, and if G-d were to give them anything, it would be out of largess. Thus, Chananya proclaimed, “Not for us, O Lord, not for us.” I am not asking you to save us on our account. We don’t have enough merit to make that demand.

The name Mishael comes from the Hebrew word she’elah, which means request. Although Mishael did not feel entitled to salvation, he asked G-d to save them for G-d’s sake. He prayed, “but for Your name give honor,” so that the Babylonian heathens would be forced to recognize the true Almighty G-d.

The name Azarya comes from the Hebrew word azar-ya, which means G-d has assisted. Azarya had full confidence that G-d would save them, but not because he felt entitled, but because G-d is kind and true. A kind and true G-d would not allow a travesty of justice that would lead the heathens to a false conclusion about G-d. He, therefore, prayed, “for Your kindness and for Your truthfulness.”[3]

Effective Perspective

It occurs to me that this is the most effective perspective that one can have in life. When a tragedy comes knocking, whether big such a risk to our health, or worse, G-d forbid, the health of our child, or minor such as the loss of our job, we must maintain a healthy perspective.

Our instant reaction is to find someone to blame for our troubles. It is never our fault, it is always someone else. Whether that other is G-d or human, is irrelevant. The key is that it isn’t me. I am entitled to health. I am entitled to a job. I am entitled to happiness. If it were to be taken from me, then someone somewhere is at fault and that someone owes me big.

This a very human reaction, but it is a terrible perspective because it gets us precisely nowhere. Chananya, Mishael, and Azarya, show us a better perspective.

First of all, I am not owed anything. No matter how pious and honest, loving and generous I am, G-d owes me nothing. The universe and society owe me nothing. Therefore, if I ask for anything, it is not for my sake that I ask, not on account of what is best for me, but what is best for others. I know that my children depend on me, I can’t afford to be sick. I know that my family counts on my income, I can’t afford to lose my job. I know my child does not deserve his illness, he is an innocent child.

That is the first stage in our healthy perspective. Chananya, the world owes me nothing. If I am asking for anything, I am not asking for my sake. I am not entitled.

Now that we have established my lack of entitlement, a wonderful thing happens. The door to prayer is thrown wide for me and I can ask for anything. Mishael, it is time to make requests. I am not asking on my behalf. I am asking on G-d’s behalf. He needs me in this world. I am asking on my child’s behalf. She needs me in this world. If I am not asking for me, there is no limit to how much I can ask for.

Now, once I am asking with a full and humble heart, knowing that I am owed nothing, and yet thinking about others, there is no question in my mind, that G-d will come through for me. Azarya, G-d will help me. Why? Not because I deserve His help, but because G-d is true, and G-d is kind.

Expectation

The key is perspective. So long as I don’t have an expectation of entitlement, I can trust that G-d will come through for me. The day I feel entitled to G-d’s help, I lose my right to trust in G-d. It is only if I feel unentitled, and I ask only for others, that I can establish a total trust in G-d.

This is why Rashi told us that Chananya, Mishael, and Azarya, did not enter the flames expecting a miracle. They had no expectations for themselves. Their perspective was that they were not owed a miracle. But precisely because they didn’t ask for themselves, they were able to trust in complete confidence that G-d would come through for them. And indeed, He did.

Although the times are different, two things remain the same. Human nature, and human perspective. Let’s develop the right perspective and give G-d the best reason to come through for us too.

[1] Leviticus, 22:31-32.

[2] Babylonian Talmud, Pesachim: 118a based on Psalms, 115:1. See Iyuin Yaakov ad loc.

[3]Iyuin Yaakov on Pesachim: 118a.

Tags: ,

Leave a comment!

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. You can also Comments Feed via RSS.

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This is a Gravatar-enabled weblog. To get your own globally-recognized-avatar, please register at Gravatar.