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Home » Economy, Emor, The Jewish Faith

Emor: Trying Times

Submitted by on April 27, 2014 – 2:56 amNo Comment | 4,383 views

Optimism in Trying Times

We live in trying times. The economy keeps forcing us to tighten our belts. Even those that have tightened up considerably, are called on to tighten some more. People are working harder, earning less and paying more than ever before. Some are more comfortable and others less, but, with few exceptions, these times are trying for all.

We might suffer, but don’t allow yourself to become a sufferer. Don’t grow brittle and miserable, don’t deplete your salvaging power. Remember that your lot can change in an instant so whatever happens, don’t despair. If you try, if you keep working, you create the vehicle through which G-d’s can channel blessing. If you quit, you make G-d’s job that much harder.

Is it difficult for G-d to help us in a split second? Of course not! Then why does He try our faith and test our resilience? The answer is that He isn’t trying it. He is exercising it.

Growth in Trying Times

We are never more alive than when facing and overcoming challenge. When everything is handed to us, we aren’t called upon to dig deep and discover just how resourceful and enduring we are. When nothing challenges us, we cannot know our resilience. Our trials show us what we are really made of.

When you can’t find work or those extra dollars that your family requires, you have every reason to give up. When you don’t, you, your family and friends discover your character; skills and depth you were never aware of. trying times - innerstream.caFurthermore, you hone and sharpen your resilience in ways you never dreamed of.

When you achieve your benchmarks and retire in comfort there is little that stimulates you. When you have everything you need and nothing to work for, you have no reason to activate your true self. Life grows stagnant, predictable and stilted. One day merges into the next and nothing excites or interests you. When your best times are behind you, there is precious little reason to look forward.

Life is best viewed through the front windshield, not the rearview mirror. In a sense, a challenge is G-d’s vote of confidence in us. The more trying the times, the better we are for it. Think of the generations that survived two world wars and bounced back to build the world’s greatest economy and history’s greatest era of prosperity. Think of those who returned from war with little and built so much.

Their children were the recipients of this resilience and resourcefulness. They benefited from their parents’ tenacity, resolve and refusal to be beaten. They lived comfortably, but were unable to teach or bequeath this living example of character to their children. The next generation grew up stable and comfortable, but turned soft. A lazy generation that feels entitled. Only recently I heard from a professor that students today often refuse to work hard and sue their teachers if they receive a failing grade. It is a sign of the times; an unheard of product of comfort and prosperity.

In a small way, G-d is trying us again. But He isn’t only trying us, He is also deepening and broadening us. He is deepening our spirit again and filling out our abilities. He is making us better.

Contributing in Trying Times

There is a reason we feel best and grow most from challenge. G-d designed us to contribute. We are by nature more comfortable giving than taking. When G-d created Adam, He placed him in the Garden of Eden, but not to eat for free. He placed him there to tend and guard the garden. Adam and Eve were permitted to eat, but on the condition that they earn their keep.[1]

Our sages noted that G-d designed humanity to partner with Him in the creation of the world.[2] G-d created raw materials and we make them useful and effective. G-d gave us an imperfect world and we work to make it better. He plays His role and we play ours. Together, we build a better world. When we partake from this world without contributing we run counter to our very nature. We are out of synch with our truest self and thus feel out of sorts.[3]

When we are challenged and dig deep for solutions, we live up to our true design and feel at home. We are comfortable in our skin. So long as we have a goal, a challenge or a benchmark, we are happy. Once we settle down and get used to partaking, we feel out of sorts. Somewhat ashamed. This is why we are happiest when we are challenged. Ironically, trying times are, at least in hindsight, happy times.

When G-d took us out of Egypt, He ensured that we emerged with great wealth. However, rather than settle us in opulent homes, He kept us wandering in the desert for forty years. During that time, our ancestors lived in huts as the Torah says, “In huts I settled the children of Israel, when I took them from Egypt.”[4] What did He settle a wealthy people in what amounted to a mobile shantytown?

Perhaps it was G-d’s way of teaching us not to grow settled and overly comfortable in life. Nothing can be expected to stay the same as Hiraclites said, “The only constant is change.” When you feel secure and stable, expect upheaval and change. Know that life wasn’t designed to be comfortable. It was designed to spur us onward and upward. Circumstances that urge us to make us and the world better.

Faith in Trying Times

There was another message. Don’t be overly self-reliant. Know at all times and in all places that you are in G-d’s hands. The huts in which we commemorate our ancestors’ ancient desert huts are roofless; covered in foliage that allow the elements in.[5]

The message is, you can build walls to protect you, but your fate rests always with G-d. It anchors us in good times and buoys us in trying times. Our greatest enemy in trying times, is ourselves. We don’t do ourselves any favors, when we stress over the future. The future is in G-d’s hands. Only the present is in our hands. We decide if we will act and work or cry and despair. If the former, there is a good chance that G-d will help. If the latter… then G-d help us.

You can try your hand at anything, but you only succeed when G-d wills it. For every successful venture, there are multiple failing ones. Only G-d knows, which will succeed. But it only succeeds if we keep working. If we give up, they all fail. And ultimately so do we.

So go forward and do your thing. Don’t worry about tomorrow, leave tomorrow squarely where it belongs, in G-d’s hands. G-d has never let you down before. You have had many trying times and you are still here. In trying times we usually complain to G-d, but when we find relief we chock it up to coincidence. The truth is that G-d creates the trying times and G-d provides the relief. He is always there for us. He deserves our complaints and our accolades.

Most important, if the past is any indicator, He also deserves our trust.

[1] Exodus 2: 15. See statement by Rabbi Shimon Ben Elazar, Avos D’Reb Nosson ch. 11

[2] See Babylonian Talmud, Shabbos 119b, Bereshis Rabbah 1:6 and others.

[3] For further fascinating insight see the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s correspondence from 26 Tevet, 5725.

[4] Leviticus 23: 43 according to Rabbi Akiva’s view cited in Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah: 11b.

[5] Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah:12a based on Deuteronomy 16:13.

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