Thursday, January 5, 2012

Navigating The Storm Part 2

by Rav Ephraim Kenig shlit'a

Reprinted with permission from Tzaddik Magazine

[Part 1 can be found here]

Rebbe Nachman describes how a kernel of grain turns into a field of wheat.  Only after it completely decomposes beneath the ground and becomes nothing, does it begin to develop into something.  A blade of grass sprouts, and what happens? It gets drenched by rain and then battered back and forth by the wind.  Such is the growth process.

It is commonly known in the world of sports that the biggest star athletes don't usually come from tranquil backgrounds. Davka they come out of poverty-stricken neighborhoods.  Growing up in the midst of dire need taught them how to deal with life and prove themselves.  This is not a new phenomenon, it is how the world is set up. Fortunately, this was revealed to us in advance by the tzaddikim, which opens our eyes to the challenges ahead.  Sometimes, we want to take off in a certain direction, but suddenly all sorts of unexpected disturbances crop up and hold us back.  If you know in advance that the world is a place of constant adaptation and adjustment, it is easier to navigate.  It simply doesn't go any other way in life.

Someone who faces no challenges should know they are receiving their olam haba [future world] in this world.  In other words, HaShem is paying their reward to them here in this world - and woe unto us if this is the case. The Talmud writes that whoever G-d doesn't want to see in olam haba, he compensates in this world for whatever good they may have done.  King David refers to this phenomenon in Psalm 73. He laments how the wicked seem to have a good life, since they don't work or sweat for their livelihood. They appear to have everything, and even more than they want. ''My feet almost slipped, I nearly lost my foothold, for I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.''

According to the Gemara, witnessing this paradox can cause a crisis in faith.  At the end of the same chapter, King David says ''G-d is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.''  We understand this to be an issue of emunah [belief] and see how his heart was straightened out after he received insight into how the world really works.

G-d acts out of love, not because He wants to cause suffering. He wants to bring us to the true good, the abundant good hidden away for us in the future.  In order to get there, we must traverse a path wrought with challenges, because without it, we will get nowhere.

The Talmud relates a story about a sage who became anxious if thirty days passed without some misfortune, even as small as a glass breaking.  He feared a portion of his olam haba was being taken away if he experienced no trouble.  We see from this that at least the tzaddikim, if not the Jewish people themselves, knew very well that there is no such thing as a trouble-free life.  It is something only for the tzaddikim in the world to come, where they will ''sit with crowns [on] their heads, basking in the light of the Shechina''. [5]  This can only occur in the future world.  In this world, we must be prepared to work hard.

Don't say to yourself  ''So what? What is the worst that could happen? So I won't work so hard - I just won't have such an olam haba -'' ...With these thoughts, you think now you'll have some quiet here? You still won't have tranquility, because we are all born with a fixed amount of difficulty that we need to undergo in our lives.

''Happy is one who trusts in HaShem.''  Sometimes a sleepless night is decreed upon a person. Although it can't be known in advance, if it happens, someone with a little intelligence will get up, take a holy book and learn something, thus passing the decree of the sleepless night.  Someone else, however, can have a toothache decreed and be kept awake all night. Both situations are from Heaven. In other words, everyone is given a prescribed measure of suffering in the world that can't be avoided. Someone who doesn't suffer here should know that it waits for him in the future world - and they need the most compassion of all.

It is absolutely vital to realize we now live in a period well after the terrible conflicts that plagued the time of the Baal Shem Tov, and then afterwards with his students and their students. Yet today, unfortunately, fierce arguments and conflicts still occur between various groups and we sometimes think ''HaShem, until when?  How much longer is it possible to suffer?'' However, if we know about the challenges of drawing nearer to G-d in advance, it is much easier to navigate through them without wallowing in the pain or being drawn too deeply into the experience.  Whether it is external difficulties or internal issues of satisfaction in life, children, or health etc. it is important not to get ovely caught up with the difficulties.  Rather be thankful and know that they are directly from Heaven.

Tzaddikim who are on a high level don't experience life's difficulties as suffering, because they know everything is for the best.  They are able to say ''This too is for the good''. [6]  They don't just believe in the concept, they clearly see and feel the good. In time, maybe we will also feel how everything we go through is for the best, that it is mamash for the good.  In the final analysis, this is how we divest ourselves of the bad within us. When we recognize the good in everything, then it is all actually transformed into good. There will be no tragedies or evil in the world. We must deeply instill within ourselves faith in the tzaddikim, such faith certainly exists in the world today, Baruch Hashem. However there is still the need to strengthen ourselves even more with it.

When we want to truly draw a little closer to Judaism or Chassidut, barriers will be experienced.  The obstacles aren't necessarily only on the outside. There are also the internal doubts which sprout up and seem overwhelming, G-d forbid. It helps a great deal to remember that this world is a place of purification and tikkun [correction], meant to refine us. Happy is the person who realizes and accepts this as the true nature of how the world operates.

May we be blessed with progressively higher levels of awareness of how everything is for the good, and the knowledge of how to successfully navigate through life's sea of challenges.  May G-d grant us the ability to draw close to Him along with the strength and courage to weather any storm surrounding the truth. May we merit the complete redemption speedily in our days. Amen.

Translated and adapted from a talk given to Sydney Australia from Tsfat.
Rabbi Ephraim Kenig shlit'a, is CEO and Rosh Yeshiva of the Nachal Novea Mekor Chochma institutions as well as the head administrator at Talmud Torah Magen Avot, in the Old City of Tsfat.

1. As Abraham and Sara did while in Haran, see Genesis 12:5
2. Based on Likutey Moharan 228
3. Yevamot 47a
4. Ibid.
5. Berakhot 17a
6. Taanit 21a

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