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Torah Attitude: Parashas Eikev: Thank G'd in every situation
With their deep understanding of human psychology, our sages prevented us from falling into depression. In Nishmas we express our inability to adequately thank G'd for His kindness and all the good He constantly bestows upon us. An ignoramus who sees someone cutting into a person's flesh does not understand that he is observing a merciful, skilled surgeon who is actually saving his patient's life. We must accept G'd's judgment whether He treats us with what we perceive as good, or whether we perceive it as bad. This time-limited world is only the lobby before we enter the beautiful hall that awaits us in the eternal World to Come. We can understand that a cane that is used for support is comforting, but a rod is used to hit and punish. How can that be a comfort? King David knew that his national enemies or personal adversaries were only a rod in the Hand of his caring and loving Shepherd. Whichever way G'd treats us, we must always thank Him and bless Him, for ultimately He only does what is best for us.
In last week's Torah Attitude, we showed how our sages have instituted laws and customs to bring us comfort on Tisha B'Av, and how the three weeks of mourning are followed by a seven-week period of comfort. With their deep understanding of human psychology, our sages thus prevented us from falling into depression. This is just one example how we, as a nation, have been trained to look at the bright side in every situation.
At the end of Pesukei D'Zimrah Shabbos morning, we recite Nishmas. In this prayer, we express our inability to adequately thank G'd for His kindness and all the good He constantly bestows upon us. After expressing our appreciation for His daily support and help, we enumerate how He always is there for us. He has liberated us from bondage, sustained us at the time of famine, and protected us when war was raging. He further has spared us from diseases and plagues, and has been there for us in every situation. If we did not know anything about Jewish history, it sounds like we have never endured any suffering. Obviously, this is far from the truth. No nation in the world has suffered so much throughout the generations as we. Nevertheless, our sages authored this prayer of thanksgiving to express our collective appreciation that through it all, we have survived time and time again, and bounced back with renewed strength against all odds. Our present day situation is the perfect example. Just seventy years ago, we were decimated and disillusioned, after the atrocities of the Holocaust. Many people thought that this was the end. We had reached rock-bottom and collectively mourned the brutal killings of six million holy martyrs. However, at the end of the day, G'd has kept His promise that He will never forsake His nation.
Ignoramus not understand
As we mentioned last week, when G'd uses the first three sefirot we see a lot of suffering and pain, and it is beyond our comprehension to perceive it as good. It is comparable to an ignoramus who sees someone cutting into a person's flesh and removing what seems to be good and healthy tissue. He does not understand that he is observing a merciful, skilled surgeon who is actually saving his patient's life.
Say thanks for punishment
This applies both to G'd's conduct with the Jewish people in general, as well as how He deals with us as individuals. Sometimes, we feel that we deserve better and we get frustrated with our lot in life. In such a situation, we must remind ourselves of the words of the Talmud. The Talmud (Berachos 54a) teaches that we must accept G'd's judgment whether He treats us with what we perceive as good, or what we perceive as bad. Our sages instructed us to make a blessing and thank G'd in both situations. When I was a child, my mother would sometimes punish me for my misbehavior, or other wrongdoings. When my father heard about it, he said to me: "You should thank your mother for the punishment." As a child, I did not appreciate my mother's punishment, nor my father's comment. However, as mature adults we must constantly remind ourselves that our loving Father in Heaven only does what is best for us in any situation. Even though sometimes it is beyond our understanding how certain situations can be considered good.
Only the lobby
We must try and remind ourselves that this time-limited world is only the lobby before we enter the beautiful hall that awaits us in the eternal World to Come. There we will be richly rewarded for all our good deeds, and get what we deserve in full measure.
Cane and rod comfort
King David went through many hardships throughout his life. In Tehillim (23) he describes himself as a sheep and G'd as his caring shepherd. He says (ibid 4): "Also when I walk in the valley of death, I do not fear evil, for You are with me, Your rod and Your cane, they comfort me." How many Jews have met their final moments in this world with this verse on their lips? Only with the strong faith and conviction that the soul ascends to a better eternal world do these words make sense in the valley of death. However, it seems strange when David says that G'd's rod and cane comfort him. We can understand that a cane that is used for support is comforting, but a rod is used to hit and punish. How can that be a comfort?
Rod of loving Shepherd
The answer may be that King David says to G'd, I am aware that whether I get support with a cane, or I am punished with a rod, I always realize that it is Your cane and Your rod. King David did not consider his foes as national enemies or personal adversaries. He knew that they were only a rod in the Hand of his caring and loving Shepherd, Who chastised him for his own benefit. This is evident from the way he reacted when Shimi ben Geira cursed him, and Avishai ben Tzeruyah wanted to kill Shimi. King David turned to Avishai and said to him (Shmuel 2:16:10): "What has this got to do with me and you … If G'd told him to curse David, who can ask, why are you doing so?!"
Always thank G'd
Despite our success as a nation with a booming economy in Israel and many affluent Jews worldwide, we still live in constant danger from our enemies, and many individuals suffer from health issues or financial and family problems. The only way we can survive and not fall into depression, says the Tanya (Likutei Amarim chapter 26), is by constantly reminding ourselves of our sages' statement that whichever way G'd treats us, we must always thank Him and bless Him, for ultimately He only does what is best for us.
These words were based on notes of Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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