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Why is Life so Difficult?

Why is Life so Difficult?

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Judaism teaches us that G–d is Master of the universe, whose omnipotent power is not limited in time and space. Moreover, G–d is the source of goodness and He desires His human creatures to live a life based on justice, morality and, insofar as Jews are concerned, a life fully in accord with the Torah and mitzvot.

Why is it, therefore, that such a life is often burdened with difficulties; sometimes, even seemingly insurmountable obstacles?

This question is not only raised by sceptics, but even by those who believe in Divine Providence. In fact, the deeper the belief in G–d’s benevolence, the deeper the difficulty to reconcile this anomaly.

Consider the following:

Should a person strive towards a state of life in which he can enjoy the maximum pleasure with the minimum effort, or should he prefer a life of toil and maximum achievement, a life of much action and much accomplishment?

Needless to say, this is not an abstract question, for, in resolving it, the foundation is laid for the individual’s concept of the pattern of his life, and how he will respond to what is happening both to and around him, even in matters not directly relating to him, and certainly in matters which directly affect his life.

On the basis of our faith and our Torah we are committed to the principle that the Creator and Master of the World – including the “small world”, namely man – is the essence of goodness, and that it is the “nature of the Good to do good”.

At first glance, it would therefore appear reasonable to suppose that the highest perfection is to be found in a state where the maximum pleasure – true pleasure – is obtainable without difficulty and without travail; for in such a state the “nature of the Good to do good” would be perceived in the fullest measure.

Yet the Torah, which is called Torah Or (“A Torah of light”, showing things in their true essence) declares, “Man is born to toil”. Even before his downfall, Adam was placed in the Garden of Eden with the assigned task “to till it and guard it”; only later did G–d tell him, “of all the trees of the garden you may eat.”

To be sure, G–d could have established a world order in which morality and ethics would reign supreme with little or no effort on the part of man. The explanation for His not doing so, which resolves this apparent contradiction, is given in the Torah.

G–d desires that man should enjoy the good in its perfection although human nature is such that a person derives true pleasure only if he is a partner in its attainment, through his own exertion and travail; however, if he receives it entirely gratis, it is degrading to him as though he were receiving charity (bread of shame). Precisely because of this, the good in its perfection is enjoyed when a person earns it through hard work, and the harder the effort the sweeter the fruit of achievement.

Knowing that there is a Divine command to follow a certain path in life, a person is resolved to fulfil his Divine mission no matter what the difficulties may be. Indeed, he may regard the very obstacles which he encounters as a challenge to be faced unflinchingly and overcome. Far from being stymied by such obstacles, they may reinforce his determination and stimulate his effort to the maximum degree.

Coupled with this is the feeling of satisfaction, commensurate only with the amount of effort exerted in the struggle, which makes the fruits of victory so much more enjoyable.

You can do it

It is self-evident that the Creator, who knows the world and its creatures, would not give an order or command too difficult to carry out. If He has given specific commandments for each and every Jew, in his own unique circumstances, to fulfil, it is certain that He has first given us the capacity to fulfil them.

Some Jews are born with greater natural capacities, others with less, therefore the challenges and trials that G–d presents to each are in keeping with their strength. As our Sages say, “G–d does not deal despotically or arbitrarily with His creatures” and He does not expect the impossible. If a person is faced with great trials this, in itself, is proof that he has the capacity and strength to overcome them. Nothing stands in the way of the will and, given the proper effort, it is possible to overcome all difficulties.

The Amalekites

When the Israelites triumphantly marched out of Egypt on their way to Sinai, it seemed they were invincible, a nation surrounded by miracles; in one word, untouchable. And yet, brazenly, the Amalekites attacked them, an act we are commanded to remember.

Amalek, in the wider sense, represents all the obstacles and hindrances which a Jew encounters on his way to receive and observe the Torah and mitzvot with enthusiasm and joy in everyday life. Amalek represents apathy, indifference and depression. The command never to forget Amalek reminds us that Amalekites exist in every generation and in every day and age, and that we must not allow ourselves to be deterred or discouraged by them, wherever they appear.

Every Jew has been given the necessary powers to overcome all such “Amalekites” and he is expected to use them in order to demonstrate to himself and others that nothing will deter him, nor dampen his fervour, to observe the Torah and mitzvot in accordance with G–d’s Will. Once he recognises that any difficulty he encounters is really a test of his faith in G–d, and resolves firmly to meet the challenge, he will see that no Amalek of any kind is a match for the Divine powers of the Jewish soul. Indeed, far from being insurmountable obstructions, they turn out to be aids and catalysts for ever greater achievements. They have been instrumental in mobilising those inner powers which would have otherwise remained dormant.

They are our life

This leads to an even deeper insight.

The true and perfect way of fulfilling G–d’s Will, which is embodied in the Torah and mitzvot, is not when it is prompted by a desire to discharge an obligation towards G–d and our fellowman. Neither is it the gratifying feeling of having contributed something towards the world at large. For so long as the Jew’s compliance with the Will of G–d is externally motivated – however commendable such motivation is in itself – it is not yet quite complete. The perfect fulfilment of the Torah and mitzvot is achieved when such fulfilment is an integral part of one’s life to the extent of being completely identified with oneself: that is to say when the Torah and mitzvot permeate a person’s very essence and being, and become inseparable from him in his daily life.

This is the deeper meaning of the words which we declare daily in our prayer, “For they (the Torah and mitzvot) are our life” – meaning that, just as a person and his life are one, making him a living person, so are the Torah and mitzvot and the Jew, one and inseparable. Such real identification cannot be experienced if it is achieved with little effort. It becomes an integral part of one’s life only when it entails extraordinary effort in striving for it, even to the extent of staking one’s life in obtaining and holding it. Only something which is regarded as indispensable and integral to one’s life can evoke one’s innermost powers, and even self-sacrifice.

The ultimate purpose of Galut

The above provides an insight also into the meaning of the Galut (the exile and dispersion among the nations of the world), which is at the root of most, if not all, the difficulties and obstacles confronting the Jew in his desire to live his G–d given way of life.

To be sure, we recognise the Galut as a punishment and rectification for failure to live up to our obligations in the past as, indeed, we acknowledge in our prayers, “For our sins we were banished from our land.” But punishment, according to our Torah, which is also called Torat Chessed (a Torah of lovingkindness), must also essentially be Chessed.

G–d has ordained a certain group of people, the Jewish People, to carry out the difficult and challenging task of spreading, in every place, to the remotest corners of the world, the Unity of G–d – true monotheism – through living and spreading the light of Torah and mitzvot. This is a task which no other group was willing to undertake, or capable of carrying out. The greatest reward is the fulfilment of this destiny, or, as our Sages put it, “The reward of a mitzvah is the mitzvah itself.” Thus, the ultimate purpose of the Galut is linked with our destiny to help bring humanity to a state of universal recognition of G–d.

A call to our generation

Paving the way to the gradual achievement of this destiny has always been the indomitable work of determined individuals and groups conscious of their responsibility. They dedicated themselves to the vital need of strengthening and spreading the Torah and mitzvot among all sections of our people.

In recent generations, more than ever before, the main emphasis has been on the need to bring the knowledge and practice of the Torah and mitzvot to all Jews, in the greatest number of locations – without waiting for them to seek it – in the hope that they will sooner or later realise the need of it themselves. The most effective way to accomplish this is, of course, through organised Torah-true education of the young; both the young in years and the “young” in knowledge.

The pattern has been set by the founders of Chassidut and of Chassidut Chabad, who exemplified this approach with dedication and selflessness. Before revealing himself and his way of life, the Baal Shem Tov was a Melamed – a teacher of small Jewish children. Similarly, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the Alter Rebbe, founder of Chabad, who was a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov’s disciple and successor, began his work by founding his well known three Chadarim (higher education institutions). This road has also been followed by his successors, the heads of Chabad, each in his own generation.

They personified an indomitable spirit and a disdain for any difficulties and obstacles in their work, making it plain for all to see that these are nothing but a challenge to be expected and to be overcome. By facing up to, and overcoming, all obstacles, they verified the truth of the basic tenets of our faith, namely that G–d’s Providence extends to each and every one individually, and that, “He who is determined to purify himself and others, receives aid from On High”.

It is a fact of common experience that when there is a firm will and unshakeable determination it soon becomes apparent that difficulties are often largely imaginary and, even when real, not insurmountable. The forces of good are cumulative and self-generating as our Sages indicated in their well-known dictum, “One mitzvah brings another in its train.” If evil can be contagious, good is certainly much more so, and many who stand at the sidelines are inspired and willing to join in constructive and positive action provided the lead is given and the way is shown.

The challenge of our time is to spread the knowledge of the Torah and mitzvot, particularly through the education of our young, until each and every Jew attains the level of “Know the G–d of Your father and serve Him with a perfect heart”, thus fulfilling the prophecy, “They all shall know Me, small and great, and the earth will be filled with the knowledge of G–d, as the waters cover the sea”.

Rabbi Nissan D. Dubov is director of Chabad Lubavitch in Wimbledon, UK.
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Michelle November 20, 2010

thankyou you have blessed me on my journey today and i thank our Heavenly Father for your sharing

G-d be with you Reply

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