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Proof of Life

Proof of Life

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I've heard it said that pain is actually a person's friend:

  1. It lets you know there's a problem.
  2. It lets you know that you're not dead.

The idea struck me as a bit offbeat, but true.

How would this apply to spiritual turmoil and pain?

Rabbi Menachem Mendel, the third Lubavitcher Rebbe, was approached by a disciple who was bothered by agnostic thoughts.

"Why does this trouble you?" the Rebbe asked him.

"Because I'm a Jew!" the man exclaimed.

"In that case, you're doing fine," the Rebbe replied.

To my mind, the Rebbe's response teaches two powerful lessons.

So if you feel the pain of disconnect, celebrate the fact that you careFirstly, as long as you're bothered by your disconnect with the Divine, you're in (relatively) good shape; at least you know your soul is alive.

Apathy is the real danger.

No pain can mean that one has lost sensation in the spiritual "tendons" that connect a person to G‑d.

Secondly, your faith may be stronger than you think.

The weakening of one's faith can feed on itself; it can create its own – self-serving – "gravitational pull" to further one's distance.

When a person's faith perseveres in the face of doubt, it speaks to the powerful caliber of that faith.

We've seen this before: When the Jews left Egypt, they were at a dismal spiritual level and were involved with idolatry.

At the same time, our Sages tell us that the Jews were tenaciously faithful. In fact, the Torah uses the term "legion" or "battalion" to describe that generation of Jews, to indicate that – despite their theological weaknesses – they "soldiered on" as Jews.

So which was it?

On the precipice of disaffiliation? Or tenaciously connected?

Both.

The Jews were experiencing spiritual turbulence, but they never lost their anchor to the Divine. That tenacity kept them going until they got to Sinai, where they experienced Divine Revelation and spiritual clarity.

Spiritual tenacity is the backbone of inspired and full-bodied faith. It's also there to keep us going when we're feeling empty; maintaining us until the spiritual upswing which may be just around the corner.

So if you feel the pain of disconnect, celebrate the fact that you care, and that you can still feel something.

But, by all means, soldier on.

They did it.

So can you.

Rabbi Mendy Herson is director of the Chabad Jewish Center in Basking Ridge, New Jersey.
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