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Thursday, 27 March 2014

Why is my life so difficult?

Sukkah 52

“Why isn’t my life getting any easier?” Sadie asked me, sounding simply exhausted, “It seems like the more I do for G-d, the more troubles He sends my way.  All my life I’ve believed that if I bend over backwards to help people and go the extra mile to be a good Jew, then G-d will reward me with a good life.  But He just keeps piling it on!  Why, rabbi, why?”

Why do some people seem to breeze through life while others just have one challenge after another?  Is that fair?

Describing the scene in the messianic era, the prophet Zachariah writes, “The land will eulogize each according to their family.”   While Rabbi Dosa explains that the subject of the eulogy will by Mashiach ben Yoseph (a precursor to the Messiah who will be killed during Armageddon), the rabbis teach that they will eulogize the yetzer hara (evil inclination), as evil will be eradicated from the world.

Why would they eulogize the yetzer hara?  Shouldn’t we breathe a sigh of relief at the news of his demise?

Rabbi Yehuda taught, “In the future, the Almighty will bring the yetzer hara before the righteous and the wicked and slaughter him in their presence.   To the righteous, he will appear as a tall mountain; to the wicked, he will appear as piece of hair.   Each group will then begin weeping.”

The wicked will weep at the realization that they did not have the strength of character to “conquer this piece of hair,” i.e. they were not prepared to resist even the slightest temptation.  But why will the righteous weep?

Before our souls descend into this lowly world, they are spiritual beings inhabiting a certain heavenly plane.  We are placed on this earth in order to be challenged by the vicissitudes of life and grow to greater spiritual heights. The more we overcome temptation, the greater we become. 

But at the same time, as we become stronger, our yetzer hara becomes stronger in order to offer us even greater levels of temptation.  Once we pass one level of the ‘videogame’ of life, we climb to a more difficult level.  And thus the more we conquer the yetzer hara, the more he grows.  That’s why he appears to the righteous as a tall mountain.

In the messianic era, the righteous will weep at the yetzer hara’s demise, because at that point, it will be ‘game over.’  They will realize how much they grew and what they achieved with every level of temptation they conquered.  But no more yetzer hara means no more spiritual growth; and that absence of growth potential will be eulogized by the righteous. 

Growth in life only comes from being placed by G-d in challenging situations.  You don’t learn to love people when you are given only nice people to deal with.  You learn to love people unconditionally when G-d puts annoying, difficult people in your life.  You don’t learn patience sitting on the beach drinking margaritas.  You master the attribute of patience by resisting the temptation to scream at your kids when they’ve just dropped your heirloom vase. 

Next time you feel the urge to get upset at G-d for sending bad stuff your way, think about the growth opportunity He is providing you!  Next time temptation knocks at your door, think about how the yetzer hara will appear to you in the messianic era – will he appear as a tiny piece of hair that you couldn’t overcome or will he appear as a mighty mountain that you succeeded in conquering?  

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