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Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Bench press twice your weight!

Daf Yomi Sotah 43

Our patriarch Yaakov comes to Charan in search of a shidduch.  He arrives at the watering hole and finds the shepherds apparently lazing around.
‘It’s not yet quitting time,’ he tells them, ‘doesn’t anyone in this country work?’
‘We can’t water the sheep,’ they respond, ‘until all the shepherds get here.  See that rock on top of the well?  It weighs a ton and only once everyone is here can we lift it off all together.’

Just then, Rachel appears with her sheep.  Yaakov is so taken by her beauty that, with superhuman strength, he singlehandedly lifts the rock from the well and draws water for her sheep.   And that was the first time in history that a fellow won a lady’s heart with a huge rock. . . !

The Torah states, “When you go out to war against your enemies . . . the cohen comes forth and says to the people . . . let not your hearts grow faint . . . for Hashem your G-d goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to save you.”
Mishnah: “For Hashem your G-d goes with you to fight for you,” refers to the camp of the Holy Ark.
The Gemara asks: Why must he say that the Ark represents Hashem?
The Gemara answers: Because Hashem’s name and all the nicknames rested in the Ark, as the Torah declares, “And Moshe sent them, a thousand from each tribe for the army, they and Pinchas . . . and the vessels of the holy.”  ‘They’ refers to the Sanhedrin, ‘Pinchas’ refers to the cohen anointed to lead the battle, ‘vessels of the holy’ refer to the Ark and the Tablets therein.

When you’re a soldier running through the battlefield, you want to travel as light as possible.  That means you leave the kitchen sink at home.  Actually, you leave almost everything at home.  Soldiers at war often wear the same clothes for days on end! 

Why did the Children of Israel need to take the Holy Ark with them out to battle?  You can imagine what a hassle it must have been!   It wasn’t as if the physical Ark won the war for them; Hashem fought their battles.  Hashem is everywhere – couldn’t He have led them to victory without the hassle of schlepping the Ark and Tablets along with them?

Actually, when you think about it, they didn’t even need to go out to battle.  Hashem could have simply made their enemies disappear and saved them all the trouble!  And therein lies the answer.   Life is about fighting battles, about overcoming challenges. 

The Torah never says that if we have faith, we won’t have challenges.  It says that if we have faith and commitment to Heaven, Hashem will fight our battles for us.  We are here on Earth tasked with overpowering our enemies, and all the while maintaining our faith in Heaven.  When things are tough, it’s tempting to lose faith and believe that Hashem is not in control.  The challenge is to maintain your faith that Hashem is with you fighting your battles for you.

But that’s very difficult when you don’t see Hashem.  It’s hard to keep the faith in a G-d you can’t see.  We would like to believe He is by our side fighting our battles, but life can be so challenging that sometimes we wonder if He’s really out there.   And so the Mishnah says that the trick to remembering that Hashem is with you is to take the Ark along with you when you go out to do battle.

That’s why the Ark was not a hassle to schlep.  It was an honour!   It served as a reminder to the Children of Israel that Hashem was there with them fighting their battles.

Our Sages tell us that the Ark carried itself, as did the Tablets.  What that means is when you really enjoy doing something, it’s not burdensome.   Just like Yaakov who lifted the stone singlehandedly, when the Children of Israel carried the Ark – knowing that Hashem was accompanying them – it felt as light as a feather! 

Life is full of challenges.  It can feel like a real battlefield out there.  But you are not alone.  The Almighty is ready to go out to fight your battles.   And the best way to remember constantly that Hashem is with you fighting your battles is by carrying the Ark with you through life – taking along a reminder that He is by your side.

There are many ways that you can take along reminders that Hashem is with you through the battlefield of life.  Wearing a kippah is the perfect reminder that Hashem is with you, that’s actually the purpose of the yarmulke!   You’re not going to be tempted to partake of the non-kosher business lunch when you’re wearing a yarmulke.  You would feel foolish and hypocritical!  Wearing a yarmulke is not a hassle or an impediment; it feels wonderful knowing that Hashem is right there with you!

Tzitzis are another garment designed to be a reminder of our connection to Heaven.  Are tzitzis a hassle on a hot day?  Only if you feel they are burdensome.  As long as you remember that they represent Hashem’s guiding hand, they’re an enjoyment to wear.  It’s as easy as lifting a heavy rock off a well, which of course is only possible when you are so excited about what you are doing!  Sleeves and skirts can also feel like a burden, but when you know they represent Hashem’s guiding hand, they become an honour and a pleasure to wear!

Keeping kosher can be challenging at the best of times.  When you’re in hospital, it can be near impossible.  Some hospitals provide kosher meal options, many don’t.  And even the ones that do, it’s worse than an airline meal!  But figuring out how to keep kosher even when you’re in hospital is your Holy Ark that will carry you through the illness.  It might not be easy, but when you realize that your best bet is to have Hashem with you fighting the enemies that are trying to keep you from your return to good health, it becomes an incredible joy! 

Nobody ever said life would be easy.   We are here in this world to be challenged.  But when you know that Hashem is with you for the rough ride, it eases the pain and makes it that little bit more manageable.  May you keep the Holy Ark with you constantly as you go out to battle your enemies!

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