Monday, September 28, 2009

Hishtadlus: A Perspective Revisited

One of the difficulties a writer faces is finding that small, self-effacing, soft voice that proclaims a valid, valuable opinion. At the same time, sometimes straight talk—rather than soothing tones—is required to make a point forcefully. A good writer aspires to inspire; he does not wish to come across as a callous, cavalier jerk.

So it was with dismay that I read the following response to a recent post, as it forced me to reckon with the knowledge that I may have missed that elusive mark. Here is what one reader wrote:
    Baruch Hashem you were only hit by the recession/depression. You were lucky enough with Hashem’s help to make it out whole. This is a fabulous attitude to have and think about. But…What about the many who were KNOCKED OUT by the recession/depression, who have lost the shirts off their backs, are unemployed, and living life hour by hour? They don’t see the Hashem club benefits. What can those people hope for???
The purpose of my blog is not to preach to a choir. Nor is it to push people who are already suffering to feel worse about themselves and about their relationship with God. I am well aware, first-hand, of many of the difficulties of living life on God's world. Nevertheless, I have never felt anything less than blessed. Despite many travails, I have lived, so far, a fairly successful life. I was not abused as a child either physically or emotionally. I did not have poor rabbeim who sucked all the happiness out of Judaism and Jewish living. I have never missed a meal, never gone a night without a roof over my head, never wanted for clothing. I still have a job with one of the world’s leading financial firms. Aside from my Dad’s successful heart surgery, thank God, I have never had to face, a major medical emergency in my family, bli ayin hara.

But I haven’t quite climbed out of this economic crisis (yet); my earnings are off by more than half. Nonetheless, I recognize that I still have a job and I’m working my way back up. Meanwhile, there are many people whose income is down a hundred percent. I even know some people who, unfortunately, have been out of work and struggling financially since the 1991 recession.

Some people are destined to live a life of challenges. It is not my place to give mussar or even advice to such people. I can’t tell them how to feel or instruct them in a sure-fire way to overcome their obstacles. Yet, I do believe that if someone has something truthful to say, and can deliver that message in a deferential and motivating way, perhaps everyone can gain—either materially or emotionally.

My answer is that a Jew is simply not allowed to give up on himself. He must always have hope.

But the truth is that as long as you are living and breathing you are not “knocked out.” God is watching over all of us, and we are all playing a role, of one sort or another, in His Divine plan. Everyone is in the "Hashem club," whether or not they perceive the benefits at any given moment.

Prior to Rosh Hashanah, I received the following email:
    Just imagine Baron Rothschild is suffering from amnesia. He's standing on a street corner, dirty and filthy, and he is begging for dimes from every shlepper who walks by. It’s crazy. The first thing this man needs is to remember that he is Baron Rothschild—then he can go wash up, change his clothes, and go back to his palace.

    We are the same. All year long we suffer from amnesia. We forget who we are and how holy we are. We forget who G-d is. On Rosh Hashanah, when we blow the Shofar, we wake up and remember who we really are. On Yom Kippur, we wash up and all ourselves up from the dirt on our souls. Then, on Succot,h we move back into our Heavenly abode—the palace in which we are really meant to live. This year I pray that we never forget how beautiful we are, how beautiful the world is, and how much G-d really loves us.
In a Talmudic discussion over the monetary damages assessed for shaming another Jew, Rabbi Akiva disputes the notion that Jews have subjective measures of humiliation: “Even the poor among Israel are viewed as freemen, whose wealth was lost, for they are children of Abraham Isaac and Jacob.”

This is key. We must view ourselves as the Torah views us, as God views us: Freemen, whose wealth was lost. We are the Chosen People, as we say each day, “asher bachar banu mikol ha’amim—You chose us from all the nations.” If we saw ourselves in that light and not as people who have been permanently damaged by financial setbacks, no matter how debilitating, we would have a great deal more strength to deal with the challenges ahead.


Blogger Neil Harris said...

Well stated.

The problem is, especially when people are let go from their jobs or simply find that they are no longer employed, then depression sit in. The email you shared from before Rosh Hashanah is poignant, but at then end of the day the average person won't be able to pay tuition or utility bills by "how much G-d really loves us."

However, in a time of crisis, when you can't really figure out how to pick yourself off the ground or get out of bed, it is helpful when someone close to you reminds you that Hashem loves you.

While most people are worried about their own jobs, what I take from this post is that it's incumbent for us to remember that while looking out for ourselves, we have an achri'us to look out for our fellow Jews. When someone is down, a smile, phone call, or even saying "It must be very difficult" can show them that they are being acknowledged. That might help to remind them that Hashem, too, hasn't forgotten them.

Sun Dec 06, 08:46:00 PM  

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