Earlier today, we visited a friend, who is in desperate need of a lung transplant, which she is not likely to receive. If that was not enough, she spends most of her days travelling to and from the hospital for 4-hour dialysis sessions. At other times, she is mostly confined to her armchair. Needless to say, the health challenges create a host of emotional and financial problems for the entire family.
After getting home, I came across a list of a reader’s questions, posted by a fellow blogger:
- “Is there a personal G-d?
- Why pray to G-d if he has already established a plan for us?
- Does G-d intervene? If we have free will, then he shouldn’t. So, why do we pray for G-d to intervene for our benefit?
- Why are so many others struggling while I praise God for choosing to bless me? What makes me so special?
Have you ever thought why really sick people with no bright prospect continue to cling to a life of suffering? Why do cancer patients submit to dreaded chemo and radiation even when there is no guarantee of success? And for that matter, why do most of us continue living our lives, which are really mostly filled with challenges and problems?
100 years from now, nobody will remember any of our names, let alone our deeds. If there is no personal G-d, who really cares about our actions, if there is no everlasting meaning to our lives, why live? If this world is just a fluke, if there is no ultimate, overarching goal, why suffer?
19th century Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard observed that people don’t live in a reality; they live in their perception of reality. Out of the hundreds of thousands of thoughts and observations flicking through our brains on any given day, we become cognizant of just a fraction – only those observations that are somehow relevant to our worldview rise to the top.
Whenever we open a newspaper or a news site, we are attracted to just some of the stories on the page. By contrast, a different person opening the same page at the same time will focus on completely different stories and walk away with a different picture of todays’ news.
The same goes for our outlook. If someone believes that life is random, he will fail to notice connections between events. On the other hand, if someone believes in divine providence, it will manifest itself in his routine. Furthermore, the Rambam in More Nevuchim explains that the Divine providence is not identical for each person. Rather, it is directly proportional to the person’s involvement in cultivating a relationship with G-d.
Have you ever pondered an issue, only to overhear someone else discuss it? Just these past holidays, I had a few insights into the Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur prayers, things I haven’t noticed in previous years. A couple of days later, I attended a “random” lecture, and the presenter went ahead and touched on each one of the observations I had made to myself. We could call this chance, but for me it was a clear sign of my connection with G-d.
So if there is a personal G-d, what does He want from us?
Each person comes into the world with a specific task to accomplish, as well as unique personality issues to correct. G-d’s plan for each person helps him develop in the direction of his goal and gain the necessary insights along the way. As we make choices and at times get off the path, G-d gently guides us back, by orchestrating learning opportunities. G-d intervenes by managing the circumstances of our lives and we maintain free will by making moral choices. Each choice leads us to a new set of circumstances and yet another choice.
On Rosh Hashana, we say that the way to alter an evil decree (or influence the circumstances of our lives) involve prayer, repentance, and charity. People usually equate suffering with divine punishment. You didn’t do this, so G-d punished you with that. But if we accept G-d as a loving Father, helping us actualize our potential, we can view suffering as a tool necessary for getting us there. It is hard and painful, but if we are tuned in, we can often discern the lesson in hindsight.
In other words, a situation is meant to take a person from point A to point B of his spiritual journey. Yet, it is possible to make the same progress at our own initiative or signal to G-d that we got the point, thus making the “learning opportunity” unnecessary. This involves maintaining awareness of our goals by choice. Here prayer reaffirms our bond with G-d, repentance lets us reassess our past and plan the next step in the service of G-d, while charity enables us to actualize these thoughts and make a real contribution to the world.
This unique path of serving G-d means that we can’t compare our circumstances to those of others. If you were to work with a personal fitness trainer, she would create a custom program targeting the specific areas of your body that need attention. The person working on the treadmill next to you, would probably get a completely different regiment. The same is true in life. Chazal teach us that wealth and poverty, health and sickness are all tests of people’s allegiance to G-d. Each situation is custom crafted to each person’s unique mission.
So this is why friend goes on living. No, she is not “productive.” She doesn’t hold down a spic-and-span household and a job and community service. But she is still on the path to her G-d-given goal and with a lot of emuna at that.
Please pray for the speedy and complete recovery of Elisheva bat Mazal Tov.
Do you find that having a relationship with G-d changes your perception?
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