Emunah and Hishtadlus – Part Three
The last two articles dealt with Emunah and Hishtadlus. Their focus was on how to approach the many situations that we face every day. This article focuses on how to understand those events that have already taken place, and not on how to confront future events.
Many people embrace Emunah as a form of therapy. It’s calming to believe that things will “work out” and that life will “fall into place”. Sometimes it doesn’t, or at least it seems that way to us. People have asked me, “I don’t understand. I had Emunah. Why did things go wrong?”
The answer for those not actually experiencing the difficult situation is easy to explain. The Emunah of adults should not be similar to those of children who believe that their parents’ will take care of them in a way that they’ll understand. Their Emunah should be “everything that takes place is exactly as it should, whether or not we understand or appreciate what takes place”.
Most people would like their lives to be neat. They would like things to fall into a “picture book” life. There are many people who, subconsciously, believe, that the only thing better than a simple life, is an exciting one with a happy ending. Exciting lives with happy endings allow us to feel special. “Look at how Hashem watches us”.
This attitude of Emunah, in addition to being childish, is also wrong. Rabbi Noach Weinberg, of Aish Hatorah, once asked a student why he became religious. The student responded that when he attempted to avoid a passing bus the bike on which he was riding, went over a cliff. He concluded, “Who could have saved me from death if not Hashem”. Rabbi Weinberg’s response was simple; “Yes, that’s true, but who made you go over the cliff?”
Just as we shouldn’t complain when Hashem makes our life complicated, we should know that when he does make it complicated, it’s not to make us feel special but to convey a message. That message may be a Nisoyon (test), a minimal amount of punishment, a reward, or a lesson.
There’s another unhealthy attitude about Emunah that I frequently find. People naively believe that they can understand the events that take place in their lives. They believe that by “going back” several days, or several steps, they’ll be able to understand everything. However, when they don’t understand those events, they decide, usually subconsciously, that what took place “just happened” and was not by design.
The assumption that they can understand anything is wrong. Events that take place in their lives are mostly the result of multiple factors. These multiple factors may range in location over thousands of miles, or over hundreds of years. They may have become necessary because of events of the past, present and/or future.
The reaction to all, but particularly to confusing, events should be one of acceptance, simply because people are “out of the loop”. It shouldn’t be because they may be able to make sense of those events. It should be because they realize that those events, as well as the more mundane ones, have been decided by Hashem, who has taken everything into account. People are so woefully deficient of the reasons why Hashem did whatever took place, that they shouldn’t even attempt to understand it. This is the attitude of true Emunah.
I’ve also found that this type of attitude is very therapeutic. I don’t delve into why things happened. Of course, the topic does pass through my mind, but as quickly as it does, I begin to dispel it. I say to myself, “I’m way over my head and will never be able to draw a responsible conclusion. Just let it go.” This is what I repeat to myself as many times as needed.
A part of true Emunah, is not to make assumptions. I speak to many people who’ve had losses. These losses may have been serious medical conditions, car accidents, financial, or the untimely deaths of loved ones. Their underlying theme is, “how could this have happened?”
My unspoken thoughts about these people has always been one of dissatisfaction. Are they unaware that people die young? Are they unaware that people become sick and may need years to recover? Are they unaware that people lose money? Are they unaware that in this world, sickness and sadness is a possibility? Although I understand that at the initial stage they have a right to be in shock, some people never seem to be able “to shake off” the shock.
Here’s a simple example. When people get flat tires on their cars, their first reaction is one of frustration and, sometimes, anger. However, they should be able to move beyond that first reaction. Their next reaction should be, “flat tires happen. As a matter of fact, driving a car thousands of miles and not getting a flat tire would be atypical. This flat tire fits into the normal events of life.”
When I was young, my father O”H suffered from a severe case of colitis. Our family would often get a phone call that, as a result of a significant loss of blood, he was rushed to a hospital. I knew that on any given day I could get “the call”. B”H I never did. My father died suddenly, because of an unrelated event, at a fairly young age. My thoughts on the day that he died were, “You knew that you could get a call. Despite the shock and the sadness, this event falls into something you should have expected.”
I’ve read clinical studies that confirm, that those people who believe that all the events in life are supposed to “work out”, are unable to effectively handle crisis. Those that have a realistic, not pessimistic, view are more capable of rebounding. In their minds, what took place was always in the realm of the possible.
Although the event was in the realm of the possible, that doesn’t mean it happened by chance. It means that Hashem, who intervenes in each of our lives, offers us Nisyonos, punishments, rewards and lessons to shape our lives. Hashem usually does this in ways that fall under what we call “normal” circumstances. Flat tires and, even more challenging, incidents like sickness and death, are all examples of normal circumstances. When any of these events affect us, our attitude should be, “okay, here’s another incident thrown my way.”
Believing that Hashem caused the event doesn’t mean that if we perceive it as “bad”, we shouldn’t work to improve it. However, there are some people, who believe that since everything is Bashert (predestined), people shouldn’t attempt to improve the situation. They are wrong. People should do Hishtadlus, not only to avoid negative events; but also to lessen, or negate, the “bad” effects of those events.
I would like to remind you that as long as your thoughts are sincere, Hashem will reward you for your Emunah. However, being confident that your intentions are sincere is easier said than done. Each of you must objectively find a form of Avodas Hashem which is based on Torah, that will help you become as good a person as you can.
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