By Rabbi Eli Backman
I asked this question the other day on Facebook and received a lot of good responses. Here are some of them.
- From the human-G-d relationship category: “Shema (a prayer stating belief in G-d);” “Take it – belief in G-d – to heart;” “G-d exists and has a plan for us.”
- From the human-human relationship category: “As one at Mt. Sinai;” “Love your fellow as yourself;” “Tzadik in Peltz (Yiddish for care about others);” “A wise man learns from everyone;” “Be a mentsch.”
- From the perspective on life category: “Talk to the rabbi;” “Three things express the true measure of a person: his cup, his anger and his wallet (all similar words in Hebrew);” “Tikkun Olam;” “Think good and it will be good;” “If not now, then when?;” “On three things the world stands: Torah, Avoda and kind deeds;” “day in and day out continuity.”
- From the food category: “That the cholent will taste good the next day.”
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All of these answers are important. They all should be studied and implemented in our daily lives. Without them, we are not sure how to ‘live’ this thing called Judaism. The relationships between us and G-d or between us and our fellow humans are equally important. Just giving ourselves the proper perspective to get through life is half the trip already.
But there is still one unspoken question: Who says I can actually take heed and implement all these beliefs and practices in my life? Maybe Moses could do it, maybe the rabbi finds them easy to do (trust me, not always!). But does little me, with all my struggles and life happenings, really have the ability for all this?
It really is a bigger question in Judaism. Let’s say that I’m offered a great job out of college, but they need me to work 9 to 5 every weekday. I am so excited until I remember Shabbat begins earlier than 5 p.m. in the winter.
Or I finally get a job and I am put on a group project. I’m all excited to engage the client but September rolls around and then I need to take off a bunch of days in a row for the High Holidays and Sukkot.
Does G-d really think I can survive this?
Let me introduce another one line from the Talmud, one which I think might make the cut as the most important, at least in one way:
“G-d does not challenge his creations with more than they can do”
(Tractate Avodah Zarah 3.1)
G-d created the world for a purpose and wants to accomplish something in this world through you and me. The only way that is possible is if we can actually get it done! So, while G-d may try to make it seem (and it may really be) tough, it is not, and cannot be, insurmountable.
We all had that professor who does not seem to care about our learning and just wants to teach the subject. “Try harder. Read more. I can’t help you…” What are they really accomplishing? Not much for you. G-d is not like that, the Talmud teaches us. G-d only gives us a challenge that we can overcome. G-d gives us the strength and resources to accomplish what we are supposed to do in this world. Nothing G-d asks of us can be out of our reach, or it would defeat the entire purpose of us being here.
If you do not believe in that idea then you just throw up your hands and say “Forget about it, I can’t do that ________ any way! Why should I bother trying?”
Of course, there are also other beliefs in Judaism: one G-d, no idols, prayer, our dependence and interaction with G-d, kindness, be a mensch and the other ideas above. But in the end, if they are not possible for me to accomplish, what good are they?
The Lubavitcher Rebbe was once approached by a young man who was struggling with a spiritual challenge. He mentioned it to the Rebbe. Now, you tell me what you think the answer from the Rebbe would be? What would any rabbi say? The Rebbe looked into his eyes and said, “I am jealous of you.” The man replied incredulously, “Of me?!”
The Rebbe replied, “Yes. If G-d is giving you such a challenge, such a tough decision, then surely G-d is also giving you the great strength to deal with it. I was not given that immense challenge and therefore also not given the great strength that you were.”