0 Posted by - June 15, 2016 - Bamidbar, Parsha


Parashat B’haalotcha

מאויבי תחכמני. Joe Frazier, one of the most famous boxers in history, became a boxing coach when he got too old for the ring. He was asked why he could not train boxers to box like he did. He said, “I could teach ‘em how to throw a punch, but I couldn’t teach ‘em how to take a punch.

Fighting the Yetzer Hara is not about winning. It is about standing up, keeping on fighting. This tournament is not over until you die, or until you are not willing to get back up and go for more. To fight the Yetzer Hara in this world, you have to know how to take a punch, not just how to throw a punch. To accept that sometimes we fail, sometimes we make mistakes, sometimes we fall prey to the Yetzer’s scheme; sometimes we go through tests, such as pain, loss, and other difficulties, that are harder than we could have ever imagined. Sometimes, it is not as much the test itself that presents the main challenge as it is your ability to get up and go for another round.

One of the 48 characteristics necessary to attain Torah wisdom is קבלת יסורין, accepting pain. Why is the ability to handle the pain in life a prerequisite for attaining Torah wisdom? What does one have to do with the other?

We live in a world where people are full of pain. It is the same world that our grandparents and great grandparents lived in. The average Jew, then, went through much more pain than the average Jew does today, but then, they knew how to deal with pain by ignoring it, and they ignored it by focusing on helping others and by living with ideals. Think about going through a painful dental procedure. It is easier to deal with the pain when focusing on the end result, projecting how you will feel two months later, when the mouth is in order, and the pain is gone. You feel pain the most when focusing on it. When you live by ideals, goals and ambitions, your life is focused on purpose, so you can handle the pain. You can take the punches.

Last week, in the Osher Ad supermarket in Givat Shaul, a few nights before Shavuoth, the checkout lines were backed up into the food aisles. Looking for the shortest line, I noticed a simple-looking, low- income-bracket, older Sephardic woman, with her two young, simple daughters, waiting in line at the cashier. What caught my eye was not her shopping cart, but her shopping carts. She had four overflowing shopping carts, each one with a different ingredient for making cheese cake. Graham crackers (for crust), cream cheese, sour cream, whipping cream, sugar, etc.

Sometimes, my mouth works faster than my mind, and I asked them, “Are you sure you are going to be able to finish all that cheese cake in just two days?”

The answer sent chills down my spine. “זה בשביל אלמנות “ . The cheesecakes are for widows. Oh. I asked them, “Is this some sort of organization?” The answer was, “No. We just make cheesecakes and deliver them to widows for Shavuot”.

I guess that doing kindness, thinking of others, living by ideals, goes along with living a simple life with simple standards. It is ironic how often simple people, who have so little, are looking to do kindness more than people who are high line. As long as we keep trying to be high line, it is harder for us to come down and think about others. And as long as we think about ourselves, we do not know how to ignore pain, we do not know how to serve anyone except for ourselves, as we try to get as much pleasure out of this world as we can. It is harder for us to deal with discomfort or hurt, as we – at the center of our attention – are too intensely focused on our own pain. Our ancestors, who dealt with pain better than we do, were simple people, who knew how to focus on others, and not on themselves. So pain was not the center of their focus.

To acquire Torah wisdom, one needs to know how to deal with pain, nuisances, frustration, loss, etc., because to acquire Torah wisdom, we cannot be focused on ourselves. We need to be goal-oriented people, loving others, and loving G-d. Not concerned mainly with ourselves.

And, through the fog of pain, come tears of connection to G-d. King David was born from pain. His mother suffered to have him. He was the descendant of three great women, each of whom suffered tremendously during their lives: Tamar, Miriam, and Ruth. Tamar’s first two husbands remained childless, put to death by G-d. Tamar was sentenced to death by her father-in-law, Yehuda, and G-d saved her life. Miriam was afflicted with leprosy; no one wanted to marry her. And she accepted her pain, and G-d made her beautiful, as she was married to Kalev (see Sotah 11b). Ruth, a princess who converted, who left behind all the riches of monarchy, cared only for her mother-in-law’s wellbeing. These three women had the power to accept pain and developed an even deeper relationship with G-d, because of it. And that is what made them deserving of being the forebears of the Master of Psalms, the book of hope in darkness, the book of tears of joy, and the book of faith. Because the connection a person has with G-d in times of pain is far deeper and more intimate than the connection one has when things are going smoothly. All that pain became the catalyst to the book of Psalms, the eternal script of Man talking to G-d.

Our ancestors needed to go through the pain and the trials of the desert, for that was the only place where they could acquire the Torah. That was the only place they could learn to focus outward, not inward. That was the only place they could forge a deep and lasting connection with G-d. And the only place they could learn how to take the punches.

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