Carry out My laws and safeguard my decrees; to walk with them, I am the Lord, Your G-d. (Leviticus 18:4)
How does one “walk” with laws or decrees? The commentary Ksav Sofer (1815-1871) says that the words “to walk with them” means that a person needs to continuously ‘walk’-i.e. go-from one spiritual level to the next. We generally associate G-d’s commandments with topics like kosher dietary law, Sabbath observance, loving your neighbor, not speaking lashon hara (gossip or harmful speech) or lying, as well as many other prohibitions. However, we don’t usually think about spiritual growth as an outright directive from G-d; we must continually elevate ourselves. It is not enough to keep on the same level that you were on the previous day. To the contrary, each day we should have the goal of climbing one rung higher on the spiritual ladder. This goal constant emotional and spiritual growth gives us insight into an area of life that is at best difficult and for many viewed as an exhausting and emotionally draining aspect of human existence.
Throughout life we encounter difficulties with marriage, children, earning a living, relationships, and many other things. When difficult tests come your way, you might not always appreciate them but they are what helps you achieve the goal of growing as a person. When we are complacent with our life’s circumstance, we have no desire to change because there’s no reason to. Instead of complaining that by nature you are shy and therefore don’t always have your needs met because you don’t speak up for yourself, use it as an opportunity to learn the skills required for self expression. Yes, it will be difficult but your self confidence and self worth with be radically upgraded. A woman who has challenges with her children will inevitably realize that by dealing with the child and his/her special needs, she will become a more sensitive and caring person. Every day you have an internal struggle not to get angry and exert great effort to keep your composure while dealing with children is another opportunity. Instead of getting depressed at your life’s circumstance and blaming the world-and usually G-d- realize that each time you have an encounter with yourself, you are climbing one rung higher on the spiritual ladder.
In her book Lost and Found, bestselling author Geneen Roth describes the intense pain of finding out that all her life’s savings were lost to Bernie Madoff but what she gained was priceless.
Before the phone call, I had 30 years of retirement savings in a “safe” fund…When I put down the phone…I felt as if I had died, and for some unknown reason, was still breathing.
On New Year’s Eve three weeks after we lost our savings, six of us gathered at Taj’s for dinner. As we were sitting around the table, someone asked, If you could have your money back right now, but it would mean giving up what you have learned by losing it, would you take the money or would you take what losing the money has given you…(Five out of six said) what they were seeing about themselves was incalculable, and they didn’t think it would have become apparent without the ground of financial stability being ripped out from underneath them…
My friend Michael said, “I’d started to get complacent. It’s as if the muscles of my heart started to atrophy. Now they’re wake, alive-and I don’t want to go back.”
We spend out lives in denial of the fact that our greatest accomplishments are the ones that required us to leave the calm security of our comfort zone. The only way to keep on elevating yourself is to keep passing more and more difficult life-tests and by doing so you are actually accomplishing the purpose for which you were created.
How do we know how to react to life’s challenges? G-d gave us the Torah for that reason. It is His instruction book for good living. If one has never seen or heard of a car and takes it for a drive without reading the instruction manual, he will run out of gas or oil in the middle of the highway, perhaps hundreds of miles from home, and will be angry at the one who gifted him the car. We come into this world knowing nothing and don’t even have the sophisticated survival instincts that animals do. If we don’t spend time studying the Designer’s manual, we have no one to blame other than ourselves. The opportunity is here, we simply need to exploit it. Vicissitude can seem vicious unless viewed as a means of elevating yourself by applying the Torah’s teachings.
A few weeks ago we sat at the Passover Seder telling the story of how G-d freed us from bondage in Egypt. This holiday more than any other represents freedom. When one human enslaves another, it is depraved but when a person enslaves himself or herself, it is tragic. The tools needed to take oneself out of self-inflicted emotional slavery are nearby and readily available; the question is, are we willing to access them? Isn’t it worth given taking a shot and giving ancient the ancient Torah wisdom a chance?
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