Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Nasso (Numbers 4:21-7:89) 5783/2023

Getting Up When Life Knocks You Down

The Mishkan (Tabernacle) was the portable place of worship for the Jews in the wilderness and the precursor to Solomon’s Temple, which was built hundreds of years later in Jerusalem. After its completion, there was a seven-day ceremony; at the end of each day, Moses dismantled the Mishkan and then reassembled it the following day (Rashi 7:1).

What was the significance of dismantling the Tabernacle every day and then rebuilding it on the following day; why not just build it once?

A similar question may be asked on the following Midrash; before G-d created this world, He created other worlds first and then destroyed them. Finally, He created this world and said, “This is the one I desire.”

This Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 3:7) presents an astounding theological challenge: Did the Almighty make a mistake during Creation and only then, after a few failed attempts, create the world in which we presently live? We only decide if we like something when we see the finished product, but G-d does not function that way; He creates things exactly as He wants them because He knows in advance exactly what they will be. Why, then, did He create worlds and then destroy them?

Why did Moses dismantle the Tabernacle each day for no apparent reason and why did G-d create and destroy worlds for no apparent reason? Perhaps the answer is that both sought to impart a lesson about how to deal with failures in life.

A righteous person falls seven times and yet rises up again, but the wicked stumble into calamity. (Proverbs 24:16)

This verse dispels a common misconception. People think a righteous person is one who never veers from the virtuous path and the wicked person is corrupt and leads an evil existence. According to the verse above, this is an error. Not only does the wicked person fall, the tzaddik (righteous one) also falls—even many times—but the difference between the two is that the tzaddik (righteous person) picks himself up and tries again, no matter how many times he has fallen; no matter how many poor choices in life he has made. The wicked person also falls but chooses not get up. The result of that modus operandi is that his behavior will cause him to “stumble into calamity.”

What internal force leads so many people to their downfall? Hopelessness and despair. When you convince yourself that your situation is hopeless—you’ll never get married, get into graduate school, advance your career, never be loved or be able to love—you have not only lost a battle, you have lost the war. When you convince yourself things will ever change, you will settle with whatever circumstance you find yourself.

One Chassidic work encapsulates this idea:

The main objective of the yetzer hara (internal, negative voice) is not to seduce a person to do an immoral act or to transgress. Its main focus is to lead a person to slip so that he or she will become depressed and therefore unable to deal with the ramifications of his or her poor decisions or behavior. When a person believes there is no hope, his or her entire being has been taken over by that state of mind. (Yesod HaAvoda, brought in Nesivos Shalom I:93)

The only way to win the battle is to have clarity and realize that one must go on with life. Granted, a poor life choice was made and a once in a lifetime opportunity might have been lost, but that does not mean that all is lost. Good, upstanding moral people fail and make foolish decisions but what separates them from others is that they get up; they go on with life and deal with the situation in which they now find themselves. What makes them virtuous is that they take responsibility and don’t believe they are destined to a life of doom.

Perhaps G-d was teaching a lesson by creating and destroying worlds. He is omnipotent and doesn’t make mistakes—if He did, He wouldn’t be G-d. He purposely created worlds which were unsatisfactory, then destroyed them and re-created new ones, until He finally “got it right.” Moses erected the Tabernacle and dismantled it, until he finally constructed it to remain standing. This was to teach by example that we too must not remain deterred when we exert ourselves and attempt to build something—our personal lives, family, friendships—with tremendous self-sacrifice, and then see it crumble before us. As painful as it may be, we can’t give up and simply accept that we are failures. During those tumultuous times, we must remain engaged and be prepared to engage in a new battle. And when we fall again, we must strengthen ourselves even more; the main thing is to get up and remember that, as the verse above said, the only difference between the good person and the evil one is that the good one gets up after falling.

How does one get up when all seems hopeless? There are some wonderful motivational books and speeches—but how about trying something new? Pray. Acknowledge that you can’t control people or situations, or what life throws your way. One of the most liberating concepts a human can contemplate is ‘I can’t do it all, and I don’t have to.’ Rather, I can talk to G-d and tell Him I am in pain. Articulate your feeling of fear and vulnerability, and how you don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. Ask for help so that you can not only endure, but also thrive—and be prepared for the next battle or battlefield.

Good Shabbos