“Platoon halt. Communications unit remain here. Everyone else follow me!”
A seasoned commander, the Major still breaks out a little smile when he hears the collective sigh of relief from the men. He was a trainee once too, and everyone knows that when the communications unit is told to stop, the march has less than a mile to go. He knew he could double the pace. The knowledge that the end was in sight revitalized everyone.
Sometimes we feel the pressure of life pressing against us with so much intensity, it is hard to breathe. Taking another step forward feels impossible. Reflecting on the meaning behind all of it becomes a pipe dream. How can you try to understand that it is all for the good when everything appears so bad?
Then along comes a recharge. Something happens that doesn’t alleviate the pressure, but it gives you a small burst of energy. You can press forward. You can reflect on the core reason why it is all happening. Much like the commander reminding his exhausted troops there is a finish line, Hashem sends something our way to remind us of King Solomon’s immortal words: This too shall pass.
That’s when emuna is no longer beyond our grasp. The words of Rav Arush are digestible again. They enable us to grab this small burst of energy, and turn it into new momentum. Then we can reflect on why things are happening the way they are. Why they happening to the world. Why they are happening to the People of Israel.
Why are they are happening to me...
At the heart of this reflection lies the intensity of how much G-d loves us. Even when we “slap” Him in the face with our sins, He retaliates with hugs.
What happens if you were to hit someone? He would most likely strike you back. What happens when you park on the wrong side of the street? You pay a fine and forget it. G-d forbid, what happens when you rob a bank? You spend five to ten years in a metal box watching talk shows.
In this physical world, we get little out of our crimes. It is never the case when Hashem is involved.
When we discover that we forgot to turn off the refrigerator light on Friday, we get a rude awakening the first time we open the fridge door on Shabbat. "How dumb! Now I've broken Shabbat!" We're flustered, embarrassed, we feel stupid and we're ashamed. Those feelings are our punishment. But then again, we yearn to do teshuva, right here and now. That's the reward! Hashem is so awesomely loving that His punishment is not punitive, it’s educational. Once we realize a particular tribulation is not random, but simply Hashem telling us we are not keeping the Shabbat properly, we add to our Friday afternoon list: turn off the refrigerator light. The next Shabbat, we guard this mitzvah to perfection. We reap rewards both in this world and the Next.
The punishment is part of the mitzvah. The hard times are a leg of the journey. Every time we sin, G-d gives us the opportunity to clean it up. He gives us the chance to change ourselves to the point that we will never be capable of committing this sin again. Our Sages say that he who abstains from a sin is considered like one who performs a mitzvah.
The man who changed his to-do list for Shabbos will have the mitzvah of not turning on the refrigerator light to his credit every week for the rest of his life. That’s also the reward of the punishment. Our sages say that a person doesn't really know Halacha unless he messes up on it first.
Even in those moments where things appear “not good” in our service to Hashem, He is still showering His compassionate love for us. He is still giving.
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Dovber Halevi is the author of Sex, Religion, and the Middle East, a book about personal holiness and happiness. He lives in Israel with his wife and three children.