“Meet me at our old place in an hour.”
“But you’ve come so far, everyone is so proud of you.”
“Stop it. One hour Dov.”
That was my friend Joe. A retired ladies’ man, he fell apart when the woman of his dreams left him for no reason other than boredom. After hitting rock bottom, he became a returnee to Torah. He discovered Emuna and his life has been sweet ever since.
It’s been almost ten years since he left that life. Why does he want to meet me at the lounge where we used to pick up women?
“Dov, I am getting fired.”
“What? You are the best teacher they got. The kids voted you their favorite three years running.”
“Cutbacks. There is no tenure system where I work. Those with less seniority are the first to go. As of next month I am out of a job.”
“You are very good at what you do. You will find something in no time.”
“I have been looking for over six months. Even my supervisor knew what I was up to. She went along with it because she knew she may have to let me go and she didn’t want to make things any harder on me. Finding employment has proven difficult.”
“What about your savings? Your inheritance? You should have enough to hold you over for a couple of years.”
“Not anymore. Teaching is what I do best. I love it. It gives me so much satisfaction in life. I took this job knowing that I wouldn’t be able to make ends meet. I have been drawing down a little bit of my savings every year. I made an investment in my life on the faith that Hashem would look after me. Even as my savings went down each year, my base salary went up little by little. My plan was that before I used up my last dime, I would be making enough to support, G-d Willing, a family, and I could stop taking out of my nest egg. Now I don’t have salary. I have no seniority, and my savings is smaller and soon to be dwindling at a faster pace.”
“Joe why are we here? This is a minor tribulation compared to what you’ve been through. You always relied on Hashem to take care of you. You know that this is a test from G-d. It is an opportunity for something even greater. What makes this different than any other test Hashem has sent your way?”
Joe mentioned to the waitress and ordered a drink. I hadn’t seen him do that in a decade.
“Ten years ago I was a marketing executive. I hated it. It just didn’t suit who I was. I was also living a very immoral life. I was a failure for obvious reasons. I had nobody to blame but myself. Today it’s different. I am doing something I do better than anything else. I strive to live a holy life and come closer to G-d at every moment. If my professional and financial situation is exactly the same now that I am trying so hard as it was when I was a loser, what’s the point? Why bother trying anymore?”
“Come on Joe.”
“This is what really scares me. I am out of ideas. Every hardship in my life has been G-d challenging me. It was always G-d telling me that there is something I need to do or change right now. It always led to an improvement in my day to day existence. I don’t have the strength to do anything more. If there is nothing else I can do to better my situation, how can I merit that Hashem will change my situation? At this rate, I am going to be an abject failure for a long time.”
He perked up. The frustration on his faced turned to shock, then anger. He reached for the drink.
I put my hand over top of his glass.
“We always assume there is a link between our efforts and the results G-d furnishes. This is what we are taught – reward and punishment. It implies a link between what we do and the results G-d produces. The truth is that there is no link. G-d created an efforts based universe. It is our job to work as hard as we can under every circumstance. G-d promises reward, but He doesn’t say when or how we will receive it. We can receive everything in the Next World were the reward is greater, and see nothing in this one. We can see great reward in both worlds, but not necessarily when we feel we’ve earned it. This may be your biggest test yet. It is a message from Hashem that yes – whether you are in a situation that guarantees failure or whether you are in a situation that guarantees success, it is still not up to you. You job is to push yourself as hard as you can to get out. G-d’s job is to decide when that moment will arrive. It all depends on what’s best for you. You have no options Joe – that’s the blessing. You have nothing but the emuna that Hashem will grant you redemption on His terms, at His time, because we live in His world. Only that your situation appears so hopeless does it feel that G-d is nowhere to be seen. Your time has come. Now is the greatest opportunity to express faith that you are truly in G-d’s Hands – and not even yours!”
Joe closed his eyes.
I took my hand away from his drink. He grabbed my seltzer and raised the glass.
“When all that remains is faith, it’s all we ever needed.”
He smiled, kissed my forehead and walked out the door.
No matter what we do, we don’t generate the merit from G-d to draw even one breath. Everything we are given in this life is an ongoing act of pure mercy and compassion from our Gracious and Loving Father. Receiving more or less than this, despite our efforts, is at His Merciful Discretion. The new BT doesn't necessarily get the red-carpet treatment...
Whether it’s a one in a million or a can’t miss attempt, He determines fair and foul. It’s not for us to question the call, but to remain determined to stay in the game.
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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.