22 Av 5780 / Wednesday, August 12, 2020 | Torah Reading: Re'eh
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Winning the War for the Soul    

Winning the War for the Soul

Look around today, and you will literally see thousands if not millions of people engaged in a war for their souls; and most of those people are losing very badly...


One of the first emuna CDs that I ever listened to was called ‘Gog and Magog’. It came out around four years ago, a few short months after Gush Katif was destroyed, and around the same time that the Hizballah started raining rockets down on the North of Israel in Lebanon II.
Given all the ‘military build-up’ and ‘strategic tension’ going on in Israel, I was sure that CD was going to be talking about Iran’s nukes; or Islamic terrorism; or any one of the ‘popular’ end-of-days scenarios that people have been discussing for the best part of a decade already.
But it wasn’t. Instead, Rabbi Brody explained that the war of Gog and Magog is not a nuclear showdown, G-d forbid; it’s a war of emuna. If you have emuna – real emuna, not the ersatz type that people think they have when it’s never really been tested – you’ll be fine. And if you don’t, you won’t.
When I first heard that CD, I wasn’t 100% convinced. I mean, the idea of Gog and Magog being a war of emuna is not a mainstream religious Jewish interpretation, at least as far as I know.
Gog and Magog was always about people being killed wholesale; terrible physical suffering, death, destruction and whole countries disappearing off the map. Wasn’t it?
But there was more: Rabbi Brody also explained that you could literally see thousands dropping to your left, and thousands dropping to your right, but you yourself would come out unscathed, as long as you were clinging to Hashem with all your might.
Again, I was quite puzzled, and not 100% convinced. Of course, Hashem saved Avraham when Nimrod threw him into the fiery furnace. But I’m not Avraham – and neither are most of the people I know. If you live somewhere where there is a nuclear explosion, G-d forbid, it’s very hard to see how you’d make it out while all your neighbours got burnt to a crisp.
I puzzled and pondered about Gog and Magog for a while, but then, I stopped reading newspapers and listening to news bulletins, and all my worries about Iranian nukes and Islamic extremists kind of vanished in the mist.
But the last few weeks, I’ve found myself thinking about Gog and Magog again, but this time, in a completely different way. Last year, I went through what I can only call a ‘war for emuna’. It was me against my yetzer hara, and for months, I literally felt that I was fighting a battle to the death against all the negative thoughts, worries and anxieties that the yetzer hara was trying to inject in to my neshama.
I can’t tell you the number of days I was literally begging Hashem for help; the number of hours I spent in hitbodedut asking Hashem to give me some respite from my attacker. It was the hardest experience I ever had to go through – and it was nearly all ‘internal’.
There was very little going on in the way of ‘real’ issues, thank G-d. But what was at stake was my emuna, my belief in G-d’s goodness and kindness, and not to put too fine a point on it, my spiritual and mental sanity.
It was not a ‘battle’, or a ‘fight’ or a ‘skirmish’ – it was a full-on war. And if I hadn’t had Breslev, and Rabbi Nachman’s teachings to fall back on, I would have lost.
Today, we all know people who are suffering from absolutely terrible tragedies, lo alenu. Sick kids, premature deaths, divorces, bankruptcy, terrible sadness and depression.
Look around today, and you will literally see thousands if not millions of people engaged in a war for their souls; and most of those people are losing very badly. They still walk around, speak, walk, eat – but on the inside, they are dead.
On the inside, they spend every waking minute in a state of barely-concealed panic, worrying about ‘what will be’. The only times they aren’t actively suffering and worrying, they are deliberately blotting ‘reality’ out – with movies, with substances, with work, with shopping, with socialising.
But as soon as the distraction comes to an end, they are plunged back into an absolutely terrible spiritual darkness. Little wonder that today, so many people work 18 hour days; or spend every waking minute plugged in to a TV, a laptop, a blackberry or an Ipod; or obsessively exercising for three hours a day and running marathons every week. Anything to just not have to think.
And I’m not even talking about the people who have ‘real issues’ to contend with; I’m talking about people who on the outside, have wonderful, amazing lives, filled with blessings and good health.
A couple of weeks’ ago, I suddenly realised that Gog and Magog – the spiritual war for emuna – is in full swing, and it has nothing to do with geo-politics, economic indicators or extreme weather conditions.
Rabbi Nachman writes that it’s a favourite ploy of the yetzer hara to make one man extremely rich, in order to get hundreds of other people to be envious of his wealth and to waste their lives trying to attain it.
But you can see this in other areas too: it’s a favourite ploy to make one kid extremely sick, G-d forbid, so that everyone else that hears about it can waste their lives worrying it’s going to happen to them.
Or to make one young parent die prematurely, so that everyone in their peer group spends the next 10 years worrying every time they have a little headache, and running off for blood tests at the drop of the hat.
Or to make a colleague get fired in your workplace, so you spend the next year eating yourself alive that you’re next on the chopping block.
Who can live like this? Who can rejoice in the mere fact of being alive when from the moment we wake up, we are literally worrying ourselves to death? How can a person serve Hashem joyfully – or do anything joyfully – when they don’t have the emuna to know that Hashem runs the world, not statistics? Or to look their worse fear in the face, and know that with Hashem’s help, they can still come through it with their souls and their joie de vivre intact?
We are bang slap in the middle of Gog and Magog, the war of emuna. And there is only one way to win it: hitbodedut.
In his book ‘In Forest Fields’, Rav Arush writes that anyone who tries to do an hour of hitbodedut a day – even if a single word doesn’t come out of their mouths – that hour is enough to ‘sweeten’ any of the harsh judgements that are hanging over that person’s head.
No more serious illnesses, G-d forbid; no more sadness and depression; no more terrible arguments with your spouse and children; no more worry and stress.
And all you have to do is show up for an hour’s appointment every day with G-d. You don’t even have to speak – just make the effort to show up, and leave the outcome in Hashem’s hands.
Who, in their right mind, would turn down an offer like that?
You don’t have time? Really? Do you have time to watch soap operas and news programmes? Do you have time to read self-help books or trashy novels, or visit Facebook twice a day? Do you have time to go for a run, or do a bit of gardening? Or to have two hour conversations with your friends?
Then you have time to spare yourself endless, untold agonies, and to try to talk to G-d.
Ask yourself this: do you have time for all the endless doctor’s appointments? Do you really have the time – or the money – for all the ‘professionals’ you feel will make your life happier or easier? Do you really have the time for all the arguments, pain, bitterness and frustration that very quickly fill the day of a person who doesn’t have time for G-d?
When all is said and done, the equation is pretty simple: people who try to do an hour of hitbodedut a day = people who are strengthening their emuna and sweetening the judgements hanging over them = the people who will survive the war of Gog and Magog.
And that’s not on my say-so: it’s a promise from the true tzaddikim. 

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