27 Kislev 5782 / Wednesday, December 01, 2021 | Torah Reading: Mikeitz
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The Challenge    

The Challenge

I put my evil inclination to the test too and looked for a rationale to the life-and-death cycle outside the context of God and emuna. I found nothing…


Rabbi Shalom Arush’s story of teshuva and faith, Part 3

Last week, we left off when a war of belief vs. non-belief was now raging at full fury in Rav Shalom’s brain. He couldn’t continue like this…
One thing was becoming clear to me – namely, that my life was not in my own hands. But if I don’t run things, then who does? I gave God a series of direct challenges, something that in retrospect seems utterly insolent. But, I did so with the pure and innocent desire for the truth.
I’d say, “Creator of the World, I want to believe in You but I can’t see You in the corporal sense. Please show me that You are truly Master of the World. Show me what You can do. If You really control everything, then that means that you control my brother David’s brain too. Please instill in my brother’s brain a desire to visit me right now, as soon as possible.”
My brother David was a career soldier in the regular army, serving on some faraway base. In recent years, he had drifted away from the family. I hadn’t seen him in a long time and had missed him very much. Little did I know how my request started turning Heavenly wheels in motion.
A mere sixty minutes later, there was a knock on my dorm room. I opened the door, and David stood there. I acted like I was not at all surprised, but he was obviously startled. We hugged each other and David said, “Shalom, the strangest things happened to me. All of a sudden I got this surprise furlough; I wanted to drive home, but I had this irresistible urge to see you. I felt like the car had wings – I caught every single green light and there was almost no traffic the whole way.” David stayed for a few minutes and then left.
I wanted to thank God for His unequivocal sign, His acceptance of my challenge, and His fulfilling my request so quickly. Then the doubts kicked in, what you might call the “itty bitty doubt committee” in my head. Later, I was to learn that this was none other than the evil inclination (EI), which tries to poop the party of the inner peace and happiness that you get from emuna and your own personal relationship with God. Some folks call him the serpent or the Satan, but he’s the same culprit no matter how we label him. Here’s the protocol:
Me: Wow, God really delivered the goods.
EI: C’mon, Shalom, don’t be a jerk. David was on his way home anyway.
Me: That’s not true! Tel Aviv University is out of David’s way. He had to drive due west from his base to get here; he lives south of his base. And besides, he wasn’t even supposed to have furlough! And how did he get here so fast despite the rush-hour?
EI: Big deal – these types of coincidences happen every day…
Me: Do you think I’m dumb enough to believe that my brother – whom I haven’t seen in ten months – all of a sudden gets a furlough from his base on the Jordan border and arrives on my doorstep a mere sixty minutes after I ask God to give me a sign? The chances aren’t even one in a billion!
EI: Come back to the real world, Shalom. Get rational…
I was much more rational than the doubts in my head. I dismissed them, but wasn’t yet satisfied.
Final Exams
The day of my brother’s surprise visit was only two days before final exams. In Tel Aviv University, Economics 101 is known as “the herbicide”, because it weeds out the weaker students. Any freshman in finance or accounting can’t continue on to sophomore year without a passing grade in Economics 101. Historically, 40% of the freshman class fails this course.
I needed a breather from my studies so I took a walk down a quiet, tree-lined path, challenging God once more.
“God, if You really run the world, then You know what questions are going to be on the final exam of Economics 101. I have another 48 hours to prepare for the exam, but to review all the course material, I’d need much more time than that. Help me review the relevant material that will be on the exam. Help me get a really high mark.” Once again, my request was an innocent wish to know the truth rather than a cheeky test of God.
You can probably imagine what happened.
The questions on the final exam were the exact ones I had prepared for. I knew the answers perfectly. In keeping with tradition, more than a third of the freshman class in the Faculty of Economics and Business failed the exam. I received a 98, and found myself way up near the top of the Dean’s List.
Again, The Creator had delivered the goods. Once again, He had shown me that He heard my prayers down to the tiniest detail. He was letting me know that He was right there for me, 24/7. I didn’t need a clergyman, no go-between, no house of worship, or not even a book of prescribed prayers. All I had to do was open my mouth and speak to Him in my own language, even in my own local slang.
And once again, the “itty bitty doubt committee” returned to my head:
EI: C’mon, Shalom – what’s this business about God? You worked hard for that exam; you understood what the relevant material would probably be, and you prepared yourself. You deserve the credit.
Me: What about all the other final exams, like Calculus 101 that was much easier for me than Economics 101? I knew the material better, the final exam was much easier, and yet I only got a 92! You can’t fool me.
EI: There you go getting primitive again…
Maybe it sounds weird, but the EI succeeded in putting enough doubt in my head to make me test God a third time. Looking back, it’s mindboggling to fathom God’s unbelievable patience.
My unrelenting desire to know the truth and to be positively sure about it led me to continue speaking to God. I put my evil inclination to the test too and looked for a rationale to the life-and-death cycle outside the context of God and emuna. I found nothing, no substantial reason to break my back achieving things when ultimately I’d decay in a grave anyway. The evil inclination tried to keep me away from God, but it had no answers of its own.
Then it hit me. What good is a football victory of 100-0 if there wasn’t an opponent on the field? Why does God send our souls down to this lowly material world? Hey, it’s all a test! Can I really find God and discover emuna despite the heavy opposition? Boom! I realized that the heavy spiritual opposition of the doubts and social convention are exactly what makes finding emuna so worthwhile! The tougher the opponent, the more glorious the victory! Once we destroy “the serpent” in our heads that tries its utmost to keep us away from God, we’re free to walk in the Garden of Emuna right there with God alongside. That’s paradise.
But my serpent wasn’t yet dead…
To be continued…

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