5 Shvat 5781 / Monday, January 18, 2021 | Torah Reading: Bo
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The Old Work Ethic    

The Old Work Ethic

The American work ethic tells me us that anything is within reach if we’re willing to exert ourselves enough – spiritually, such world views take us to the wrong places...


The Seven Pillars of Faith, Part 5

The Fifth Pillar of Faith is Teshuva.
Rabbi Breiter’s discussion of this subject, aside from being delightfully succinct and profound, reveals for me a fundamental mindset that is crucial to a Torah view of faith, “...it is in His hand to cause all things to grow and become strong.” II Chronicles 29:2. 
Rabbi Breiter starts this chapter in “The Seven Pillars of Faith” with the following
The fifth fundamental principle is to know that every time you are spiritually uplifted and thoughts of Teshuva begin to stir in you, if you then think that “from now on I will certainly be a good Jew, I will certainly do such and such”, any thought of this kind contains an admixture of the atheistic attitude that things are in “my power and the strength of my hand”. Such a thought will inevitably bring depression in its wake and push you away from God again later on, because you think that things are in your control – that the Kingship is yours. 
While not raised in a religious home, I like millions of other Americans in particular, come from a long line of Protestants. Protestant views of the world influence my everyday decisions and even my view of faith through osmosis. The older I get, the more I see this. I have imbued into my being an American version of the Protestant work ethic in particular that tells me that anything is within my reach if I am willing to exert myself enough. And that if I don’t have something it is because I am not working hard enough to get it. These attitudes underlie my worldview even though I simultaneously claim to believe contradictory spiritual laws of the universe that have their origins in Torah, in a nutshell that God gives me something or not, that my work ethic is not so much the issue.   (By the way, this highlights the extreme importance of on-going Torah learning.  It is incredibly easy to let other worldviews guide you to the wrong places.) 
Back to Rabbi Breiter’s point about faith – that is very difficult for me merge with my Protestant work ethic view of the world – God is all wrapped up in our free will. He gives us longings to return to Him. He then allows us to do so. 
Here’s a quote that blows me away:
If they think that they are going to make themselves stay close to God in the uture, doesn’t that mean they have to take responsibility for having been so far way until now?
I would have answered ‘yes’! Surely I was not close to God in the past because I was doing so very many things wrong. I picture God sitting somewhere waiting for me to approach Him. And I picture me wandering around downright oblivious to His presence. 
Rabbi Breiter continues:
If someone has been far from their spiritual goal until now, it is because Heaven held them back for not having prayed properly. 
So what was distancing me was not so much the bad decisions I was making in a global sense, but something much more specific: I was not praying properly. How does a person who is so lost, as I was and often still am and as so many are now and will be in the future – how do these people know how to pray properly? That’s my question. It’s a much more complex way of looking at how we become distanced from God than I have ever been exposed to. Why would God want to hold me back at all? Yet, when I became religious, to put it in a clunky way, it wasn’t that I did anything so complicated, that I engaged in some complex ritualistic way of praying. I simply spoke to God in my own words and asked Him for help.
According Rabbi Breiter, the Torah commands us to try to make good decisions and to beg God to not remove us or distance us from proper prayer and ‘supplication’. ‘Supplication’ means appealing to an authority to give us something and the appeal must be heartfelt and real. Throughout our day, it seems to me, it behooves us to continually remember and acknowledge through prayer that God is in control. And we even need to beg God to help us pray correctly. God can help us to be good, to put it in very simple terms, and to pray well, which in turn helps us to be good. 
It is not simply a matter of understanding Who is in charge. I must articulate to the Boss, that He is in charge and ask Him to help me to always remember and properly articulate to Him that I am know this truth and am living this truth. This is a less punishing way of viewing our pasts that may have been difficult and not so full of Torah goodness. It is also a humbling and hopeful way of viewing our future in that we can even beg God to help us ask Him properly for what we need and for our forgiveness and to help us to properly repent. He is always involved in the process and there to help us.

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