6 Sivan 5778 / Sunday, May 20, 2018 | Torah Reading: Nasso
 
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Nothing Without Him    

Nothing Without Him



Our internal dialog often hangs on one word; there's a thin line between resentment and joy. Telling myself that I'm nothing is not true humility, just the opposite...

 



“We arrived at the land to which you sent us, and indeed it flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit.  But [efes] the people that dwell in the Land is powerful, the cities are very greatly fortified, and we also saw there the offspring of the giant.” [Numbers: Parshat Shelach]

“Truly, He is our King, there is nothing [efes] else.”  [Aleinu prayer]
 
The story of the spies contains within it a seemingly innocuous word: efes, meaning nothing, translated in this context as but. The leaders of the generation return from surveying the Land of Israel to give their report.  Ramban [Nachmanides] comments that the word efes/but revealed a lack of emuna on their part for rather than state factually what they saw, they qualified it with the word but and their own biased negative interpretation of these facts; they felt they would be unable to conquer the land, that they were small and weak in the eyes of the giants, that they were nothing.
 
Rav Shalom Arush in The Garden of Gratitude cites that the root of all sadness, dissatisfaction and depression is a lack of gratitude, and that the collective crying of the Jewish People on receiving this negative report set into motion all subsequent Jewish sufferings over the ensuing millennia, all because we couldn’t appreciate the good that Hashem was giving us and that He, not we, are in control of events.
 
There’s another place I noticed that the word efes appears and that is in the prayer called Aleinu.  Here the word efes is translated as nothing, as in there is nothing other than Hashem, He is the King of all the world; my obligation is to nullify myself to His Will for I am nothing without Him but, by nullifying my will, I achieve a higher level of self.
 
Two seemingly contradictory expressions of the same word: one negative and one positive. Depending on our internal dialogue the word efes will elicit the power to break down, negate and constrict, or conversely build, expand and connect to the Divine.
 
So how does the word but fit into our psyche, into our everyday lives in which dissatisfaction and depression seem to prevail to such an extent these days?
 
Resentment: The root of resentment [see Rivka Levy’s article] is really anger, in other words, things aren’t to my liking, Hashem has made a mistake.  I may not verbally use the word but I think it. I know Hashem is good but why is He punishing me?
 
Lack of gratitude: We speak to Hashem, we see Hashem’s kindness in our lives but nevertheless we remain dissatisfied. When Hashem grants us our requests we say we are grateful but immediately, almost dismissively, we find something else to be critical of, something else in our lives not quite perfect, not quite to our high standards, and we wonder why we’re still feeling unhappy.
 
Intellectual rationalizations: I want to partake of the world that Hashem has created even though its ideology may be at odds with the Torah and I rationalize my desire by saying but what about the real world?  But isn’t the real world Hashem’s world, there’s no separation. Or, but how can you say that? Because I don’t buy into what the other person is saying, by definition their view must be a subjective, personal view, not an objective truth.  But it’s not me saying it, the Torah is saying it. So, am I arguing to learn and discover, to understand and to possibly change myself, or deep down am I rejecting something because it doesn’t conform to my personal ideology, because I want the status quo, because I’m too close to the truth but not honest enough to say right now that maybe I’m wrong or that I don’t want to grow? That I don’t want to give up my sense of autonomy.
 
Butwe have another choice.  The choice of efes as in I am nothing without Hashem. That choice allows us to leave our comfort zone because we have Hashem as our travelling companion. He’s always there for us.  Now I can change the inner dialogue.
 
Resentment disappears because I internalize that Hashem arranges everything in my life according to my soul’s purpose and I believe, as our Sages tell us, that in reality there is no bad, that Hashem is compassionate and has only our good in mind. I can activate humility instead of resentment and not fight Him on every point. If I look to other people for honour, esteem, to fulfil my needs, I will inevitably be let down at some stage.
 
Gratitude fills my inner being only when I truly meditate on every little thing Hashem provides for me without comparing it to what I perceive I don’t have.  Gratitude means that today I have everything I need, not necessarily everything I want, to serve Him.
 
Intellectual rationalizations disappear when I realize that my finite mind has to allow for the unknowable, and that it’s good to be able to honestly reassess ones personally held views from time to time to see if they still contain truth.  My inner world won’t collapse through doing this exercise; quite the contrary, it will expand.
 
Efes- I have to ask what does Hashem want from me, for I am nothing without Him.





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