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Do Not Lose Faith In Faith

12/07/2016 01:26:55 PM


I read a book review this week entitled What Makes A Great Parish. The book  being reviewed is called Great Catholic Parishes: How Four Essential Practices Make Them Thrive. One of the four practices captured my attention. According to the author of the book great parishes “foster spiritual maturity”.


I love that term - spiritual maturity. A mature person is one who takes responsibility for their life and a spiritually mature person takes responsibility for their spirituality.


We see an excellent example of this in the life of Yitzchak.


יב  וַיִּזְרַע יִצְחָק בָּאָרֶץ הַהִוא, וַיִּמְצָא בַּשָּׁנָה הַהִוא מֵאָה שְׁעָרִים; וַיְבָרְכֵהוּ, יְהוָה.

12 And Isaac sowed in that land, and found in the same year a hundredfold; and the LORD blessed him.

יג  וַיִּגְדַּל, הָאִישׁ; וַיֵּלֶךְ הָלוֹךְ וְגָדֵל, עַד כִּי-גָדַל מְאֹד.

13 And the man waxed great, and grew more and more until he became very great.

יד  וַיְהִי-לוֹ מִקְנֵה-צֹאן וּמִקְנֵה בָקָר, וַעֲבֻדָּה רַבָּה; וַיְקַנְאוּ אֹתוֹ, פְּלִשְׁתִּים.

14 And he had possessions of flocks, and possessions of herds, and a great household; and the Philistines envied him.

How are we to understand Yitzchak’s success?


One thing is clear - Yitzchak was blessed with great material wealth - the verse attests to that -


יד  וַיְהִי-לוֹ מִקְנֵה-צֹאן וּמִקְנֵה בָקָר, וַעֲבֻדָּה רַבָּה; וַיְקַנְאוּ אֹתוֹ, פְּלִשְׁתִּים.

14 And he had possessions of flocks, and possessions of herds, and a great household; and the Philistines envied him.


But the verses also refer to greatness - what was that greatness?


I would like to share with you a beautiful answer in the name of Rabbi Shalom Noach Berezovsky - the late Slonimer Rebbe who quotes one of the early leaders of the Slonimer Chassidim.



The author notes that it was specifically out of the spiritually challenging atmosphere that Yitzchak achieved success.


One of our great challenges related to contemporary spirituality is that we think is should be easy.  


I was reminded of this when I recently revisited an article written by Rav Aharon Lichtenstein in response to the question: “What are the most significant factors which support your fathi in God and Torah?” In an autobiographical admission to certain ethical questions raised by specific commandments in the torah, Rav Lichtenstein wrote this.


I then recalled having recently read that Rabbi Chaim Brisker would awaken nightly to see if someone hadn’t place a foundling at his doorstep. I knew that I slept quite soundly, and I concluded that if such a paragon of chesed  (kindness) coped with these laws, evidently the source of my anxiety did not lie in my greater sensitivity but in my weaker faith. And I set myself to enhancing it.”


The point here is that Rav Lichtenstein has his doubts, his questions and so he redoubled his efforts to strengthen his faith. It were very doubts that he confronted that set him on a path of bolster his faith.


Of course, we should not lose sight of the fact that both the Slonimer Rebbe and Rav Lichtenstein insist that it takes work. Building and maintaining faith requires care and diligence. For time to time I share with folks who are having a faith crisis this quip. “Judaism is a religion for adults.”


Of course, the kid parts, the songs, the projects, the four questions at the seder are lovely and they serve as the foundation of future faith, but we adults cannot be sustained that way. Faith requires work.


One of my teaches at Yeshiva University was Rabbi Walter Wurzburger. He was a Harvard trained philosopher - I have spoken about him from the pulpit before. He wrote a wonderful essay called: Cultivation of Faith.”


In the essay Rabbi Wurzberger analyzes the Shma prayer and notes that the prayer begins with a statement of faith and then moves on to the commandments to love God, study Torah and observe the commandments. This progression provides Rabbi Wurzburger with a methodology for fostering faith. Here are his words: The Rabbis believed that observance of the Torah was not merely the proper conclusion to be drawn from faith, but also could serve as the most reliable avenue to religious faith.


Rabbi Wurzburger goes to to use this idea as an explanation as to why the Rabbis prasuie the Jewish people : “This Is why the Talmud sings the praises of Israel for having committed themselves to the Torah with the formula, ‘We shall do we shall hear - Na’aseh V’Nishma.’ it is is through fulfillment of the commandments that we become attuned to God so that we may truly hear his message.”


Yitzchak’s struggle to achieve faith in difficult surroundings reminds us that success is possible, if we work at it. It is also true that we are likely to fail if we do not work at it.


Working at it, as we learn from the Shma means doing it. We can come to appreciate the power of prayer, not by thinking about prayer, but by praying.  We can come to appreciate the wisdom of the mitzvot by doing them. In short, we can achieve love of God by doing what God asks of us.


There are no shortcuts, but there is a path.


We want faith to be easy. We want it to be easy because we value it so highly - we want it so badly. We wish that it could always withstand the tests and difficulties of life.


Yet, we should be uplifted and encouraged that regardless of our spiritual struggles, the road is never closed - as the Slonimer Rebbe said, there are a hundred gates to enter to come closer to God.


We often think that praying, studying and observing mitzvot are a sign of faith. We have learned today, that they is a pathway to faith. If prayer is difficult - pray more - pray consistently - pray in English so you understand what you are saying.


The same goes for Mitzvot - if they have lost meaning for us - double down on kashrut, , avoiding Lashon Hara and visit the sick (BTW - we really need a Bikur Cholim committee - I need one person to stp tp to chair it and we will work together to provide much needed care and compassion to members of our community).


I will close with the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel who summed it up so well:


“A Jew is asked to take a leap of action rather than a leap of thought. He is asked... to do more than he understands in order to understand more than he does. In carrying out the word of the Torah he is ushered into the presence of spiritual meaning. Through the ecstasy of deed he learns to be certain of the hereness of God. Right living is way to right thinking.” (God In Search of Man pg. 283).


The Slonimer Rebbe and Rav Lichtenstein remind us that we should not lose faith in faith and that it may be the very difficulties we encounter in this realm, that can lead to even greater heights.

Thu, July 2 2020 10 Tammuz 5780