Finding Our Stabilityby Rabbi Jacob Rupp June 26, 2018
We live in a world where we crave certainty. This creates both fundamentalism and extreme apathy. On one hand, people are so sure of something that they aren’t open to the alternative, and when certainty eludes them, they claim it doesn’t matter or they don’t care.
With the world being so polarized between people who are ‘sure’ and
people who avoid those who are ‘sure,’ how can we ever have an honest conversation?
How do we deal with the challenges to our faith that pop up throughout our lives?
On an even more fundamental plane, how do we stay true to ourselves?
With all things, perhaps we can go back to the source. Were our patriarchs and matriarchs fundamentalists?
On one hand yes. G-d appeared to them and they were completely faithful to G-d’s words. Yet on the other hand, you see tremendous struggles with G-d, spirituality and destiny. Abraham flatly argues with G-d on multiple occasions. Jacob suggests that G-d may not see him fit to merit Divine protection. So the conventional ‘certainty’ that modern day fundamentalists proclaim seems not characteristic of
Especially today, we want answers. We don’t want to live with questions. After all, with Google, we have become conditioned to the idea that everything must have answers. In this vein, spirituality is hard—can we prove anything?
You can’t Google G-d’s existence, nor what he wants from you. The fact that you can access anyone and everyone that ever had a perspective on faith doesn’t make it easier—it makes it harder! Back in the day, you had your immediate social circle, maybe your town rabbi, and that was it. Now you are open to the world, but this openness creates a greater challenge by robbing us of the ability to formulate our own opinions.
A student of mine reached out to me recently, wanting to know how she was supposed to believe in G-d when she learned of a particular tragedy that had affected a close family friend. Rather than launch
into a discussion of spirituality, reward and punishment, or G-d’s
existence like I may have in my younger rabbinic days, I told her I didn’t know.
I could have said since when did G-d promise a world without pain, consequences or suffering? Is suffering incompatible with G-d’s existence?
But that wasn’t what she was really asking. She wanted to know how she could restore her sense of stability. She wanted to understand how we can live as practicing, faithful Jews while also accepting we couldn’t protect ourselves from tragedy or suffering.
It’s a good question. And the simple answer is we can’t. But it isn’t because we lack clarity of G-d’s existence. Jacob had plenty of clarity of G-d’s existence and still had doubts that his life would turn out OK. King David was the same. Yet they channeled their needs into opportunities to reach out, and to connect to G-d in faith.
There are two points that have, for me, been most instrumental in my spiritual life. First and foremost, I am always trying to learn how to better recognize and appreciate the blessings in my life. By focusing on them and thanking G-d, I increase my awareness that no matter what hardship I find myself in, I still have a lot going for me. From this position of abundance and appreciation, our lives always feel fuller. Sure, we can always complain, but can we always live in a state of appreciation and gratitude? It’s not easy, but I really want to try.
Secondly, our lacking or our fear is an opportunity to get close to G-d. Looking into the Book of Psalms reveals this deep truth; King David spent much of his life in very severe problems and composed perhaps the most profound spiritual work as a result. We might be conditioned to think a spiritual life is roses and sunshine, but the legacy of the Jews is much different. We recognize that no matter where we are, up or down, we are with G-d. And while our lives may not be stable or always easy, the ability to develop a greater connection is always there for us.
There is a Jewish concept that G-d desires a broken heart – the very sense that everything is perfect and stable paralyzes us as spiritual people. We don’t have to be sad or desperate, but we do have to realize that we aren’t perfect and use our lack as an opportunity to get close.