Where Are You?
So many of us are going through such difficult times in our lives these days. It is rare I speak to someone lately, including myself, who doesn’t feel their problems are unprecedentedly huge and seemingly insurmountable. We cling to the refrain that “the sun will come out tomorrow.” But then tomorrow comes and goes and we still feel trapped in an intractable Groundhog Day. And we suffer great sorrow; Our depression deepens; Our hope fades. And then we blame everyone for our problems and then question, “Where is G-d?" The irony is that when we evaluate the troubles of others we know--even though we don’t voice our thoughts--that most of their difficulties are produced at home, i.e., self-made; Yet, we never see our own culpability with the same clarity and so all our efforts to dig ourselves out of our problems seem to bury us even further.
Friends, the sages teach that for every step we take away from G-d, He takes a step away from us. So instead of asking where He is as we try to navigate the stormy seas of life, each of us must first ask “Where am I?” “What does G-d want from me that I’m not doing?” If the Almighty seems remote and distant from us as individuals and as a nation, it is because we ourselves have “traveled” far and speedily in the wrong direction. One sentence in this week’s Torah reading spoke to me loudly and clearly, “be aware of your sin which will find you.” Permit me to translate this archaic English sentence to modern day vernacular: “We ain’t gonna get away with anything.” So, here’s a call to action: Stop. Pivot and start walking in the right direction. Remember that the first time the question “Where are you?” was asked, it was asked by G-d Himself after man sinned. G-d’s words are eternal and so that question reverberates through all time. We are looking for Him; He is looking for us—but lest we forget, we walked first!
In this week’s Torah reading, we read of all the 42 encampments (and backtracking) the Israelites set up and broke down during their 40 years of wandering. Not an easy, smoothly-paved road. They underwent plagues, wars, rebellions, thirst, snakes and other travails. Instead of turning to the Almighty, a nation finally freed from bondage cried to return to Egypt when they faced struggles. But, like us, they too created many of the bumps and hurdles by themselves by continually sinning and rebelling against G-d and failing the many tests set before them. God is always trying to teach us something and make us better, even if we don’t approve of “the accommodations.” So, in our own lives, instead of hating every second of the “now,” perhaps we should question what spiritual failing is holding us back and why issues are manifesting altogether.
The reason we often find ourselves stuck in one perpetual torturous Groundhog Day is because we have not yet learned the lessons and passed the tests. In actuality, we are on a spiral and not stuck in a loop. Though we think we are passing the same point over and over again and experiencing similar situations, it is always on a different level: either a higher one or a lower depending on what we do with the G-d given moment.
Do you personally really want to “wander” blindly for years and decades and wonder why your life resembles a man-made disaster zone that only G-d can repair? Or would you prefer to take matters into your own hands? Start keeping kosher, lighting Sabbath candles, pick up a book on Judaism, put Netflix on pause and watch a Torah class on YouTube instead. Whatever you are doing, do more. Start cleaning up somewhere in your spiritual house and before you start looking for G-d in times of crisis, look for you. Where are you?
The sages teach us that sin sullies our souls and blocks us from the G-dly light, the only true light to guide our way. We become so veiled and dirtied by sin that we can neither be, nor see, the light. Hence the darkness we are experiencing. We are mired in a swamp of our own creation. No amount of bathing in Purell can clean up our filth or save us. In fact, they say that sunlight is the best disinfectant, but that's not true either--Torah is! Turning back to Hashem and His Torah is the only “vaccine” that makes us impervious to threat and that can save our souls and our lives. In our arrogance, we think we know better than G-d. How’s that been working out for us? The world is a mess and our strongholds are imploding. My beloved friends, it’s time to check our "pedometer" apps, look over our shoulders and see how far we’ve walked away…