From The Other Side Of The Bench
By David J. Seidemann, Esq.
This past Saturday night I had the extreme pleasure of addressing a group of singles between the ages of 25 and 35. It was a wonderful experience, and I thank the organizers of the event for inviting me to speak. My topic was “Man’s Efforts versus G‑d’s Will.” In other words, when does one resign oneself to accepting his or her predicament as G‑d’s will, and when does one make yet one more valiant attempt to accomplish one’s goal, desire, or dream?
I cited two examples from our Bible and then ten vignettes from everyday life wherein an individual took one more step than was expected and changed the course of his life and the lives of others around him. Some of those stories have previously appeared in my articles in this fine paper and some will appear in the future. I confess to sometimes rereading some of my old articles (on long Shabbos afternoons) spanning back almost six years now, to find those stories that might inspire me once again to devote more effort to matters in my life.
Each story I told Saturday night was aimed at delivering the message that until all human effort has been expended, it is just too convenient to say, “This is who I am, this is my lot in life, this is what G‑d wants, so who am I to try to change the situation?” One should never use the argument of “It’s G‑d’s will, so I won’t try harder” as an excuse for inaction.
I recall a few years back one of my daughters telling me, when I gave her some much-needed instruction on improving her behavior, that “this is the way Hashem created me, and who am I to fight with Hashem?” The scary thing is that I distinctly remember telling my mother, may she rest in peace, the very same thing over 40 years ago. What is even scarier is that I remember my mother responding by telling me, “Wait till your kid says that to you one day.” People just don’t want to shvitz these days.
Now I am not one of those people who think that in order for a person to be an observant Jew they must be miserable. To be sure, there are lots of people in our midst who share that belief—and worse, they attempt to convince others that unless they live a hard, miserable life of denial, they are somehow not frum.
On the other hand, some of the “get out of the mitzvah free” cards we have created for ourselves are a bit much. Each year a new gadget or product is released into the stream of commerce aimed at making our seasonal observances just a bit more palatable.
Who can forget the leather and plastic lulav holders replacing the old plastic wraps that caused lulav lacerations on all ten fingers? But we still had the esrog that we had to carry in the other hand, which really was an inconvenience. So the following year we were treated to a new, improved lulav holder with room for an esrog. Ah, the creativity of the Jewish mind.
Charts to measure quantities, pre-measured matzos, pre-poured Chanukah candles, oil to burn eight days, a Megillah that makes noise itself when the reader reaches the name of Haman, a Purim Breathalyzer that alerts you when you have imbibed sufficient alcohol to satisfy all rabbinic opinions of “Ad d’lo yada,” Shabbos toilet paper, an eruv that expands as you walk, heated sukkah walls, heated mikvaos, tefillin that takes your blood pressure as you wear it (saving yourself a trip to the doctor so you can daven longer), tzitzis that double as a T‑shirt, pre-schechted chicken, and the list goes on and on.
This year’s award goes to a product I saw for the first time three days ago at a local store on sale just in time for Passover. Pre-wrapped pieces of bread, ten of them, numbered, to be placed around the home for bedikas chametz, the ceremonial pre-Passover search for leaven.
I was stunned. We are now afforded the opportunity to buy chametz from the rabbi only to sell it back to him! Does this make any sense? This is lunacy! Why buy it in the first place? Why? Because in addition to someone else finding a way to make money off us, it is “easier.” That’s right, who would ever imagine that a Jewish home a day before Passover would have any bread in it?
A lot of the above is already here, and the ones I made up, trust me, some clever yeshiva boy will market soon. Yes, sometimes the easy way out is fine. But other times, taking the easy way out literally takes one wholly out of the experience.
Sometimes suffering just a bit is part of the process of progress, part of the process of redemption.
Moses was charged with the task of speaking to Pharaoh, and Moses raised a legitimate objection to G‑d’s plan. Why send a shepherd with a speech impediment to address the king of Egypt? Surely a better orator could be found.
But another question looms. Assuming for a moment that G‑d had His reason for dispatching Moses and not a skilled orator, G‑d performed numerous miracles in Egypt. Why could G‑d not perform just one more? Why could G‑d not just heal Moses of his infirmity?
The answer is provided by the Ramban, Nachmanidies. Had G‑d healed Moses, each one of us from that day forward would have accepted our lot in life and would have adopted the position that unless G‑d sends a miracle to “fix” me, I am too tall, too short, too thin, too heavy, too rich, too poor, too smart, too dumb, too young, too old, too whatever, to meet the challenge.
By refusing to fix Moses, G‑d was signaling humanity that no infirmity is a real bar to progress. What or who G‑d made me is no barrier to what I can make of myself.
“Bashert,” as we term it, or “G‑d’s will,” as others phrase it, is not the end of the line. It is the beginning of the process. G‑d places us in a situation and provides us with the raw materials to transcend the challenges inherent therein. It is up to us to exert all human effort, and when we truly do, then we can honestly say, “This is what G‑d wants for me.”
So I will sit at this year’s Seder with family and friends, and I will be overjoyed to struggle a bit with the mitzvos of the night, because when I am finished doing the best I can, I can honestly say, “This is G‑d’s will.”
May it be His will that we all be in Jerusalem not just next year, but every year, and not just every year but all year. v
David Seidemann is a partner with the law firm of Seidemann and Mermelstein and serves as a professor of business law at Touro College. He can be reached at 718-692-1013 or email@example.com.