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Last Friday's Sermon: Dealing with challenges

We all go through our travails in life. Some of the challenges we face seem so daunting as to be unfixable, and our moods and dispositions inconsolable. What does Judaism offer as comfort to those that face seemingly insurmountable challenges that seem to go on and on?

First of all, there are some Psalms—like 23, “The Lord Is My Shepherd—that are good for comforting. Some of the Proverbs are inspirational, like 16:23: “Who is strong? One who controls their passions”. There are some healing prayers—Mi Shaberach—that are also useful in times of distress. And of course, one of the many reasons we pray three times each day is to revisit some of the laws and teachings and behaviors that help us go through life successfully. There are things that affirm that when we call out to HaShem, He or She hears our prayers and responds.

Perhaps there is a central theme to all this. Many of us, especially in times of distress, feel that G-d is adversarial. We ask, rhetorically of course but often out of frustration, why G-d puts us in these situations or give us these problems because we have, after all, done our best to be good people? It can almost feel like we are being punished for some unknown sin.

Let me offer some of my own feelings with you because I’ve had some very trying times in my life and this realization helped my cope and manage a lot better. This is when I changed my idea of G-d being adversarial to HaShem being a coach. Continuing the analogy, if you were training for a sport, your coach would make you exercise, do drills, practice over and over again. At times, you'd hate Her, wanting to just quit. But then when you're competing, and all that training has given you an edge, and you cross the finish line winning the event, you see how it was all worth it for your victory. After all, isn’t this why we pray, for guidance and help?

These challenges that we face throughout our lives are challenges. We can speculate why they occur—past lives, our choices—but the fact is that they do. HaShem has made Herself available for support by giving us Torah.

On a more general metaphysical frame of reference, these challenges are there to empower us. We go through them, we resolve them, and we become stronger, more confident, and better able to meet the next challenge. These trying times have compelled us to develop new, maybe different skills and points of view to ascend to the next level of evolution. And then life gets better because we’ve developed new tools and skills, and got better with the skills and traits that we do have.

Even beyond working out our problems, we can now relate to others in a different, more effective and efficacious manner.

The bottom line here is that for whatever reason, we have to deal with these things. Let’s make the most of them and turn lemons into lemonade, right? Sure, it’s easy to say this rationally sometimes, but being in the thick of battle, sometimes our passions and feeling get the better of us. That’s when we can use those psalms and prayers.

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