Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Question & Answer With Rabbi Tanchum Burton - Engraving Emuna

(Picture by James Sleigh)

A Simple Jew asks:

The Degel Machaneh Ephraim wrote איו דבר רע יורד מן השמים רק הכל טוב וחסד (Nothing bad comes from Heaven, only goodness and kindness).

Do you consider it a cornerstone of your avodas Hashem to attempt to engrave this belief in your mind on a daily basis? If so, how do you go about doing so?

Rabbi Tanchum Burton answers:

What the Degel Machaneh Ephraim is expressing is essentially that everything that comes from Hashem is tov and chesed, goodness and kindness. But, as the author states, "hakol lefi hamekabel"; we may not experience it as such, but that depends on the expansiveness of our consciousness when we experience it. That does not mean that everything we experience is an ice cream sundae. Just the opposite; when the Degel Machaneh Ephraim subsumes "everything" under the category of tov and chesed, he means that even the worst tragedies imaginable -- may Hashem protect us -- are expressions of His goodness and kindness. How?

Everyone experiences challenges in life. We learn from kabbalistic sources that the Divine expression of mishpat -- justice -- is a means to an end, i.e. the ultimate good end, where the world becomes completely rectified. The balancing of the scales through the meting out of punishment and the distribution of reward, as it were, is the medium through which existence must pass to reach the time that is kulo tov -- completely good. What mishpat is not, therefore, is an end in itself, merely to punish the wicked and reward the righteous. Thus, while it is not always pleasant to experience mishpat, one must keep in mind that it is an intermediate stage, creating the possibility of complete goodness. By keeping this in mind, a person can detect the hatava shleima (immanent complete goodness) even amidst the mishpat, and thus come to experience it as rak tov v'chesed (only goodness and kindness).

I struggle to remember this when I hit hard times just like anyone else. What I have found helpful is to always precede my complaints with the question, "what meaning does this have for me?" or "what is Hashem trying to tell me?". That refocuses me on the personal relationship I have with Him, the fact that I have a connection with Him not shared by anyone else. This, in turn, helps me to realize that the circumstances I find myself in are custom-made for me and will help me grow if I can uncover the deeper lesson that is clothed in the circumstances. Of course, I can fail to retain my own mochin d'gadlus and remain miserable until I get my act together, but it's not worth it.

I remember from the years I worked in business, that peoples' voice mail greetings would usually include, "I'm away from my desk right now...", as if their entire lives revolved around their desk. The truth is, that is precisely how many of us live today; perhaps we should substitute the cell phone for yesterday's desk. Getting to a deeper understanding of what is going on in one's life requires stepping away from one's "desk" and taking even a few minutes to think. I don't just mean talking to G-d, although that is definitely a crucial part of the process, but sitting quietly and thinking, letting your mind zero in on things.


At June 17, 2008 at 12:19:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for this insightful post, Rabbi Burton!

Just a footnote: Reb Nachman stresses the need for yishuv ha-daas as a form of contemplation in Likkutei Moharan II, 10 (among other places). Once Rav Kenig of Tzefas mentioned to me that from this lesson we see that such contemplation is also part of hisbodedus -- in addition to the verbal / prayer / sichah aspect.


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