Torah Study

Why Do I Need All These Setbacks?

King David wrote: “All your breakers and waves went over me.”

This tells us that all the breakdowns possible in this world came upon King David. Therefore when a Jew is distress from a trouble whatsoever he opens his Psalms for King David included in the Psalms any request for assistance for every possible trouble in the world by the fact that he himself lived through them.

When I was young I always thought “setbacks were to cleanse me of my sins and after the ordeal I’d get back to my normal routine.” I always looked at the Torah giants of the generation who pleasantly learn Torah day and night full of true faith and happiness that radiates from their faces and said to myself: “How good they have it that they don’t have setbacks in their lives like I do and they can live a pleasant life!”

Likewise with all the stories I read about Torah giants when I was young. These people were all portrayed as if they were already righteous before birth.  Already inside their mother’s womb they had a deep desire to do kindness, pray devotedly, learn diligently, and “Rabbi X” at age 12 already knew all of the oral Torah by heart! But me, I can’t always muster the concentration and enthusiasm to pray or learn a bit.

I consoled myself saying I wouldn’t amount to much anyway because they are all so humble and full of great character traits and next to them where do I stand?

One day I read a book about a Torah giant that was sparklingly brilliant but he had days he didn’t feel like learning. This book actually encouraged me very much. I felt I could relate to it. He also had bad days just like me where you don’t have enthusiasm for divine service so it must be normal,” I told myself.

If he had these setbacks, broke through them and moved forward, so with G-d’s help I can also overcome the setbacks” I thought.
“Setbacks and difficulties” my dear friends are a strong catalyst to grow spiritually and general as a person as King Solomon says; “A righteous one falls 7 times and gets up.” The basic understanding is that someone righteous even if he falls seven times, he will get up. But I heard another explanation which is really empowering:

“To reach the level of righteous you need to fall 7 times and get up each time!”

If we want to prove our loyalty to G-d we can’t just prove it when there is plentiful bounty of G-d’s gifts both physical and spiritual. For if G-d is smiling at you and gave you health, fresh enthusiasm, great children, a wonderful wife, and the money is flowing bountifully for sure you will love G-d and praise his name every day. But what if your money is dwindling, your health is not tip top, the children aren’t listening so well, will you then too praise G-d endlessly?

The test of faith

The time of a setback and breakdown is the time G-d measures a person to see if he will turn his eyes to heaven and accept the decree with humility and submission for that is the greatest proof of wholehearted and simple faith in G-d. If a person doesn’t for one moment doubt G-d’s goodness then the setback will itself be a catalyst for great reward in this world and the next one.

I again go back to my childhood and I hope you my reader will forgive me for using personal stories but after much thought I concluded that even if one Jew is encouraged through one of my stories it’s worth it. When I was young we lived in dire poverty. We sat 5 children in the single bedroom and we got clothing and shoes handed down from neighbors and I never had money in my pocket.

I always used to talk with G-d and I would ask him: “Why was I born to a poor family? Couldn’t you bring me to “family X” that has a big house and even has a car?”

I was also used to the simplest foods in my childhood and almost never saw special treats. I remember the hard feelings I had as a child and of course I had no idea why G-d had this difficulty set aside for me for I hardly knew G-d though I talked to him.

Later when I married and merited to sit in a study hall and learn Torah poverty followed me. We didn’t starve but we never finished the month.  We went from private loan to private loan and we had to cut down on our expenses greatly.

Many of my fellow married students also had great financial difficulties and ended up leaving the study hall to find a livelihood for their household but as I was already used to tightening the belt I didn’t break and felt that “G-d’s salvation can happen at the blink of the eye”. One friend of mine heard my story and offered me a job to drive children to and from schools in a transportation company. I was stubborn and refused. “I prefer poverty and less food just so long as I am in G-d’s house studying Torah my whole life.”


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