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Temptations, Tests, and the Search for Spiritual Courage

Temptations are ways of teaching people about G-d and the incredible human capacity for compassion and spiritual depth.
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Rebbe Nachman takes us even one step further in how we can understand the tests in front of us, and radically suggests that G-d is the test itself. God is hidden within the test, just as God was hidden in the burning bush.

He is proposing a spiritual meditation where we don’t see G-d as the one placing an obstacle before us but rather see the face of G-d within the challenge itself. To phrase this graphically, it seems to me that this provides the opportunity to spiritually blow up the danger and fear found in our challenges and to see a loving G-d in the midst of it.

The Malbim actually suggests that G-d asks more of us than possible (what is beyond the limits of human nature to do G-d’s will) – and that since such behavior is beyond our normal capabilities, there is no limit to the amount that is possible.

This reminds me of Viktor Frankl’s explanation that survival in the concentration camps was most often not based on physical strength, wealth, political connections, or religiosity. Rather it was about the ability to construct meaning, the ability to make sense of the immense challenge placed before them. Man is ultimately driven by a search for meaning.

When we see every challenge as a test (from G-d, from our boss, of our will) we can fall into the trap of black/white binaries, in which the only possible results are success or failure.

But as a Jewish community, there are more options for the future than just Moshiach (redemption) or galus (exile). And as individuals, there are more options than passing or failing. The deepest learning is not the evaluation of the tester but the self-revelation that emerges with every obstacle. By replacing the challenge, obstacle, or test with the face of G-d, we not only grow religiously but learn to persevere, as we re-channel our desires in more productive ways.

So I didn’t eat the delicious cuisine calling my name in the end but I may have picked up a few new tools for addressing temptations and tests.

I’m inspired here by Mother Theresa, one of my greatest 20th century heroes. She changed the position of the nun from a person who primarily studies and prays in the seminary to one who serves the needy in the streets. One day in India, she heard the crying of an old sick woman from a Dumpster. This woman would not pass away (would not let go), because she said she was so resentful of her sons who neglected her and left her to die alone in the Dumpster. Mother Theresa looked the old woman in the eyes and demanded that she forgive them. The woman took her last deep breath, forgave her sons, and passed away.

This woman was able to locate and remove the obstacle to let herself die – what are the emotional and spiritual obstacles in our lives that we must remove in order to start to live? What is an obstacle that you’re currently facing and what is your spiritual/emotional strategy to overcome it? I hope we can all find partners to work through these challenges together to actualize our potentials. Tests can be transformed into gifts.

About the Author: Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the executive director of the Valley Beit Midrash, the founder & president of Uri L’Tzedek, the founder and CEO of The Shamayim V’Aretz Institute and the author of books on Jewish ethics, most recently “The Soul of Jewish Social Justices.” Newsweek named Rav Shmuly one of the top 50 rabbis in America.”


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