It is easy to go through the motions of our days, weeks, months and years and not ask ourselves, “What is it that God wants from me?”
Some of us tend to think it is our right to choose and become anything we want to be without checking in with Him. We enjoy the pleasures this world has to offer – food, travel, entertainment, you name it. And if our plans go haywire, we get angry at God for having the audacity to intervene.
For example, a spouse who dies prematurely, a child who gets sick and passes away at a young age, or someone learning he or she has a life-threatening illness. “But God,” we ask, “how could you do this to me? Just when my business was beginning to flourish, and we were finally solvent enough to enjoy our new and spacious house, how could you throw us a lousy curveball at a time like this?”
Many of us are forced into thinking about existential questions only when we are confronted with a crisis. Why is it that we need a jolt before thinking about life in a deeper, more meaningful way?
Someone once lamented to me that his severely handicapped child would never walk or talk, couldn’t get dressed by himself, and needed to be fed and bathed. He asked me, What good purpose is he serving here? Why does he need to go through the torture and pain of having such a severe disability? Why does God put such beings on earth altogether?
The great 20th century gadol the Chazon Ish (Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz) made it a practice that when a mentally or physically challenged person entered the room, he would stand at attention out of kavod.
What? This talmid chacham got up and stood for a mentally handicapped individual? For a wheelchair-bound person who drooled all over himself and couldn’t even say the letter aleph? For an incoherent one with a contorted face?
Ah, the Chazon Ish explained, these individuals have special neshamot – they are all on a much higher level than us “normal” functioning humans. They already had led lives filled with Torah and mitzvot – they raised beautiful families, were brilliant students, were successful professionally. They had accomplished all these things in a previous gilgul (incarnation).
But these special neshamot, after 120, begged Hashem to come back to earth because there were maybe one or two little tikunim they needed to make toward perfection, and they could only do it here on earth. So they are born with severe disabilities – because they have no further need to speak or to hold a job or to sit and learn or to do mitzvot. They are here in their seemingly limited capacities.
Why? Read on carefully now: In order to give their parents and others around them the opportunity to do chesed. Here, take care of me so that you can grow in your deeds. I am here so that I could be an object of your love. Nothing more, nothing less.
Who are we, then, to judge whether their existence is justified or not? The Chazon Ish stood because these individuals are a cut above – a special breed that should not be judged by outer appearance.
Life is full of twists and turns. Everything that happens around us is for a reason. Each person we come in contact with is there for a specific purpose. Some neshamot get replanted in this world just to fix one thing they failed to accomplish in a previous life. They might spend fifty or sixty years living their lives waiting for that one critical moment that defines their whole purpose in being here.
Rabbi Yitzchok Kirzner said that we are given a soul in an underdeveloped state, and it is our task to develop that soul through its contact with the world. We create a relationship with our soul, and in doing so we create ourselves as expressions of it. It is by struggling to define ourselves in terms of the soul that we gain possession of it. Only by overcoming barriers placed in our path does the soul become something earned and thus our own.
About the Author: Dr. Bernie Kastner is the author of the newly released book “Understanding the Afterlife in This Life” (Devora Publishing). He holds a doctorate in Counseling and is currently in private practice in Jerusalem.
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