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April 23, 2014 / 23 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘tests’

Temptations, Tests, and the Search for Spiritual Courage

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

I was recently walking down the street when I smelled one of the most amazing unkosher cuisines I could ever remember smelling. As I stared at my food enemy, I had a thought which I imagine most religious Jews have at one point or another. I wondered: Was God testing me with this great smell? Was this amazing scent a way to bring my downfall?

Pondering this trivial “test” led to a greater philosophical and theological question: What is the religious nature of temptations and tests?

The Torah says, “Remember the entire path along which the Lord your God led you these forty years in the desert, He sent hardships to test you.” (Deut. 8:2). We read that G-d has Bnei Yisrael wander in the desert for 40 years as a test.

What is this about? To place a nation (man, woman, and child) through such transient and confused misery for decades as a test? I also often wonder if the Jewish people are being tested today, with our own state in Israel and unprecedented wealth and influence in the US. What will we do with the great blessings we’ve been granted? What does this idea mean that G-d tests us as individuals and as a nation?

It must be more than schar v’onesh (that God is merely keeping our score card) or that G-d is merely flexing power in the world.

I also can’t relate to the cynical answer found in the book of Job, where God tests Job because of a disagreement with Satan. My belief in a benevolent and personal G-d precludes the possibility of random tests.

Still within distance of smelling my temptation of the day, I began to ponder answers:

For years, the most compelling answer to me has been that it is through the struggle of these challenges that we truly grow. These temptations are ways of teaching people about G-d and the incredible human capacity for compassion and spiritual depth. The Ramban argues that this was exactly the purpose of the Akeidah (the binding of Isaac) for Avraham.

Alternatively, perhaps there is a utilitarian approach that more people can learn from a test than the one having to undergo the discomfort of the test. The Rambam and Radak argue that the purpose of the test at the Akeidah was not for Avraham to learn but for the future adherents of the Abrahamic faith to learn. This sets a gold standard for others to try to follow.

Rav Kook goes even further, arguing that Avraham was being tested in order to “prove” to the pagan religions that monotheism can match the religious passion of pagan worship through the act of inward sacrifice, without the need for savage and barbaric sacrifices. One is being tested in order to teach others through its example.

Another utilitarian approach is that tests can provide opportunities for others to do mitzvot to help when we are struggling. It is for the moral good of the community at large.

These explanations may be true and all of them are worth thinking about but Rav Tzadok teaches that just as a person needs to believe in G-d so too one needs to believe in oneself. These days many of us (including myself) are struggling less with why we are tested by G-d and more with how we can overcome our obstacles and challenges to live a happier, more meaningful, more successful life. Do we believe in our own capacity to overcome in the face of adversity?

One tool that we can all consider experimenting with: The Gemara says that the Torah is the seasoning for the yetzer hara (personal evil inclination). The Maggid of Mezritch offers a beautiful interpretation that since the yetzer hara is the main dish and the Torah is the seasoning, we must serve God with the full ecstasy of the yetzer hara. The purpose is not to destroy or subdue the yetzer hara but rather to spice it up – to access its energy and channel it towards good.

This is to say that when we experience struggle we should use that temptation and channel that new energy towards good rather than attempt to dismiss or remove the temptation. This is why the Midrash explains that without the yetzer hara there would be no business or procreation. In a complex way, we need our desire for self-advancement to further societal goals.

Trading In Maryland for the Mediterranean

Monday, August 19th, 2013

When Sergeant Brandon Berry made aliyah (immigrated to Israel), he did not come looking for the easy life. If he wanted that, he would not have left his hometown of Potomac, Maryland to serve in the army of a foreign country half a world away from his family.

Sgt. Berry also was not looking for an easy job in the IDF – he wanted to serve wherever he was most needed. He wanted to take his talent and drive with him to contribute one hundred percent.

Sgt. Berry passed all the tests to serve in the prestigious Paratroopers Brigade. Instead the American immigrant took to the sea as a member of the Israel Navy’s Dvora-class patrol boat squadron.

It is not everyday that a young man from Potomac, Maryland travels for tens of thousands of miles to join the Israel Navy. “It was clear to me that I was destined to serve in the Navy,” he said. Sgt. Berry, stationed on a base overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, is able to indulge his love for wide-open spaces every day of his service.

Aside from his thick American accent, Sgt. Berry is indistinguishable from the other soldiers at his base – completely at home on a boat with a tan to match. He credits the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers for helping him through the entire enlistment process.

“The work the association does is a blessing,” he says. AWIS helps soldiers in a number of ways, which included providing assistance to lone soldiers, running soldier homes and recreation centers, and providing support for bereaved families.

Sgt. Berry says that even though he grew up with a strong Jewish identity and attended a Jewish day school, he always felt like something was missing. Now, as a soldier for Israel, it seems he has truly come home.

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Creme De La Creme: How the IDF Picks its Most Elite Units

Monday, August 12th, 2013

After another round of nationwide enlistment, the time has come to find soldiers for the Israeli army’s most elite units. In order to be selected among the truly great, soldiers must pass intensive examinations – both mental and physical. We approached Major Danny Ben Dov, the man in charge of physical selections and unit placement for infantry and paratroopers, to learn what it takes to be listed among the best of the best.

elite7 You’ve heard about the units: the Yahalom combat engineers, Duvdevan – the unit responsible for conducting undercover operations against militants in urban areas and Oketz – the elite canine special forces unit. Behind these special units lies a complex placement process. Whether you want to curl up with a German Shepherd, maneuver an advanced UAV, or operate behind enemy lines – the path to achieving this goal is laden with potential pitfalls.

elite5

In recent months a new slew of soldiers has reached bases across the country in order to begin their basic training. However, before they could finish lacing up their military boots, practicing telling military time, and getting ready for their first shifts of guard duty, the IDF transfers a select few for special assignments reserved for the very best.

Most units open their doors to potential new recruits, however these young soldiers should take time to seriously consider the proposal, as beyond the acceptance are arduous physical and mental tests specifically designed to push the soldier to the limit.

For those looking to find the secret key to acceptance into these coveted units, the head of physical selections for IDF special units explains which features and attributes assist in weeding out the weak and singling out potential candidates.

“I am responsible for approving all units’ selections based on physical criteria in the IDF,” said Maj. Ben Dov. “Certain elite units have particular standards and requests for potential soldiers. They require special characteristics and have a very specific screening process for accepting soldiers into their units.”

However, contrary to what one might think – that all elite units have the same selection criteria – Maj. Ben Dov clarifies that not all unit classifications and soldier requirements are identical to one another.

“The placement of each soldier is chosen based on the nature of the unit itself and the type of combat soldier the unit is looking for,” explained Maj. Ben Dov. The process itself is intricate and includes discussions with the unit’s commanders as well.

“The commanders build their selection process by consulting with us, and then we go through the military’s professional instructions and general requirements,” said Maj. Ben Dov. “Part of the varying features we look for are determination and motivation.”

Though physical requirements come most immediately to mind when discussing elite combat units, Maj. Ben Dov maintains that physical strength is not the most significant part in the selection process.

“During the selection process, there are sprinting exercises, lifting exercises and other physical tests, but the main thing is not so much the physical part itself,” he said. “We are looking to see the person after the physical aspect, following these tests. There are all kinds of thinking exercises and lengthy discussions, allowing us to see the candidate’s abilities to think quickly and express him or herself clearly.”

Maj. Ben Dov summarized by explaining that throughout the entire selection process, it is imperative for one to be true to his or her personality traits. “It is important for potential examinees to come prepared both physically and mentally, but most important is to be your true self, because, through the various exercises, we eventually peel through the false stories and get to the true nature of the soldier.”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/idf-blog-blogs/creme-de-la-creme-how-the-idf-picks-its-most-elite-units/2013/08/12/

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