[My wife and I were privileged to celebrate our son’s Bar Mitzvah this past Shabbat. These are the words I shared on the occasion.]
The Talmud states that when God wanted to make a name for Himself in His world, the story of Purim was His answer (Megillah, 10b). Question: how can the Book of Esther be the place God makes a name for Himself – it’s the one book in the Torah in which God’s name never appears?
Rabbi Akiva Tatz points out another question. Purim is a celebration of miracles. The Hebrew word for miracle, nes, actually forms part of the word for test: nisayon; it would seem they’re inextricably linked. Asks Rabbi Tatz: if a test requires a miracle, that’s not a fair test. If passing a test assumes a miracle, in what way is it a real test?
I’d like to take a moment to suggest an answer to these questions and then speak briefly about our beloved bar mitzvah, Yehuda, and our blessings to him on this special occasion.
One way of understanding a test is simply the experience of being stuck: the Jews facing recapture at the Sea of Reeds or destruction in ancient Persia. Of course individuals undergo tests, too. Someone with a highly critical boss, really annoying siblings, or discouraging personal failings.
A test is being in a painful place with no apparent exit.
This is where miracles come in, but not in the way we’d expect. The test looks like puzzle pieces that can’t fit, so that a miracle involves somehow changing the pieces. Really, the test is not in the pieces; it’s in our way of seeing the pieces. The opportunity of a test is when a person senses he needs new eyes.
The Talmud says that a person never does destructive things unless “visited by a spirit of insanity.” It’s been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. When we see that our way of seeing is not working, we have the opportunity to humbly ask God for new eyes.
And then God can answer us. Suddenly, the boss looks more well meaning, just a bit insecure. The siblings don’t seem as annoying. A person softens toward his own failings and sees progress.
How did it happen? Did he switch on a switch?
New understanding showed up in the heart of the person being tested. Divine wisdom humbled him, broadened his outlook. God showed up in the heart, mind, and actions of the one being tested.
This is the connection between a nisayon (test) and a nes (miracle): getting stuck comes when we crowd God out of our perspective; the miraculous solution is letting Him back in.
And this is how God makes a name for Himself without His name even being mentioned. He shows up in the heart, mind, and actions of His people. Through tests, He reminds us of the inadequacy of our personal worldview and invites us to be vehicles through which His loving wisdom can come into the world. It’s not God announcing Himself from the mountain top, but the one tested can see: I didn’t raise myself up; I know where this miracle comes from.
Yehuda, here’s where I speak a little about you. I know you don’t necessarily like this; consider it one of your divine tests.
Mommy and I have watched as you worked towards this day. There were many difficulties in undertaking all the ambitious preparations. You spent many, many hours doing things you’ve never done before, all the while dealing with siblings, school and a demanding father. There were many frustrating moments. You persisted many times. And today you are a different person. You do things that were beyond you even six months ago. How did that happen? Hashem has helped you. With your trust and persistence, you let Him.
Our blessing to you is that you continue persisting. Continue to let Hashem make you a vehicle for His goodness – through your good heart, words and actions. Continue to see your tests as a way for God to show up – through you – to make a name for Himself in this world.
Rabbi Henry Harris has served as consultant and coach to CEOs and Wall Street Managing Directors as well as teens, moms and dads. He is Director of the Jewish Center for Wellbeing. For info about his teachings visit www.jewishcenterforwellbeing.com.