Andy Blumenthal
Leadership With Heart

Finding Strength in Difficult Times

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Bad News in the World Keeps Coming

Life is stressful, especially as the bad news keeps coming in: whether the massacre by Hamas in southern Israel on October 7 and the 136 hostages still being held in Gaza, the 287 students abducted earlier this month in Nigeria, or the terror attack yesterday at a concert hall in Moscow, leaving 133 civilians dead. Of course, these are on top of ongoing national security threats from China, North Korea, and Iran, the spiraling national deficit, the immigration crisis at the border, pandemics and other health threats, the deepening of poverty and homelessness in our cities, the increasing prevalence of hate and racism on our streets, waves of environmental disasters, and much more.

Finding Meaning and Cultivating Happiness

Certainly, any one of these troubles, and more so all of them together, can leave one feeling tired, stressed, and even down. However, despite all these challenges in our world, I am reflecting on Sara Yocheved Rigler’s book, G-d Winked, about finding meaning in life and cultivating happiness.

Rigler is a fascinating person who was on a life-long spiritual quest, spending a year during college in India studying spirituality and meditation and then 15 years in an ashram in Massachusetts practicing and teaching meditation before she alighted upon the teachings of orthodox Judaism by studying Torah in Jerusalem, Israel.

There, Rigler discovered that rather than the Buddhist way of trying to transcend the consciousness of this world and escape the cycle of life, desire, loss, suffering, and death, Judaism provided a path of “total engagement with this world,” where the commandments in the Torah provided a path to consecrate everything we do in the physical world and make it sacred, and thus, develop a life of genuine meaning. Thus, rather than trying to seclude oneself, meditate, and attempt to rise above life, Judaism looks to make every action and object in life holy, whether by reciting blessings and recognizing G-d in everything or by purifying ourselves and sanctifying the objects in the world according to G-d’s word by using them for good and for tikkun olam (the fixing/healing of the world).

G-d Fulfills All Our Needs

Later, after Rigler marries, has children, and lives a Torah life in the Old City of Jerusalem, she finds during a routine mammogram that she has breast cancer, and her faith is challenged anew, perhaps like never before. She realizes that “depression is a breeding ground for cancer,” and so she goes to her Jewish ethics teacher, Rabbi Keleman, to ask him how she can overcome it. The rabbi pointed her to the blessing that we say daily:

Blessed are you, L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, who fulfills all my needs.

In short, if we contemplate the truth that, through G-d, “everything I need, I have,” and the converse that “whatever I don’t have, I don’t need,” then we can overcome depression and find happiness.

If G-d gives us certain challenges, tests, and trials in life, then we can trust that in his everlasting love for His children, they are ultimately all for the good and to teach us, grow us, and make us stronger, better, and holier beings.

Rigler repeated the mantra of G-d providing for everything she needs, and it not only calmed her during this difficult crossroad but also helped her regain her spiritual perspective and strengthen her faith in the Almighty even when she underwent a body-altering mastectomy and the scars it left.

Life’s Shakeups and Wakeup Calls

In synagogue today, one lady told my wife and me about the difficulties she has with some tenants who rent from her. She described how some of them pay the first month’s rent and security deposit but then stop paying rent immediately thereafter. Despite all her efforts to do background checks on them beforehand, she still gets occasionally hoodwinked, and then it takes about a full year to evict them.

This reminds me of the lady in New York who got arrested this month for attempting to change the locks on a property she inherited in Queens that some squatters had taken over, where they can claim tenant rights after 30 days, leaving the homeowners in a ridiculous bind. Imagine the headaches of even a good thing like property ownership.

Transforming Meaninglessness and Irrelevance into Action

There are countless shakeups and wake-up calls of life that span from small to large crises that test our faith and ability to cope. Yet, whatever the challenges, and however daunting, we need to confront and transform negative thinking:

  • Life is not meaningless, but it is an opportunity for us to make it meaningful by trusting G-d and knowing that He has a plan for us and everything He does is for our action and benefit.
  • What we think, say, and do isn’t irrelevant but is, in fact, very important since we have the G-d-given power to sanctify our lives and positively impact ourselves, others, and the world through ever-present opportunities for giving and righteousness.

In whatever circumstances we find ourselves, it’s not about escaping from the difficulties, but finding G-d even when he seems absent or hidden from us. G-d is there, and so is a path toward overcoming the challenges, sanctifying our lives, and finding our meaning and significance.

About the Author
Andy Blumenthal is a dynamic, award-winning leader who writes frequently about Jewish life, culture, and security. All opinions are his own.
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