People are often shocked by their own indifference to right and wrong. Men and women who have always preached morality and justice might find themselves on the wrong end of a string of misfortunes or disappointments and find themselves just too tired to care. Right, wrong, what’s the difference anyway.
People sometimes feel this way as a result of persistent poverty. Unable to climb out of what they feel is a pit of failures, they give up not only on success, but on being right. It doesn’t seem to matter anymore. Others fall into this trap as a result of chronic illness, or loneliness, or an endless stream of depressing news. Having always believed that doing good is the surest path to living well, such well-meaning people, when they suffer disappointments, may find themselves terribly discouraged and despairing of the benefits of doing the right thing.
What is a person to do at that point?
G-d declares in the Torah this week, “If you follow in my ways…” and a shower of blessings follows that opening. The Talmud illuminates the verse and explains, “In this case, ‘if’ means ‘if only.’ Almighty G-d is imploring us to follow in His ways.”
A deeper look reveals an astonishing truth: Far more than we depend on G-d to provide our needs, G-d needs us to provide His needs. And what are Divine needs? The performance of the mitzvot; the choice of right over wrong.
G-d has too often been portrayed as the Supreme Drill Sergeant in the sky, barking orders, setting the bar, demanding performance and handing out penalties to those who misbehave. As if the commandments He issues are for your benefit and your benefit only, He is perfect and isn’t really depending on your success. As if He would love you if you found purpose in your life, but His perfection has no need for your petty life lived right.
Literally, nothing could be further from the truth. The shining quality of G-d’s perfection is His ability to be vulnerable to us. He created us, we didn’t create Him. This whole universe was His idea, not ours. Morality and living right and not wrong — that’s all Him. The mitzvot are His dearest wishes, and He entrusts them only to us. Not to the celestial angels, not to the natural world; only to us, His cherished, dear, mere mortals.
The truest reason to make the right choices in life is not because that’s how you get ahead but because that’s how you fulfill the purpose of your life. You are needed — urgently, indescribably needed — with an eternal need coming straight from the Creator of the universe Himself, and the mitzvot are what you are needed for. G-d got the world started in the six days of Creation, but He’s been looking for partners ever since then. We are His partners. Full, comprehensive partners. Our decisions affect Him and His plans exactly as His decisions affect us and ours. He prays for us to do the right thing just as we pray for Him to do what we (imagine we) need Him to do. With the same intensity that a person might yearn for Divine intervention in the midst of a crisis, G-d years for our intervention where we can make a difference. The only distinction is that G-d’s yearning is infinite.
Our very existence is the biggest compliment. The fact that G-d put us here and keeps us here is His way of saying, “I need you.”
Hard times can put a damper on our energy and darken our moods. Tough times can be discouraging to our enthusiasm for doing what’s right and for sacrificing for a higher purpose. But knowing that the urgency of our lives and our choices comes not from our needs but from G-d’s, means that it never changes. Our self-worth comes from G-d’s faith in us, not from our own self-importance.
If G-d in Heaven, in front of the watchful eyes of all the angels, is imploring us to run our little corner of His world with kindness and wisdom, this means one thing: All the hard times, foul moods and bitter disappointments in the world can not diminish the glorious purpose of our days, our stories and the choices we make to write their most triumphant chapters. PJC
Rabbi Moishe Mayir Vogel is executive director of The Aleph Institute — North East Region. This column is a service of the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.