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The Almighty’s Vote of Confidence
Translated and Adapted by Braha Bender
When you go through a hard time, do you ever wonder whether the Almighty is trying to put you down? It’s hard not to. When life gets tough, a lot of us look upwards with a sigh, not a smile. Why aren’t things going our way? Doesn’t He like us anymore?
But the truth is exactly the opposite. When the Almighty sends you a challenge that means that you have His vote of confidence. Torah teaches the rules of the game: the Almighty never sends you more than you can handle. You may be pushed to 100% capacity...but that’s it. If the Almighty sends hard times your way, that’s not because He doesn’t like you, but because He has confidence that you can nail the challenge and grow a lot in the process.
A challenge is like a coded message. The Almighty is telling you that in the specific area you are being challenged with, you have the potential for greatness! Where in the Torah did He reveal the code? What does that mean for how we live our lives?
In Parashas Naso, when the Levites are commanded to carry the Mishkan (tabernacle) parts and vessels, the Almighty doesn’t command them to carry the items as a group. Rather, the Almighty commands every Levite individually. Each Levite had a special Mishkan part or utensil that was his unique responsibility. The verses tell us as much: “...You shall appoint them by name to the utensils they are to carry on their watch” (Numbers 4:32), and “He counted them at the word of Hashem...every man over his work and over his burden...” (ibid 49).
However, the division of labor seemed to skip over the most prominent Levite of all, Elazar ben Aharon HaCohen, the head of the entire Levite tribe: “The leader of the Levite leaders was Elazar son of Aharon the Kohen, the assignment of the guardians of the charge of the sanctity” (ibid 3, 32). He isn’t listed as carrying anything. Why?
According to some commentaries, Elazar was saddled with the heaviest items of all: the oil for the menora, the spices for the ketores (incense), the grain for the minchas hatamid (continual grain offering), and the anointing oil. Carrying these things did not dishonour Elazar. To the contrary, it honoured him to have a significant part in bearing the Mishkan.
Here’s where the Almighty revealed His secret: the greater a person is, the greater the challenges he is given. This makes sense in our human terms as well. We expect more from adults than from children. The more important your position, the more responsibility you are expected to shoulder.
A converse example of this is described in the Talmud (Maseches Kesuvos, page 66b). As Raban Yochanan ben Zackai left Jerusalem after the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash (temple), he noticed a young girl picking wheat kernels out of animal droppings in her starvation. Asking her what her name was, Raban Yochanan Ben Zackai was surprised to learn that this young girl was the daughter of Nakdimon Ben Gurion, who had been one of the most outstandingly wealthy men in the city. Raban Yochanan Ben Zackai wondered aloud how the daughter of such a rich man could be degraded to the extent that she had to pick through animal dung to find a few filthy wheat kernels to satiate her hunger. The young woman quipped, “The salt of money was lacking.”
What salt was she talking about? Salt is a preservative. The “preservative” that needs to be mixed in with all financial gain is the giving of some of the money to tzedaka (charity). Giving to tzedaka is the preservative that makes sure the money “keeps”. Nakdimon’s daughter was explaining that her father hadn’t used as much of the “preservative” as necessary. He hadn’t given enough tzedaka.
However, the Talmud challenges the story, asking how it could be said that Nakdimon did not give enough money to tzedaka. After all, argues the Talmud, every time Nakdimon Ben Gurion left his house he would have his servants spread bolts of silk beneath his every step. As he walked on, these precious cloths would be purposely left behind for the poor to collect and use in trade. How, questions the Talmud, could such a man be punished for failing to give tzedaka?
Answers the Talmud that although Nakdimon gave a great deal of tzedaka, nonetheless, he did not give as much as befitted his stature. He might have been giving away thousands of dollars, but this was a man who could have given away millions without feeling the pinch. Bolts of precious silk cloths meant nothing relative to the kind of money Nakdimon had. With wealth like his, he could – and should – have given a lot more.
In our service of the Almighty, we’re responsible to give as much as we can. This applies to every aspect of our Torah observance, both in quantity and in quality. Behaviours that would be extraordinary for the common man are not enough for someone on a higher level. Ordinary challenges are not stimulating enough for an Olympic Jew – not if he’s going for the gold.
Next time a challenge comes in to your life, don’t bemoan your fate. Don’t raise your fists to the skies, kvetching and complaining about how unfair life can be. Instead, turn it around. The Almighty sees the greatness in you. All He is doing is giving you the opportunity to bring it out. Have you got extraordinary challenges in your life? Break the code: that means you are an extraordinary person.