When you are short on spirit, your work load is much harder

When you are not naturally inclined to the spiritual, you need to work that much harder to withstand temptation.

By
January 15, 2015 14:45
Tallit

Tallit (prayer shawl). (photo credit: INGIMAGE)

 
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Rabbi Lazer Gurkow, a respected writer, scholar and speaker, is the spiritual leader of Beth Tefilah congregation in London, Ontario. He is the author of Reaching for God: A Jewish Book on Self Help, and his new book, Mission Possible: Living With Higher Purpose will be released this spring and can be pre-ordered by emailing egurkow@gmail.com 


I am a runner. It’s what I do for exercise. I am also slightly asthmatic. If I don’t use my puffer before running, I run out of breath. Let me tell you, being short of breath makes running much more difficult. 


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When Moses prophesied about liberation, the Jews couldn’t listen because they were “short of breath and hard at work.” Their shortness of breath made their workload that much harder. They had all they could handle just to survive and couldn’t spare an ounce of energy. Even the energy to listen. But why were they short of breath?


The Hebrew word ruach means breath and spirit. Most commentaries agree that in this instance Ruach connotes spirit. In Egypt our people experienced shortness of spirit. They didn’t study the Torah much,  many worshipped idols;  they simply weren’t equipped to receive Moses’s prophecy.


Workload


When you are short on spirit, your work load is much harder. By this we mean that when you are not naturally inclined to the spiritual, you need to work that much harder to withstand temptation.


Every so often we find giants of spirit, who pass their tests with such success that they became legends in their time. Take for example the father of Meir Anshel Rothschild, patriarch of the Rothschild family.




The story is told that when he was a simple servant in the home of Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh Horowitz, a money bag, with which the Rabbi had been entrusted, went missing. Suspicion fell on Rothschild and the rabbi summoned him to discuss it. He accepted the rebuke in silence and returned some time later with the money. Years later, the true thief confessed to the rabbi and returned the original money. It is said that the Rabbi repaid Rothschild and blessed him with prosperity. Thus was born the Rothschild success.


Whether this remarkable story is true is hardly relevant. The point is that they don’t tell such stories about you and me. Such stories are told of Rothschild because he was a stellar character. Reliable to a fault, he often went to personal expense to protect other people’s money. Few of us would reimburse the victim after being falsely accused. He was a giant of spirit. For him, such things came easily. His work load was that much lighter.


The shorter we are on spirit, the heavier is our workload. We experience it in many areas of life. Some are sorely tested when solicited for large donations, others give with joy. Some are sorely tempted to gossip, others are naturally disinclined. Some are naturally patient, others are quick to take offense. Some are quick to forgive, others bear long grudges. Some are gluttonous in their vices, others are not.


We each have shortness of spirit in certain areas so it is not our place to judge, when we see it in others. Where they are weak, we are strong. Where they are strong, we are weak. The common denominator is that where we are short on spirit, our work load is harder. When we see another stagger under his or her load, it is our obligation to help out. Not point an accusing finger, but offer a helping hand.


With determination, patience and support from others, we can fortify our spirit and strengthen our areas of weakness.


Don’t give up


However, we all suffer from a natural handicap that hampers us and saps our spirit. Once again we turn to the story of Moses for guidance. The first time Moses informed our ancestors of their coming liberation, they rejoiced. The second time he informed them of their liberation, they couldn’t listen. 
 
There was good reason for this. After Moses informed them of their liberation the first time, he went to demand their liberation from Pharaoh. Pharaoh responded angrily and increased their workload. Their initial hopes were shattered. Not only were they not freed, their burden was increased. The devastating letdown choked off every vestige of hope. They were shattered, with no energy left even to listen. 


We too experience this kind of letdown, when we fail to strengthen ourselves. We resolve to be forgiving, to be generous, to manage our temper or to control our vices of choice. We experience a modicum of success in the beginning, but then weakness sets in and we slip up. The sudden turnaround from progress to backslide, saps our patience, resolve, and even faith in ourselves.


When this occurs we need to be even more patient with ourselves and with those around us. If your spouse, colleague, relative or friend slips up despite repeated promises and sincere attempts, help them pick up the pieces and try again.  Don’t condemn them or grow angry. Give them today what you will need from them tomorrow, when you wrestle with your vices.


Above all, we must never give up. It is tempting to surrender to our vices and settle for less. We can tell ourselves that we will be satisfied with being strong in our areas of strength, and weak in our areas of weakness. I won’t be generous, but I will be honest. I won’t be loyal, but I will be patient. I won’t keep kosher, but I will pray daily. I won’t honor Shabbat, but I will honor my parents.


That is not sufficient. We were given strengths and weaknesses. The weaknesses come from the body and the strengths from the soul. Your soul did not descend to earth to exhibit her strengths. She came to earth to rectify your body. If the purpose was to let the soul shine, it could radiate much more in the heavens. It came to earth to irradiate the earth, to make you a better person.


Throwing in the towel is a form of failure. No matter how short our spirit and heavy our workload, we must put shoulder to mast and heave. We must work it daily and hourly until we succeed. We don’t need to become the best. Just a little better.


I close with a reflection. Reb Chaim of Tzanz often said. “When I was younger I thought I could change the world. When I got older I realized I might just change my community. As I grew older I hoped to change my family. Finally I realized it would be an achievement just to change myself. 
 
The Lubavitcher Rebbe said it differently. Begin with changing yourself and with that, you will change the world. With a better you, the world becomes a better place. 

Rabbi Lazer Gurkow, a respected writer, scholar and speaker, is the spiritual leader of Beth Tefilah congregation in London, Ontario. He is the author of Reaching for God: A Jewish Book on Self Help, and his new book, Mission Possible: Living With Higher Purpose will be released this spring and can be pre-ordered by emailing egurkow@gmail.com

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