Let him who is convinced that his views are true and right express them . . . at every opportunity . . . without considering how much support or how much opposition he will encounter. Only falsehood is in need of many supporters in order to win the day; falsehood must have the authority of numbers to make up for what it lacks in justification. Truth, by contrast, will always prevail, even if it takes time. Noble, courageous and pure, expressed with all the fiery zeal and conviction and with all clarity of sure awareness, stated again and again at every opportunity, truth will ultimately gain respect and admiration even of those who do not accept it. The only truth that can be lost beyond recall is that truth whose adherents no longer have the courage to speak up candidly on its behalf. Truth has never gone down in defeat as the result of opposition, it has done so only when its friends are too weak to defend it. - R' S.R. Hirsch

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

I Have Greatly Hoped in Hashem

I greatly hoped for the L-RD; and He inclined to me, and heard my cry (Psalm 40:1).

David hoped, and continued to place his hope, in the Almighty.  David teaches us how to save ourselves from despair: Keep on hoping and never give up.  The Adversary tries to deceive us into thinking that our failures are meant to break us and that we are defined by our failures.  He also wants us to view our illnesses, hardships, and challenges as punishments for all of our wrongdoings.  While that can sometimes be one element of our trying situations, every nisayon, test  is essentially a nes, a banner, to demonstrate to us His strength and power at work in us.

The Sages teach that David composed this chapter of the Psalms shortly after he had been healed from a long and difficult illness.  In a sense, he had immersed himself in the wellspring of hope and faith.  He knew that although he faced a tremendously difficult challenge, the Almighty would never forsake him nor let go of him.  R' David Kimchi (the Radak) explains that the pit of raging waters from which David was saved was the critical illness that engulfed him and threatened to kill him.  And, the Radak continues, through every challenge and trial that one endures and survives, he must sing a new song to the Almighty for his salvation.

In the 1920's, Rav Yechezkel Abramsky, who was living in communist Russia, was involved in the publishing of a Torah magazine called Yagdil Torah.  After just two issues, the Communist authorities shut down the magazine, viewing it as a threat to their ideals.  A short time later, Rav Abramsky was sentenced to five years of imprisonment in a Siberian slave-labor camp for his "crimes."  Although his sentence was eventually commuted, he endured much suffering and pain during that time.  Yet, he had one constant source of inspiration: Tehillim, the Psalms.  He cherished its every word, finding solace and strength. 

Rav Abramsky had always recited the Psalms each day.  After he was freed from prison, though, he added one more chapter to his daily regimen: Psalm 40, which begins with the words: "For the conductor, by David, a psalm.  I have greatly hoped for Hashem; He inclined to me, and heard my cry.  He raised me from the pit of raging waters, from the slimy mud.  He set my feet upon a rock, firmly establishing my steps.  He put a new song into my mouth, a hymn to our G-d; multitudes shall see and be awed, and they shall trust in Hashem." 

Quite often, when one is healed from an illness, even if he remembers to thank the Almighty for his recovery, he can overlook the progression of the illness and his recovery.  But if we take time and are careful to examine the kindness that the Almighty has bestowed upon us, we will learn to appreciate every step up to the salvation, for it is through the process that one draws closer to His Creator, hoping and thanking Him every step of the way.

The first half of this Psalm, and the first few verses of the second half, would lead us to believe that David was experiencing the purest bliss that one could imagine when he uttered these words.  However, once we read beyond the twelfth verse, we soon realize that this song was written when David was being oppressed by danger on every side and in dire need of deliverance.  In the midst of these troubles and trials David recalled the many prior instances in which G-d delivered him from similar situations and he is strengthened as a result.

David's song, then, is a song declaring that the very sufferings which are meted out by the hand of the Almighty are meant to discipline and train us, and in reality constitute His greatest acts of loving-kindness.  "He put such a song in my mouth," says David, "so that the multitudes, 'looking upon me' might learn from my own example to trust in G-d even while they fear Him.  For He is ready at all times to help those who cry out to Him."

For as our Sages remind us: Nothing can reach to the greatness in which G-d's love can help him who is most hopelessly entangled in struggles both within and without, to rise again.  

9 comments:

  1. I'm trying to grasp the complete meaning of this post. Two terms I'm working on understanding are "nisayon" and "nes". I found this link with an explanation. How closely does this pages definition come to what you are expressing? Is it close or is there a deeper and more complex understanding that you are putting forth?

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  2. There's a great song by Luke Amelang that starts something like "I don't need nothing in my life, except for misery and strife. And if you don't understand the reason why, you're probably the kind who's afraid to die." (Found it here: Pathways and Signal Fires)

    It's only through struggle that we grow and only through pain that we are really able to appreciate joy.

    I've been reading and listening to a lot about healing lately. There are things I don't understand--and I would argue that almost nobody in modern Christendom or Judaism understands--about divine healing. The Scriptures have a lot to say about it, much apparently contradictory. But I believe this is an essential piece of the puzzle. Very often, we can't find healing until sickness and pain has accomplished its task.

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    1. jay c

      Not to suffer and experience pain is very much the exception not the rule from a Biblical perspective. I often think of Paul when G-d finally got his attention on the road to Damascus.

      How would most people today react to being told how much they were going to suffer for His Name's sake? I also know it's one thing to talk about these things in theory and another things to experience pain, struggle, and hardship.

      But as you said, it is an essential piece of the puzzle, because G-d doesn't send these things our way capriciously and purposelessly, though the true purpose and meaning may never be revealed to us. If it is only to demonstrate to us that His grace is sufficient for us, may we trust Him to give us the strength and comfort we will need to endure and overcome whatever it is we may be going through.

      My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1)

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    2. Psalm 105:17-20

      He sent a man before them, Joseph was sold as a slave. They afflicted his foot with fetters, his soul came into irons. Until the time that His word came to pass, the decree of Hashem had purified him. He sent a king who released him, a ruler of nations who freed him.

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  3. “While that can sometimes be one element of our trying situations, every nisayon, test is essentially a nes, a banner, to demonstrate to us His strength and power at work in us.”

    I think the link you referenced makes similar points. Let me see if I can contextualize and expand on this idea a bit more. Let’s begin with simple definitions:

    Nes - Meaning: 1) something lifted up, standard, signal, signal pole, ensign, banner, sign, sail 1a) standard (as rallying point), signal 1b) standard (pole) 1c) ensign, signal.

    Let’s begin by looking at this in the context of Exodus 17 where Moshe builds an altar in the wilderness to signify that the war to be waged against Amalek has begun. He calls the altar Adonai Nisi (The L-rd is my banner) which means: G-d calls me to battle, showing me where I am to fight. Nes is neither a weapon nor a shield, but a standard that is raised aloft to show the fighters the direction and site of the battle.

    The purpose of the nes in conjunction with the command to blot out the memory of Amalek is to fight and overcome everything ungodly and inhumane on the earth. The objective is not militant, but defensive, and in this defensive struggle Amalek is defeated.

    The Sages comment:

    As long as man refuses to subordinate his actions to G-d’s will; as long as man’s ideal of greatness is might and power, and not the fulfillment of the laws of morality, which subordinate his heart to G-d – G-d will rule only in nature, but not in the world of man; at most there will be recognition of His rule over nature, but not over the world of man.

    Conversely, Moshe proclaims: Though His throne may still be incomplete and though recognition of His Name may still be incomplete, the guiding hand of G-d’s providence reigning upon His throne means war for G-d – i.e., war for the complete recognition of His Name – against Amalek from generation to generation. G-d’s direction of history (signified by the nes, the banner) essentially means war against Amalek until the end of time.


    Nasah - Meaning: 1) to test, try, prove, tempt, assay, put to the proof or test 1a) (Piel) 1a1) to test, try 1a2) to attempt, assay, try 1a3) to test, try, prove, tempt: Which is declared in afflictions, either by patience, or by grudging against G-d's visitation.

    There are numerous places we could go here. I’ll use one to illustrate.

    Deuteronomy 8:2-3

    And you shall remember all the way which the L-RD your G-d led you these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you, and to prove (l’nasot’ka) you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments, or no. And he humbled you, and suffered you to hunger, and fed you with manna, which you did not know, neither did your fathers know; that he might make you know that man does not live by bread only, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the L-RD does man live.

    (continued)

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  4. G-d led us in the wilderness forty years to educate us to rely and depend solely upon Him and His provision for us, provision which was nothing short of miraculous. We journeyed in the wilderness under His miraculous provision and protection to test us, to show us where the battles are fought and won. That we may come to know ourselves, and learn to what extent we have already attained the moral strength that is required to do what He asks of us.

    Complete devotion to His guidance, trust in Him which frees you of all concerns other than the concern to obey and fulfill your duty – these are the qualities on which obedience to G-d depends. (This is also the lesson of Abraham and his tests, culminating in the ultimate test: the binding of his one and only son, Isaac). Are you ready, if G-d determines it’s necessary, to go out into the wilderness with wife and children, in order to remain faithful and obedient to G-d, come what may? That is the question we must ask ourselves to get the measure of our moral strength. David’s experience was similar.

    What’s more, He provided our sustenance in the wilderness in a manner (i.e. miraculous) for which we could find no parallel in our own past experience, nor in that of our forefathers. (Yeshua takes this idea even further in John 6, where He speaks of Himself as the true manna Who has come down from heaven. I recommend a close study there. Most people did not continue with Him after that teaching, and the disciples’ commitment was tested there as well).

    Again our Sages comment:

    In the wilderness, in the absence of all factors that normally enable a man to win his bread, G-d brings out in sharp relief the one factor which under normal circumstances is only too easily ignored. Instead of nourishing us with bread, which bears the stamp of human achievement, He fed us with manna allotted by G-d alone, and He had it come to us day after day, to every soul in our humble dwellings, in a manner that was clearly miraculous, proved us, and demonstrated His personal care for each individual soul, both small and great.

    And so we learn that human existence is not dependent on bread alone and that man can live by anything that G-d ordains. The upshot of all this is that man is not lost if, for the sake of his allegiance to G-d, he is compelled to forgo all that can be obtained from human and natural resources; that even in the midst of plenty derived from the resources of man and nature, he still owes his sustenance to G-d’s special care.


    As many said to Yeshua in John 6, this is a hard teaching. Even on your very selves you experienced G-d’s miraculous power, which takes into consideration all the needs of the situation. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell on the long trek to the promised land.

    (continued)

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  6. Now, back to your original question and the OP:

    How closely does this pages definition come to what you are expressing? Is it close or is there a deeper and more complex understanding that you are putting forth?

    What is presented in the link you posted is a start, and yet there is a deeper and more complex understanding on multiple levels. I think the link (linguistically and conceptually) between test, banner, and miracle offers a rich study worthy of further investigation.

    As far as what I was trying to express in the OP, it is a very distilled version of what I began to detail above. In the OP the Adversary is mentioned, and the Adversary has a perspective on sufferings and trials, which we know to be a false perspective (the book of Job deals with this at great length, of course).

    The tests/trials from G-d’s perspective are indeed banners which remind that G-d is at war with the Adversary and they also serve as banners which remind us where the battle is fought: will we trust in G-d, will the trials draw us nearer to Him, and remind us that, come what may, our hope is in Him, always? That was what our education in the wilderness experience was all about.

    Israel goes out to meet Amalek and is compelled to meet the test of battle. As long as Moses’ hands were held aloft to the heavens a man named Yehoshua (Joshua, salvation) prevailed. However, we know that it is not magic power in the staff of Moses that he is raising aloft, but rather the faith and trust in G-d which the raising of his hands heavenward signifies (David is behaving similarly in Psalm 40) that prevails over Amalek. David had experienced a long and difficult illness. What would it produce in him? How would it impact His relationship with Hashem?

    He would burst forth in song, praise, and gratitude, drawing even closer to His G-d, the One in Who alone David would place His hope and trust.

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  7. Thank you. I have a clearer understanding of the nuances involved now.

    I can see a great deal of opportunity for symbolic understanding from the OP to test and banner. For instance each test eventually becomes a banner after it is endured. The faithful can look back as see banner after banner in their life as each test was overcome.

    The POV of a human enduring tests and receiving banners is fairly straight forward.

    Then there is the POV of God being asked for banners as a test (or conformation) for him. I think we are more familiar with the idea of asking for a "sign" as opposed to calling it a "banner". This brings up an interesting apparent series of contradictions.

    We are told to not "test" God.

    God sometimes offers "banners" to confirm Himself.

    God instructs us to "test" him in some areas.

    I understand that a consistent contextual hermeneutic is required to sort through those issues. My problem is one of personal experience.

    I never asked God for a sign of conformation that He was going to do something. My upbringing and instruction does not allow for such things as remote possibilities. I doubt that anyone I worship, or share fellowship with would accept my experiences this last year as factual. On 10/6 I asked for a nes (I didn't know it was a nes). It was granted in the very second I finished the request. More than that 3 of the 5 things I was seeking a nes for were granted in the same instance even though it was several hours before I found out.

    Then last night a similar nes occurred, this time in the form of a negative situation that I didn't explicitly ask for, but again it occurred exactly as I finished praying. I suspect that a nes functions as a banner of faith whenever we chose to look upon it. It's truly awe inspiring.

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