In discussing a very common Torah idea with which many struggle, the following article contains amazing Torah ideas that aren't well-known...but knowing the following ideas makes all the difference in both understanding & internalizing this common Torah idea.
(Thank you very much to NEJ for forwarding it!)
WHAT IF I CANNOT HANDLE IT?!
By: Devorah Silberman
"Hashem doesn’t give a person a test that they cannot handle.”
It is hard to find someone who truly feels strengthened by this phrase.
It’s discussed in either resentful or curious tones with close friends, rabbis' and in therapists' offices. “How can this phrase be literal and accurate?” It’s a topic that raises much confusion amongst those who have faced enormous hurdles in their lives.
Perhaps they have rock solid Emunah, and resonate with almost everything else that they learn, but are puzzled by how to relate to this pusuk.
Oddly enough, despite all the remarkable and profound explanations for what this pusuk truly means, most people don’t seem to have an awareness that there are multiple explanations to what this phrase truly means Bamidbar Rabbah 13:15-16 explains that there are 70 layers to the Torah.
Every single Pusuk has many levels and layers of meaning. Each of the 70 layers are all true at the same time.
Additionally, The Ramchal writes in Maamar al Haggados, that at times, we feel like certain words of Chazal and other Torah Sources seem opposing only because we ourselves misinterpret them.
This sometimes happens when we do not realize the parameters that limit the specific pusuk.
(In other words: We sometimes take the words we hear or read out of context to what they truly mean.)
Although there are multiple explanations on the phrase “Hashem doesn’t give a test you cannot handle,” in this article, I would like to write three that I think are the most insightful.
1: Does Hashem only send us tests that we can pass and that every person should be able to control themselves and be victorious when such tests are presented?
The answer is Yes and No.
Yes, because every test that Hashem sends us is within our ability to pass, but No because we don’t always know what the test is.
Rabbi Yisroel Reisman quotes R’Tzaadok Hakoen (Rabbi Reisman says this in multiple shuirim – one of those shuirim entitled “Oh, the things people say!”) brings out this point from the story of Yehudah and Tamar.
Despite the fact that Yehudah was involved with Tamar, in a way that is unbecoming from a man of his stature, we find no mention of punishment, rebuke, or even sin for his act.
Yet, when Tamar becomes expecting, she is asked and we see multiple Mefarshim praising Yehudah for admitting to what he caused.
This is due to the fact that Yehudah was placed in a situation where he was not able to overcome his temptation and it was too hard for him to refrain from committing this act; therefore, no sin was ascribed to him.
Yehudah’s test did not lie in the act itself; rather he was tested in his ability to admit it in a later date.
Since we do not know what Hashem is testing us, so we must do our utmost best in every area. Rabbi Golombeck Shlita often speaks about not focusing on the result or outcome but rather on your efforts. As long as we genuinely did our utmost best, the results would not be in our control (of course this would only apply when one knows they sincerely did their actual best).
Similarly, the Steipler Goan ZT”L wrote many letters to people with mental health challenges and in one such letter, he writes on a similar point.
The letter was sent in by a student suffering from obsessive heretical thoughts.
He regularly had serious thoughts that most Jews do not have to the same extent that he did.
Yet, no matter to what he tried, it was to no avail. He could not find the key to getting rid of these thoughts flooding his mind on a daily basis.
The Steipler wrote the following critical message:
“It appears that at the current time, you are not capable of free choice in this area. Rather, which is under your control and your free choice is to do positive things that will help over time.” (In today’s world, for someone suffering from obsessive and uncontrollable thoughts, this would usually mean going for therapy and doing other helpful mind conditioning exercises as well as taking medication if needed.)
(This first explanation is taken from the book Battle of the Mind by Rabbi Avrohom Steier. Book for Torah based inspiration for those with emotional challenges. Book copies can be obtained through email@example.com)
2: Another explanation is that we grow into people who can handle them.
We certainly as Yidden, believe that we soar to new spiritual heights through challenges.
If we reach new levels, it would mean that we didn’t start out on the level we reached through the challenge. Which would mean that we grow into people who can handle them.
3: The last but definitely not least interpretation of the phrase that is very close to my heart is the following:
When you hear the phrase “Hashem doesn’t give you a test that you cannot handle” and you feel resentful towards this phrase. The reason you feel resentful is because the person who said the phrase did not finish their sentence. They should add the two words “without Him.”
“Hashem doesn’t give you a test you cannot handle – without Him.”
You need to ask Hashem to give you the strength to handle it in the best way possible.
Bracha Kaila Levin A”H was someone who I was so close to.
Among the myriad of unbelievable inspiring stories I have about all that she did, one that illustrates this idea so well is the last conversation I ever had with her.
She was in the hospital on oxygen and was still so eager to learn with me over the phone.
She was losing her ability to move and know that soon she was expected to lose her ability to talk.
I asked her how she does all that she does with so much strength and loads of Emunah. Out of the many things she told me, she said something that never left my memory.
“I constantly, ask Hashem in my own words give me the strength to handle it in the best way possible.”
We often beg Hashem to take our difficult circumstance away. And we should! But we must also include the tefilla of asking for Him to grant us the ability to handle our situation until our awaited Yeshuah comes.
The nisayon is NOT always what you THINK it is.
And just to emphasize: The above examples do not mean life is a free-for-all and we can indulge ourselves at whim because, hey, "Hashem made me do it!"
No, no, no.
But I think we've all found ourselves in situations in which we know the right way to respond and we genuinely try to respond that way...and instead, we crash and burn.
And this does not speak to the people who justify their prohibited behavior by saying vaguely, "Oh, it's really not so bad"—when it really is." "Everyone loses their temper sometimes..."—when you actually lose your temper regularly. "Oh well, what can I do now? Just try harder, I guess"—when you've never tried that hard and have no strategy for trying harder in the future.
Yehudah did not indulge in any of those vague justifications.
He could have said, "Oh, it really wasn't so bad..." Or "Everyone indulges their taavos sometimes..."—which was certainly true in ancient Mesopotamia, especially for outwardly powerful, handsome, successful, and charismatic men like Yehudah.
But in Yehudah's supreme integrity and humility, he did NOT engage in such justifications.
Nor did he dismiss his behavior as "cute," "clever," or "funny."
He knew the act was strictly forbidden and he tried to control it, but honestly could not.
And that's what this idea addresses.
As the author herself notes above:
As long as we genuinely did our utmost best, the results would not be in our control (of course this would only apply when one knows they sincerely did their actual best).
For more, please see here: Shavuos: The Mysterious Ancestry of David HaMelech–ww.torahanytime.com/#/lectures?v=60987)
Practical Application of the Concept
Yehudah’s test did not lie in the act itself; rather he was tested in his ability to admit it in a later date.
And the idea of valuing your efforts regardless of the outcome:
Since we do not know what Hashem is testing us, so we must do our utmost best in every area. Rabbi Golombeck Shlita often speaks about not focusing on the result or outcome but rather on your efforts.
“It appears that at the current time, you are not capable of free choice in this area. Rather, which is under your control and your free choice is to do positive things that will help over time.”
Please contrast the Steipler's Torah-true attitude to the mainstream approach toward alcoholism (for example). Mainstream treatment considers alcoholism a permanent state of "disease" (even if the person has been sober for 37 years)—and even if the "disease" aspects can be explained via non-disease concepts.
Or contrast the Steipler's response to how modern mainstream psychology and psychiatry consider any type of mental illness as requiring medication for the rest of one's life.
Maybe a mental illness does require that.
But why is that the automatic assumption?
And why is it presented as the only option (when other options often clearly exist)?
And why is much of the psychiatric community so insistent & forceful about this assumption?
Many times, mental illness is not a lifetime sentence.
And medication is not necessarily the permanent answer either. (Although medication can be a temporary or occasional answer...and maybe in some cases it is the permanent answer.)
Furthermore, many professionals and lay people consider these conditions all-encompassing. Meaning, they don't much acknowledge what the person CAN do, but focus on their dysfunction as the primary (and permanent) part of them.
For instance, many schizophrenics are also highly sensitive, creative, and more intelligent than average.
Why not focus on cultivating their gifts while treating their afflictions?
Not all opinions agree with mainstream pop psychology, of course.
For example, Dr William Glasser considered mental illness curable over time with the right attitude and right behavior modification and motivation.
(Yes, even severe illnesses like schizophrenia. And his patients did indeed overcome their mental illnesses. Oddly, Dr. Glasser's success with mental illness is barely studied in university psychology and almost unknown in the mainstream...)
Another psychiatrist cured a young woman of OCD with a combination of therapy and treating her gut with probiotics.
And other exceptions also exist.
The Torah way of hope and optimism and emunah is the true & most effective route.
Hope for the Tried and Still Trying!
It's also a brilliant discussion of the common concept of "Hashem doesn’t give a person a test that they cannot handle.”
I know it helped me a lot & offered new insights.
Hopefully, we can use the above ideas to better help ourselves and others.
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