06 Jul MATOT/MASEI- LIFE IS AWESOME
Most people feel “stuck” in some aspect of their lives. Some feel stuck in a job they don’t like, or which does not pay a high enough salary. Some feel stuck in a home they don’t like because they can’t afford to move. Some people feel stuck in a marriage which they wish were better. And some people feel stuck raising a very difficult child or difficult children.
The Midrash, in its introductory comments to Parashat Maseh, talks about how our ancestors were “stuck” in the wilderness. We read in the Midrash that Hashem said to Beneh Yisrael, רבדמב†םתישעש†הנש†’מ†םתוא†לכ†חורבל†םכתא†יתחנה†אל†– “For all those forty years that you spend in the desert, I did not let you escape.” Hashem took care of the people’s needs during those forty years, but He also did not give them the opportunity to run away and try to go somewhere else. For forty years, they were “stuck.”
When we feel “stuck,” we feel down and depressed. Indeed, most of the time, when we see people and ask, “How’s it going,” they respond with some variation of, “Lousy,” or “Life stinks.” They tell us about some kind of serious problem that they’re dealing with, which is making their life “lousy.”
But in almost every case, with very rare exception, this is ridiculous. For the vast majority of people, life does not “stink” at all. In fact, for most of us, life is pretty awesome.
The Sefat Emet explains the aforementioned comment of the Midrash to mean not that Beneh Yisrael were trapped, unable to flee and to run away from their situation, but rather that they had no reason to flee, because they were, at every stage during the forty years, right where they were supposed to be. The Torah in Parashat Maseh lists the forty-two stations where Beneh Yisrael encamped during this period, and the Midrash is coming to emphasize that each one of these forty-two places was precisely where the nation needed to be at that time. We want to escape only from places where we do not want to be. Beneh Yisrael did not need to escape at any point during their travels because they were, at every stage, precisely at the right spot, exactly where they were supposed to be.
Our lives are very similar in this regard to Beneh Yisrael’s sojourn through the wilderness. We go from one station to the next, from one stage to the next, from one struggle to the next, from one problem to the next. If we ever feel “stuck,” that we’re trapped in a situation against our will, it is because we fail to realize that every “station,” every situation, is precisely where Hashem wants us to be.
So many of us make this mistake. It seems like whatever situation we are in, at whichever stage of life we find ourselves, we feel overcome by anxiety in the face of the challenges presented by that situation and that stage. We cannot enjoy life because we are always working to “escape” from the current stage, to solve the problems of today so we can get to tomorrow, and then tomorrow we face another set of challenges to overcome to reach the next stage.
How can we break that tendency? What can we do so we can appreciate and enjoy each station of life, and recognize that we are not “stuck,” that every situation is, in truth, exactly where we are supposed to be? How can we transform “life stinks” to “life is awesome”?
Worrying About $50
Imagine we were suddenly informed that we lost $50. For example, we were told that we missed a special discount at the store where we shopped, or we just now remembered that we had kept a $50 bill with some papers that we threw into the trash. We would probably feel upset, but we would get over it pretty easily. Perhaps for those dealing with financial stress the sting will last longer than for others, but most people would recover from the frustration fairly quickly.
Now imagine someone comes along and warns us that we are going to lose $50 at some point during the next three days. What would happen? In all likelihood, we would be very anxious for the next three days. We would be looking over every receipt several times to make sure there was no mistake, and we would take extra care every time we handle cash, make a withdrawal, or do anything else related to money. We would go through a great deal of anxiety to protect ourselves from a $50 loss, even though after we have lost $50, we wouldn’t make much of a fuss.