“Mann tracht, un Gott lacht” is an old Yiddish adage meaning, “Man plans, and God laughs.” Despite our best efforts and sometimes extreme manipulations to direct and control our life’s course, only the Almighty knows all the hurdles and twists and turns our journey will take. For most of us, our life’s destination scarcely resembles the idyllic imaginings we’ve conjured in our youth as if life was a travel brochure and all stops along the way were meant to be pleasurable and to serve us. But then divorce and sickness come, bankruptcy and betrayals, opportunities lost or stolen, anguish, death and deep, deep disappointment. And as we travel this highway through hell, at each of its toll booths we pay a heavy price: We toss away our faith, our kindness, our trust, our mercy, our honesty. After a road long traveled, what is left of who we used to be? Very little if you don’t believe that all of life is a God-given test to fortify us and elevate us. There is only one audience in life and it is not your neighbors, your boss, your family, or your Facebook or social networking audience—they perhaps are the provocateurs or the elaborate ways through which the Lord will work His way—but the sole audience is God. Have you walked with grace along your path? Have you walked in faith? Does God like the “show” He is seeing or will your review be a shameful embarrassment?
The space between “what we want” and “what we have” is HOLY ground, and how we walk upon that space tells God who we are. We teach children from day one that they can’t always get what they want, mostly because we know it’s not good for them. And yet as adults we throw the worst of tantrums when things don’t go according to the wills and wants of our self-inflated egos. We resort to cheating, stealing, lying, coveting, slandering, cursing, conniving, stepping on people, hurting people, using people, working on the Sabbath, scoffing beggars and ridiculing the religious all in our efforts to self-pacify but with the result of enraging God. And so you say you prayed to God but He ignored you. You must realize, however, that this waiting time is in fact the incubation period for our character. When we are left languishing, it is not God ignoring us, but God watching us closer than ever. And sometimes we are just hard of hearing: God does answer us but we just don’t like the answer, because His answer is “No!”-- What kind of person will you be when God says “No”?
For forty years the desert Jews were tested and punished because they lashed out against God and Moses. All they saw in their mind’s-eye life-destination brochure was a land flowing with milk and honey. But almost every time a hurdle was set before them they cried to return to Egypt. How quickly we forget when God wants to open seas for us to traverse, He does; when He wants to smite our enemies with plagues He does; when He wants food (manna) to fall from the heavens, it does. After all the trials and tribulations that Job went through and all the strong instigations around him to curse and forsake God for his profound suffering, Job says, “Shall we also accept the good from God, and not accept the evil?" And it is written, “Despite all this, Job did not sin with his lips.”
In this week’s Torah reading, Chukat, we read that God was so angry at Moses for hitting the rock twice to bring forth water, instead of SPEAKING to it as he was instructed to do, that Moses was prevented from entering the Promised Land. Why was God so mad? Because a man of Moses’ stature and greatness had no right to show anger or lose control (none of us do). The Talmud links anger to conceit and teaches that it shows complete lack of faith and is tantamount to idol worship. But the sad twist is that God doesn’t really laugh, He cries and he goes down into the darkness with us when we spiritually stumble and fall. Unfortunately we recurrently fail to learn that if we won’t fall on our knees in His worship, He will bring us to our knees in other more bruising ways.
Friends, how we behave while we are waiting says a lot about us, even if we wait a lifetime. We must cross over our hardships and disappointments with dignity and morality, by figuratively taking off our shoes, for where we walk is holy ground.