Not a lot to say today.  I had an interview for a combined librarian/writer job.  The interview went OKish, but I may have messed up the written test and I’m not sure that I can commit to working full-time, especially not for a role that will potentially put me in triggering situations as a matter of course (it’s not as bad it sounds like, but I can’t really be more specific in a semi-public setting).

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CBT was useful, but I think I need some time to process it.  One thing that stuck in my mind was that we spoke about my issues being caused partly by being bullied at school and the therapist said that I don’t see the bullies any more so I shouldn’t worry about what they think.  I agreed, but the reality is more complicated in terms of who I actually still run into in my community and what kind of relationship I have with them.  Perhaps I should have raised that, but the relationship I have with the main person I’m thinking of is really complicated and I’m not entirely sure how to describe, nor am I entirely sure that I consciously understand the situation particularly well; there may well be different conscious and unconscious motivations (e.g. trying to prove to myself that I don’t bear grudges by seeing this person).

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At shiur (religious class) tonight, the assistant rabbi (who isn’t the assistant rabbi any more, but I’ll keep calling him that for now as this blog is already quite confusing for the number of rabbis mention without changing their titles too) spoke about emunah, faith, as occurring when you are in a situation that is awful and has no apparent end in sight, but you keep trusting that this is the right situation for you to be in, on some level.  This is an idea I have heard before, but somehow it penetrated my mind more thoroughly than in the past.  Recently, I have been trying without much success to work on not worrying that I will be depressed, unemployed and single forever and focus on the fact that things can change and even if they don’t, this is where I am (apparently) meant to be right now, unpleasant though it seems.  I suppose the secular version would be not worrying about things you can’t change or saying it will all be the same in a hundred years (as my maternal grandparents used to say), except this goes further and is open to the current situation as being, on some level, positive, even if I can’t see it at the moment.

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Yesterday I quoted the idea, very common in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world, that God does not give people tests they can not stand.  Ashley Leia felt this was a privileged view.  I’m not sure “privileged” is the word I would use, but I see her unease.  I’ve been thinking about it since then.  Obviously the idea at a basic level is that for God to punish someone, their sin must not have been inevitable.

First, I tried to find the source of the quote, using Rabbi Google.  I assumed it was something in the Talmud, as people seem to say, “Chazal tells us that God doesn’t give us a test we can’t pass” (Chazal is the Hebrew acronym for “our sages, may they be remembered for good,” but is only used for Talmudic rabbis).

The only relevant page I found was this one (admittedly I did not search for long).  Most of the ‘proofs’ there are not real proofs at all (only the Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav quote seems really pertinent to me, and that’s late eighteenth/early nineteenth century, which is pretty recent from a Jewish perspective and about 1,500 years after the editing of the Talmud).  The ‘proofs’ seem at best circumstantial, stating that God does not act tyrannically and ask more of people than they can bear, but I’m not sure that that’s really the same thing.  One could argue from those examples that God does not give someone a test that they can’t bear, but you could also argue that God could give people an overwhelming test that they can’t bear, but that He doesn’t then punish them for sinning in that way, because they didn’t have free will.  This might be the meaning of the quote there from Rav Dessler and I think Rabbi Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin says something similar, that God can put a person in a situation where they have no choice but to sin, but will not punish them for doing that (although presumably they are only sure it was an “impossible” sin/test in the Next World).

To some extent, though, I think the above paragraph is splitting hairs and not addressing the core issue.  I think the bigger issue is, what is a test?  Is a test always about being tempted with two options, one morally good and one morally bad?  Or is a test a more nebulous concept with no clear outcome?  Does it have to be a moral test or could it be a test of endurance?  Or are they the really same thing, on some level?  (To some extent, the decision may be semantic rather than conceptual.)

Similarly, is something a test just because it’s hard or does it have to be morally challenging (and see the Rav Dessler quote again that something morally challenging is neither too easy nor too hard).  Maybe some things are difficult without being tests e.g. that they are the background to a different test.  So maybe being depressed is not my test so it can feel unbearable and my faith can falter; maybe the test is to learn to keep my temper when depression makes me irritable or to keep doing the tiny, basic amount of davening (praying) and Torah study I do.  Or vice versa; maybe davening is not really relevant to me one way or the other right now, but it’s just an expression of a real test, which is having emunah (faith).

I do think there has to be the possibility of failure for a test to have meaning, though, otherwise it is not a real test.  But it could be that the parts that I feel I’m failing are not the issues I’m really being tested on.

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I think when I’ve left comments here in response to reader comments I might have left them in the wrong place so they don’t register as replies in the original commenter’s notifications.  I apologise for that.  I do respond to all comments, however briefly.

7 thoughts on “Faith and Tests

  1. I am entirely ignorant on how the Holocaust is interpreted from a religious perspective, but would that count as an overwhelming test that people couldn’t bear?

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    1. Also, it would depend on what the test was – if it was to live a ‘normal’ Jewish life, then obviously it would be overwhelming, but if it was to stay believing in God, then many people did pass it.

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  2. As as Christian I always find the following text of comfort: 1 Cor 10:13- “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”

    Re: the Holocaust and other instances of religious persecution — surely the point is that God enables His people to bear persecution even unto death remaining faithful without recanting?

    Re: impossible tests — the Book of Job addresses this, albeit the answer is not as clear as we would like it — namely who are we to question or understand the ways of God? We know his nature and all we can do is trust Him.

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    1. Job is very difficult, I once gave a talk on it in my old shul. The commentaries are divided on whether Job passed his test. According to the opinion that he did, then that would indicate that as difficult as it was, it was not impossible (because he passed it).

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