WHO LIKES change? It depends. If someone likes their current situation, then change is not welcome. But if someone does not enjoy their current situation, then they pray for change. But we don’t always get the choice, because sometimes God decides that change is necessary especially since we don’t.
The coronavirus has been a real game changer. There are always lots of things to complain about, but before the virus took society in its grip, general life continued on as usual. We went to shul as usual. We shook hands with others as usual, celebrated family events as usual. The only health issue regarding mishloach manos was the sugar content of the package. The virus has really disrupted normal daily life.
People resist. Many try to act as if nothing has changed, even though it has. They’ll even throw caution to the wind to maintain an outdated status quo, perhaps endangering themselves and others. Take a lesson from the four-fifths who resisted the change taking placing in Egypt, and died during the Plague of Darkness for it. If change is imposed from God, it’s not worth ignoring.
On the contrary, the change was part of the redemption process, intended to prepare the Jewish people for what was coming up. Redemption often involves tremendous change, and not everyone can adjust to it quickly and healthily. So God began instituting change in stages, well before the actual redemption took place.
The trick is to recognize this, and go with it. At the moment, the event or crisis imposing change may seem like only another one to cope with and, hopefully, get over. Only later may it become clear that it was a lot more than that at the time, as so many people trapped in Europe during World War II later found out.
The basic rule is that when it comes to spiritual consistency, the yetzer hara fights back. The Sitra Achra fights back. The Sitra Achra will create all kinds of events to interfere with consistent mitzvos, and the yetzer hara will provide all kinds of excuses to bail. The mitzvah won’t get done a couple of times, and eventually won’t get done at all.
I once had an early morning charusa, and for a long while we learned together consistently before dovening each day. Then one morning he did not make it on time, and a couple of days later, he also came late. After that, not sure if he’d make it one morning, I slept in a couple of minutes more and missed our learning together. A couple of months later, our chavrusa was over.
It was not for no reason that the Talmud adjures a person to make FIXED times for learning.
When it comes to material things, just the opposite is true. The Sitra Achra will go out of its way to maintain consistency, and the yetzer hara will justify all of it. People will visit the same restaurant on the same day of the week for years, never miss a golf game, and vacation in the same spot for decades.
But here’s the point. We ourselves may deal with history one personal day at a time, but God does not. He had a goal He wanted achieved when He first made Creation, and it has not changed. He certainly hasn’t given up on it, or He would have rebooted history again like He did in Noach’s time.
Furthermore, though we have accepted this world they way it is, God has not. He made it, but as a segue to the next period of history. It’s great if a person thinks about God each day and, even better, talks to Him. He really appreciates it. But it is no substitute for the day when all of mankind will recognize Him: On that day, God will be One, and His Name, One.
All paths lead to that end. Humans can plan to achieve very lofty goals, and either only partially succeed, or fail completely. But not God. The world will get there, and even the things that we perceive as interfering with this end also contribute to it, in some way or another. Humans cannot control all outcomes. They can’t even anticipate them.
But God can, and does, and He steers history just where He wants it to go, when He wants it to go there:
Many are the thoughts of man, but the plan of God is what prevails. (Mishlei 19:21)
It’s like being on an airplane. At cruising altitude, people can walk about the cabin freely. They even tend to forget where they came from and where they are going to, for the time being. They’re stuck in the plane for the next couple of hours, so why not make themselves as at home as possible, and many people do.
But not the pilots. The pilots are there for one reason, and that is to bring the plane safely to its intended destination. They take breaks, but for the most part they remain focused on their flight path. Even when turbulence or a storm forces a course deviation, it is always with the final destination in mind.
Then comes the announcement, that the plane is arriving. That is when the instructions come to stow all bags under the seats or back into the overhead bins, to return the tray tables, etc. But some people were having such a good time that it is hard for them to immediately adjust to the change, and often have to be told personally to comply. And on some occasions, some passengers even require a stern warning before they return to their seats.
Analogously, the plane is history, and the passengers on it, “us.” The final destination is the Final Redemption, and the Captain, of course, is God. All the upheaval we go through in history is just part of the final preparations necessary for “landing” history safely.
Then there are the passengers who never lose sight that they are on an airplane, and think only in terms of arriving at their destination. They’re the ones who keep the map up on their screens and watch the progress of the little plane on it most of the trip. They may settle in for the trip, but never so much as to lose sight of where they are and where they are going.
The same is true of redemption-oriented people. Though their lives may resemble those of everyone else around them, they are loyal to the directive of “anticipating the redemption.” They track the progress of Jewish history, and focus on redemption-oriented activities. They live by the words:
If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget [its skill]. May my tongue cling to my palate, if I do not remember you, if I do not bring up Jerusalem at the beginning of my joy. (Tehillim 137:5-6)
For such people, exile is never redemption. It doesn’t matter how much they have or are enjoying themselves. If the Temple is missing and God’s Presence inside of it, it is exile, and perhaps the most dangerous type. At least when anti-Semitism is rampant, it is easier to recall that the Divine Presence is in exile, and suffers every moment that it is.
This is what the golden calf represented. It was the symbol of unbridled physical pleasure with no concern for the future. This is what the Mishkan, and later the temples, came to fix, acting as a reminder that God’s Presence on earth is the name of the game. Life is not about spiritual acts against a backdrop of material experiences, but just the other way around.
But we have no Mishkan, we have no Temple, and consequently, we fight for spiritual consistency. Even worse, we have lost sight of the endgame, and enjoy ourselves as if God’s Presence is known worldwide, and truth is in all four corners of the earth, and everywhere between.
No wonder we have a tough time with change. No wonder God keeps sending it.
SO WHAT can we do? Parashas Vayakhel is a recounting of the fundraising drive to build the Mishkan, what was made, and who made it. The verse says:
He has imbued him with the spirit of God, with wisdom, with insight, and with knowledge, and with [talent for] all manner of craftsmanship… (Shemos 35:31)
The verse is talking specifically about Betzalel, master craftsman of the Mishkan. Even the smartest and most talented person in the world could not have built the Mishkan according to Divine specification on their own. How much more so is this case in “building” history, be it personal or world history.
Then what was so great about Betzalel, and all the people who helped him and received similar Divine assistance? It was that they had made themselves into people whom God could turn to in order to build His portable “home” on earth. They had pushed aside their own personal biases in order to be clear of any obstructions to Divine wisdom.
The most important trait for this is humility. This is why the Talmud says there is no better trait than humility, because it leaves a person in the position of being able to receive God’s help and inspiration. To the extent that a person is subjective or assumes too much about their knowledge, that is the extent to which they block God’s light from filling them as well.
The Talmud famously has warned that just in advance of Moshiach’s arrival, chutzpah will greatly increase. I don’t think there is much debate on just how true that has become the case, though it is not always clear to people that they have it. And that only makes it more difficult for them and others to achieve clarity in life, especially as it becomes more confusing as Moshiach approaches.
But for that person who remains focused on redemption, anticipating its arrival each waking hour, it is hard not to be humble. They can feel the reality of God, and that makes it easier for God to speak to them, and through them. It may not be prophecy, but it is certainly Divine inspiration, and will lead a person to the truth and peace of mind.
It is not for no reason that we call a year “shannah,” from the word that means “change,” and month, “chodesh,” which means “new.” It is a built-in reminder that for spiritual growth to continue, and reward in the World-to-Come to accumulate, we have to accept change as a part of life.