| Parshah |

Testing, One, Two, Three

Our spiritual achievements must be continuously nourished and maintained

“See, I have  put  before you today life and good, and death and evil” (Devarim 30:15).


av Yitzchok Hutner explains  that beyond the obvious differences between life and death and good and evil, there is more profound distinction. Life requires continuous sustenance, and a person who doesn’t  regularly eat, drink and constantly breathe will die. Death is different; once something has died, it remains dead  (Rabbi Ozer Alport, Parsha Potpourri).

In general, I consider myself a soft-spoken and sensible person. I’m a big Dale Carnegie fan and prefer diplomacy to discord.

Still, I’m only human, and every once in a while, a person pushes my buttons and I want to react. This usually involves some form of injustice, or some unjustifiable behavior or speech. Then, despite my best intentions, I respond with a sharp retort, all the while wishing I’d retained my fifth amendment rights and remained silent. I dislike myself for stooping to the instigator’s level and reprimand myself, determined it won’t happen again.

This distinction between life and death is paralleled with the difference between good and evil. A person who chooses the path of Torah and mitzvos is spiritually alive, yet he can never let his guard down, for life requires continual nourishment and vigilance. In contrast, a wicked person who is  spiritually dead will remain in that state if he does not exert effort.

A few weeks ago I had to go to a government office in another city to take care of some paperwork. I called the office the afternoon before and was told they open at 8:30 a.m. I showed up at 8:50 the next morning, and sure enough the door was open, so I walked in, wished the clerk sitting at the desk good morning, and began sifting through my paperwork.

“We only open at nine,” he said curtly.

“Oh! I called yesterday and they said 8:30. I came all the way from out of the city. Is there any way we can start earlier?”

“Don’t tell me what to do!” All of a sudden the man was on his feet, yelling loudly. “You come in here without permission before I even open and you start telling me how to do my job? What chutzpah!” His voice was rising. “You better get out of here right now!”

And he started to come around his desk as if to enforce my hasty exit.

I walked out the door, shaking. Whatever had I done to evoke such a rude response? Accidentally coming early when I’d been given the wrong information? What right did that give the clerk to abuse me verbally like that?

Applying this concept to our own lives, Rav Yisroel Reisman explains that our spiritual achievements must be continuously nourished and maintained. If we find ourselves still working on areas we focused on in previous years, we should not despair; rather, we must recognize that life and spiritual good need ongoing sustenance. At the same time, once we have successfully implemented positive change, we should never take it for granted, but must constantly remain vigilant to ensure that our accomplishments stay with us for years to come.

I wanted to turn right around and head home. But I still needed to complete that paperwork. Still, I was petrified to go back into the office. What if he yelled at me again? Worse, what if I responded in kind? I so badly didn’t want to pulled down into that kind of behavior!

Taking a deep breath, I checked my watch. Exactly 9:00. Then I turned on my phone so it would record the entire conversation — for my own sake, knowing I’d hear how I’d sound. Then I walked into the office with a big smile, wishing the clerk good morning as if I’d never seen him before. He barely glanced at me and demanded my forms.

“I’m American,” I said politely, “Can you speak to me in English?”

I knew he had to know English and he’d be less likely to be rude speaking a second language. Also, I’d be less likely to be rude back. I managed the half hour appointment speaking softly and politely in English, with my phone as my witness.

When I finally walked out of there, I was shaking again. For a good reason. I’d passed the test. I made it. And maybe I’ll make it next time too.

Check my phone.


 (Originally featured in Family First, Issue 811)

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