The Dilemma of Faith

Jan 19, 2023

קַוֵּה אֶל־יְהֹוָה וּשְׁמֹר דַּרְכּוֹ וִירוֹמִמְךָ לָרֶשֶׁת אָרֶץ בְּהִכָּרֵת רְשָׁעִים תִּרְאֶה׃

Look to Hashem and keep to His way, and He will raise you high that you may inherit the land; when the wicked are cut off, you shall see it.

ka-VAY el a-do-NAI ush-MOR dar-KO vee-ro-mim-KHA la-RE-shet A-retz b'-hi-ka-RAYT r'-sha-EEM tir-EH

Psalms 37:34

By Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz

When I sit down at my Shabbat dinner table and I am blessed to have my four children around me, something strange happens. I look at them but I don’t see them. I look at my 20-year-old daughter and see one moment, caught in time, with her in the air above me, laughing as I get ready to catch her. I look at my 16-year-old boy and see him in the pool, paddling toward me. My fifteen-year-old boy is suddenly five years old and we are walking through the forest. My ten-year-old boy is also five, and pedaling toward me on his first solo bicycle ride.

I think every parent can relate to this strange experience. It is uniquely powerful. Being a parent means being trusted to a frightening degree. More than they trust themselves, my kids trust me. 

This is the kind of trust King David had for God.

Leave all to Hashem; trust in Him; He will do it. Psalm 37:5

But it isn’t easy to trust God when we see evil people prospering. How do we maintain our trust in God at these moments? King David provides an answer in his Psalms.

Psalm 37 talks about putting our trust in God and relying on Him. But what happens in difficult and trying times? What happens when the world seems unfair? David responds:

Do not be vexed by evil men; do not be incensed by wrongdoers; for they soon wither like grass, like verdure fade away. Psalm 37:1-2

Life is a process, and sometimes it takes time to see results. Doing the right thing does not always bring immediate desirable outcomes. While evil men do prosper, faith and trust in God mean knowing that in the end, he rewards those who believe. This is a very simple message but can sometimes be difficult to follow. 

But what is the reward of believing in God and of having faith?

After hundreds of years as slaves in Egypt, the Jews’ faith was rewarded and God took us to freedom. And when we were free, he commanded us to build a Tabernacle, or mishkan, meaning a dwelling place. God is everywhere, of course, but when the Jews were finally free he wanted to dwell among us. The reward for our faithfulness is to be in God’s presence. Just as the reward for the trusting relationship I have with my children is being together as a family. 

The Psalm describes the highest level of dwelling with God, dwelling in the land of Israel: 

Look to Hashem and keep to His way, and He will raise you high that you may inherit the land; when the wicked are cut off, you shall see it. Psalm 37:34

But living in Israel is not easy and is, in itself, a lesson in faith. Rain in Israel is a product of prayer and a sign of Divine Providence. And every seven years, the Jews in Israel make a leap of faith by observing shemittah, the sabbatical.

This level of faith is sometimes challenging. One verse in this Psalm in particular stands out as reassurance:

I have been young and am now old, but I have never seen a righteous man abandoned, or his children seeking bread. Psalm 37:25

This verse is recited as part of the Grace After the Meal. One time, a guest told me that he omits this verse.

“It isn’t true,” he explained. “I have seen righteous men and their children suffer.”

I thought about this for a while before responding, thinking of all the righteous people I have been fortunate to know. One, in particular, stood out. Nissim had been struck with a debilitating disease and was in a wheelchair. I once met him on the street in front of his house and asked him if he was angry at God for making him suffer. He looked at me, perplexed.

“What do you mean?” he said. Just then, two of his teenage sons showed up to carry his wheelchair up the stairs.

I thought of this story and answered my guest.

“You’re still young,” I said. 

Psalm 37 psalm reminds us of the importance of putting our trust in the Lord and relying on him, even in difficult and uncertain times. It also reminds us of the ultimate fate of the wicked and the righteous: the wicked will come to ruin (vs. 9) but the righteous will inherit the land and dwell in it forever (vs. 22).

This provides us with perspective on the trials and troubles we may face in this world; knowing that they are temporary and that justice will ultimately be served. This psalm encourages us to trust and rely on God, focusing on what is truly important and eternal rather than the temporal and fleeting.

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