Selected Sermon/Article
2007-01-27 Parshat Bo by Rabbi Zeev Smason
Life is a Test
Life is a test, and raising children is certainly one test amongst many that we face on a regular basis.

A young girl named Lisa slunk out of the bathroom one day, and asked "Is the pink toothbrush yours?"

Her mother glanced at her suspiciously, 'Yes, why? Did you drop it in the toilet?" She answered, "Not today ...yesterday."

Speaking of tests, Rebbitzen Esther Jungreis has written a marvelous book titled 'Life is a Test.' Many of you have read it or are in the process of reading it in participation with the St. Louis Kollel's upcoming program, "Jewish Unity Live 2007.' I would certainly not able in the few moments we have here this morning to give an exhaustive review of the many important points in her book. I would, however, like to share with you three ideas of my own concerning what I believe that the phrase 'Life is a Test' means.. Just what does it mean that 'Life is a Test?'

You've heard it said that God never gives us a test that we can't handle, and that with maximum effort we can pass any test that He throws our way.

Where within the Torah can we see this idea expressed?

We need look no further than the appointment of Moshe Rabbanu (Moses) to the position of leader of Bnai Yisrael. You're familiar with the story which we read just a few weeks ago; how Moshe Rabbanu was placed, virtually screaming and kicking, into a job that neither he nor anyone else would have thought possible to succeed at? Talk about a test that doesn't seem possible to pass!

You know that Moshe had a speech impediment; you know that the Jewish people were a stubborn, stiff necked people; and you know that Moshe was asked to approach the ruthless amoral dictator named Paro to request that the millions of Jews go free to worship the Almighty.

If at the time there were odds makers in Las Vegas, they wouldn't have even given odds that there was a possibility that Moshe could have succeeded. Nevertheless, it was a test that was put before Moshe, which meant that by definition, it was a test that with the help of Hashem he could pass.

As your rabbi, I've seen over the years some of the tests that you've had. An outsider would be amazed at how you've passed these challenges.

Collectively as a congregation and individually, you've dealt with physical and mental illnesses. You've suffered through pressing financial concerns, and you've also kept your moral standards in times of wealth and success. You've suffered the heartbreak of seeing young people cut down in the prime of their lives. I've seen you pass the incredibly difficult test of lovingly raise children who were afflicted with profound illnesses and disabilities.

I've been to the nursing homes, where with the patience of Job and unimaginable love and devotion, I've seen you care for your mothers and fathers and husbands and wives -- some of whom were stricken with terminal diseases, and some of them who were and are afflicted with conditions that have caused them to lose their minds and be only a hollow shell of their former selves. I've heard from you and about you the stories; how some of you suffered the inhumanity of the death camps in Europe and winters in Siberia, and how you witnessed the lives of your own families taken before your eyes. Yet, all of you are here today in an Orthodox synagogue, praying to the God of Israel and acknowledging His existence. do we know that God never gives a person a test he or she can't pass? Look at the person next to you -- or better yet, look at your own lives, and you'll know.

A second thought in understanding the idea that 'Life is a Test', is that the constant tests and challenges we face on a daily basis are given to us to strengthen our faith in Hashem, and help us come closer to Him. Much like in a physical sense that we need to excercise on a regular basis to maintain our health and body tone, our spiritual health needs regular excercise as well. Otherwise, we run the risk of letting it atrophy and decay.

I was reminded of this idea in reading about a story in the news within the past two weeks that I'm sure some of you saw.

A Cambodian 'jungle girl' was found after having lived on her own in the jungle for 18 years, and is now struggling to adapt to life with her family, and other human beings.

The girl went missing as an eight-year-old along with her cousin when they were sent to tend cows near the border with Vietnam. Villagers believed they had been eaten by wild animals until a girl was caught two weeks ago by a logging team as she was trying to steal some food they had left under a tree. With blackened skin and hair stretching down to her legs, she couldn't be recognized except for a scar across her back that allowed her father to pick her out. She prefers to crawl rather than walk like a human, and unfortunately, she keeps crying and wants to go back to the jungle.

A detail of this very sad yet fascinating story that caught my attention, is that this woman can now only say three words: father, mother, and stomachache. If the story is true, how could it be that a girl of 8 years old, certainly who was fluent in Cambodian at the time she disappeared, speak three words? And even if we doubt the veracity of this story, there have been other reliable accounts of individuals stranded and shipwrecked who in a relatively short period of time lost the ability to speak their native language. How could something like that take place?

Language is something that must be used on a regular basis; otherwise, it deteriorates. The idea of 'use it or lose it' is something that applies to language, health and body tone, mental acuity, and ....relevant to our discussion in Hashem.

Tests from God are a form of communication to help us maintain and build our faith in Him, and establish a vibrant, loving relationship. A test might take the form of pain and suffering; a test can also take the form of blessings showered down upon our head. But a life without tests, or a life without tests acknowledged and responded to, will result in the same end as a person who goes for an extended period of time not using their language. If we don't use our faith we run the risk of losing it.

Finally, 'Life is a Test' means that we should embrace challenges. On the one hand we know that we're not supposed to ask Hashem to test us. Goodness knows, we have enough tests to deal with as is! However, we should desire to rise above a life of mediocrity by striving for excellence in our personal and professional lives.

I recently had a discussion with my twelve year old son Leib, who asked me what my day and week as a rabbi was like. Amongst the many things I told him that occupy my time, I mentioned that I spend a considerable amount of time thinking about and preparing my weekly drasha, or sermon. He said, 'Dad, why don't you just find someone else's drasha on the Internet, copy it and use it? I'm sure there are plenty of things there that you could use, and you'd save yourself a whole lot of time.'

I have to admit that at times, that very idea has crossed my mind! I answered my son, however, using an analogy from baseball. I said, 'Leib, when we do the things that we do during the week; school, or the things that I do as a rabbi, we can try to hit a single, or go for a home run. If I just copied someone else's drasha and repeated it on Shabbos, it wouldn't go over very well. I suppose I could 'get away with it', but it would be a single. I like to think that when I present my drashos, that I'm going for a home run. Therefore, I put a lot of time and preparation into it."

And I think Leib heard what I was saying.

Life is a test in so many ways. Though life can be extremely difficult, there's some comfort to be had in knowing that God never gives us a test that we can't pass. Our various challenges in life serve to strengthen our faith in Hashem, much like regular exercise keeps us in shape. And if we can embrace our tests in life, striving for excellence, while it's true that "Life is a Test", it will be a test that each and everyone of us will pass.

Good Shabbos