Do It For You
Why do we live according to the commandments? Who are we doing it for? Why do we treat others with care? Is it: Love your neighbor the way you love yourself - for God? Or is it for yourself?
My client, John, hates his mother in law who lives with him, his wife and kids. It's very difficult on a daily basis to do things in his own house feeling what he does. (Details are changed to protect privacy.) He has to see her everyday and even share many meals with her at the table. It's easy to be rude, to ignore, to put down and to behave in ways that let off steam.
"But," I ask John, "How will what you do affect you, not just for today, but eternally. How will you feel when you go to the next world and see a review of yourself treating your mother in law like that? How will the Almighty look upon your behavior?"
I suggest: "Don't do it for your mother-in-law. Do it for you! Can you be considerate and caring to her because everything you do affects YOU?
When we are nice to someone to whom we would rather be curt, who is it really for?
If I am showing kindness to a person who hurt me in the past, whom am I doing that for? Even if it were a hurtful parent and I am commanded to honor that parent. Who am I really doing it for? It might look like a kindness for the parent, but really I would be doing it for my own soul.
Don't get me wrong. It's not "turn the other cheek." That is not even a Torah concept. Different situation call for different responses. Sometimes the most right thing to do is to stand up to someone and assert our own essence. Sometimes it's to let it go. Sometimes it's best to share and then to listen or the other way around. Each situation is different, as is each of us.
But whatever manner we treat another person, even doing great kindness, we have to know that in the end it is really "for me."
But that is not always obvious. God told Avraham Avinu to leave his birthplace. For Avraham Avinu it would have been the natural thing to stay home with his aging father and care for him and the property they owned. For Avraham, the most natural thing was to be kind, to give to others. Remember, his tent was open on four sides. By all standards, staying home with an aging father and giving to others is a moral, fine thing to do.
But, in the beginning of our Torah, Avraham had to make a different choice, one that did not come naturally to him, but one that forced him to grow. God tells him not just "Go," rather "Go for yourself." Leave your aging father and all the kindnesses that you are doing and Go "for yourself." Isn’t every commandment we are given really for “ourself?”
Queen Esther is another Tanach great who transformed her nature "for herself." No one would ever advise a young Jewish girl or even a non Jewish girl to enter the inner chamber of a man, even if he were a king. It's against Jewish law as well as common sense. Yet, Esther's own uncle/husband told her to go. He told her to do it, not for the Jewish people, because someone will save them if it is not her, but to do it for herself.
It would have been very understandable had Esther refused, explaining to Mordecai that going to the king would not be proper, and that without an invitation, she might be killed. That would have been congruent with her nature at the time. Remaining hidden and quiet about her being Jewish was also very natural for Esther while she was living in the king's palace.
But remaining that way, the proper way, the way of modesty, would not have been the best thing for her at the time, or for the Jewish people. She, then, told the Jews to fast "for her" for three days before she acts. Esther had to act "for herself" in order to do her soul's mission. And that is what she did. Esther transformed herself from a sweet, hidden personality (her name means "hidden") to become the Queen of Persia, the Savior of Jews, the Queen Esther for whom the Purim Megillah is named.
Situations are put before us that require us to act in a way that is different from how we usually conduct ourselves or from how we think we should act. Often, even though we feel we are doing good acts, in order to grow, we need to proceed differently.
What about the wife who is being laughed at in front of her children and refrains from arguing about it? We can say she is a wonderful, sweet person letting that go on all the time. But really for her soul, for her own growth, the best thing would be for her to overcome her nature and show her children that moms are not to be made fun of or laughed at.
There are challenges before each of us. We may feel annoyed, bothered that we would have to do such a thing when we are such good people. But those challenges put in front of us, I believe, are from the Almighty. They are each an opportunity to do what is the best thing ourselves. They are presented as a way to grow in the most important way we can. When we act, it is really "for us," "for you," "for me."
Hashem gives special gifts to those who follow his command. When God tells Avraham to go for himself, he tells him also that he will be a blessing to everyone. He tells him that God Himself will defend him (p 55 Stone Chumash.)
Facing challenging situations, doing things in a new way, grows our soul. It's doing what is not comfortable. To do what is most difficult is frequently for our own benefit.
For me, the more difficult road has been standing up in the face of opposition. I would rather just move on to the next thing and forget about the bad experience. I'm even good at that, just getting involved in what is in front of me and leaving the bad treatment I received behind me. But I have learned that if I don't deal with the situation facing me, the next thing that I move on to will have the same challenges.
Many years ago I had to take such an action. My employer was harassing me and placing me in locations that had work-hours that threatened my Shabbos observance. Their behavior eventually succeeded in putting an end to the career I had devoted myself to for more than 30 years.
I had a choice - to take a new uncomfortable path, or to stay in my old way. My old would have been to get another job in a place that observes Shabbos and holidays. I believed that I would have done well there as I had always done in my career. But I also knew that if I let this go, then I will have to face something similar in the next work place. I just knew this was a soul journey. This was a journey that went way back in my life. It was forcing me to overcome my nature by fighting back those who tried to wrong me. I had to tread a new path. I had to take legal action.
It was a very difficult time. While I was very supported in my journey to become Shomer Shabbos, no one in the town where I lived and worked, no town rabbis, except Rabbi David Feldman of the conservative shul, no people who lived or worked in the town, no member of any of the local synagogues, no colleague, no one... was willing to speak up on my behalf, so that I may protect my Jewish observance.
Looking back, I could see that in order for my soul to grow the way the Almighty wanted, I had to do this myself. That was exactly what God wanted for me or He would have given me others to speak for me. My only ally really at the time was God and just as He protected Avraham, He became my defender, my protector, my ally and my inspiration. I fought a whole town by myself and won a three week jury trial.
The judge, months later, took away the award I was to get. But no one can take away the growth that my soul experienced. I knew that I had faced the opposition with integrity and courage. And it is interesting that after all of the abuse I had received in my life, once I faced that trial, I have not since had to fight people who wrong me. That is how I know I really won. I did it not for the financial reward, not for someone else. I did it "for me," for my soul, for when I meet my Creator. I know that I did the right thing "for me."
When I do what I know is right, but what may also be uncomfortable, my world changes. Miracles happen. It becomes easier, not harder.
God himself becomes my defender, my protector and I believe He also does that for you when you do what is for your soul, when you do what is "for you."
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