By: Rabbi Moishe Schnerb

It may sound like a very strange thing to say, but I am profoundly grateful for all the challenges, difficulties, and moments of despair that I have encountered in my life. I am so grateful for the four and a half years I spent “on dialysis”, sometimes attached to a machine for four consecutive hours, or negotiating at home with a temperamental machine in the wee hours of the morning. I am grateful for all those days where all I could think of, as I tried to pursue a normal routine, was when next I would be able to go to sleep. I am grateful for the lockdown that Covid brought in its wake, even though it forestalled so many of the normal activities we anticipated and enjoyed. I am extremely grateful for every time I put effort and energy into any project, concept, or arrangement that somehow never came to fruition, and even for the frustration, insult, and embarrassment that is occasionally the fate of all feeling people.

Now, before you label me as some kind of a cynic, masochist, or a manic depressive, please hear me out. The Maharal in Netzach Yisroel (chapters 23, 26, 35, and 39) expresses the concept that only when a person is lacking something or finds himself in a predicament, facing a difficult challenge, or perhaps even utter desperation, that one is ideally poised to catalyse dramatic change and arrive at a destination that heretofore he would never have been able to achieve. The Maharal brings several examples. The second verse of the Torah states that the world was amazingly empty and devoid of all substance. From this abyss came: “Let there be light.” A void is the most powerful springboard for growth.

Famously quoted whenever a siyum on Masechet Makkot is held is the consolation Rabbi Akiva gives his colleagues that just as the doomsday prophecy of Uria has been fulfilled, so too will the idyllic predictions of Zechariah come to fruition. This is generally understood to mean that the two prophecies are inextricably connected and dependent on each other. This approach, however, is difficult, because we find that even when a prophet announces predictions of doom and gloom, it is not inevitable that these will actually occur, since if the threat precipices sincere repentance, the punishment can be mitigated. So how can the two prophecies be interdependent?

The answer is that the source of beracha – blessing – is destruction. When I am lacking something, then I can accomplish, when something is missing, one can work to achieve. When one is “sitting pretty”, then there is no impetus to work on improving. Explains the Maharal, in order to merit the exhilarating prophecy of Zechariah, you have to have lived the experience of the prophecy of Uria.

  • The Gemora in Sanhedrin refers to Moshiach as bar Nafli – the one who falls. This would seem to be a strange name for the one who will bring about the greatest growth and utopia for the Jewish nation? However, the commentators explain that the mission of Moshiach is to rebuild the “fallen Sukkah of David”. It is specifically the one who stumbled and fell who will be able to inspire the greatest degree of perfection.

Our Rabbis say that one who mourns over the destruction of Jerusalem will manage to see its rebuilding. This is usually interpreted that as a reward for mourning, one merits to see the culmination of that grieving, the joy of rebuilding the Beis Hamikdash again. The Maharal understands that it is only one who truly internalises the cataclysmic tragedy of the double demise of our Holy Temple can truly appreciate and celebrate its’ rebuilding. Only one who temporarily loses his sight would truly appreciate the incredible gift of sight when it is finally restored.

Of course, we celebrate the milestones of life, we dance at weddings, we revel in the spiritual, intellectual, and even financial success of those we care about, and that can be truly inspirational. However, the pinnacle of joy, the moment of ultimate gratitude, comes when a person has reached the absolute nadir of his life, hitting that proverbial “brick wall” with no “wiggle room” and then, from the depths of his being, summons the energy to keep trying and focus as much as possible, even if only managing ”baby steps” in the right direction. If this “rising from the depths” facilitates one heartfelt tefillah, one episode of Torah learning, one act of care or concern for others, we are heroes and deserving of every accolade. For this Divine infusion of superhuman strength, we must be eternally grateful.

Rabbi Moishe Schnerb is an American born Rabbi who studied in Eretz Yisroel and has lived in South Africa for nearly 35 years. Rabbi Schnerb has 10 children and is the Associate Rabbi at Beis Hamedrash Keter Torah as well as a Rebbe at Yeshiva Maharsha Boys High school.

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