Thursday, March 19, 2009

Manis Friedman Pesach quotes Part 3: Divine Providence

I was going to post this as a standalone, but it actually ties in with the way he begins the lecture, so I'm going to transcribe the first section at some point and post it here as Part 2. Meanwhile, I have found this very helpful - gentle,down-to-earth and insightful as usual - on the very big question of "if God runs the world, what's my job?" Also, a bit about how it ties in with Pesach, because Pesach, through the seder, is both transcendent and also very specific, very concrete.
As in Part 1 of my own exerpts, which I posted a couple of days ago, I have transcribed this from Manis Friedman's Pesach "tape", side B, at this website. Also, as before, this is my own amateur and unauthorized transcript. It is long, but, in my opinion, worth reading. Any errors and misunderstandings are purely mine!
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Whenever we talk about faith, people get very uncomfortable. Talk about divine providence, that everything happens by divine providence and some people get very upset.

The reason it's upsetting them is that if you really believe what you're saying, that everything happens by divine providence and there's nothing you can do to change the divine providence - except for mitzvos or sins - but other than that, everything is already preordained, then why do you get up in the morning?

By believing that, you're going to produce a whole society that is going to say whatever happens, whatever will be, is fine. And nobody will bother doing anything. So people get really upset about that.

But why should this be? What is the reasoning? How does it follow that if you really believe that God is involved in every detail of our lives, that we then wouldn't bother getting up in the morning? Where is the logic in that? It seems so convincing, it seems so easily accepted, but where is the reasoning behind it?

There are one of two things that get you out of bed in the morning. One is survival, the other is service - those are the options. If a person is motivated, a person is ambitious, it must be for one of two reasons. Either because you're supposed to survive or because you're supposed to serve.

The person who for many years has survived has done so by being aggressive, by feeling the weight of responsibility. Because our existence is delicate, fragile, tenuous and if you're not on top of it, you may end up not existing. Something is going to go wrong, something is going to harm you, something is going to come along and take away your life, take away your existence.

Therefore, you've got to be alert, to be on top of things all the time to make sure that you survive. The survival instinct: the more threatened we feel, the more desperately we try to survive. The more insecure we feel, the harder we try, the more burdened with responsibility for our survival, the more intensely aggressive we become about our survival.

Now you come to this person who is basically motivated by self-preservation and you say to him, "you know something? God runs the world. Everything that happens, happens by divine plan."

He says, "you've got to be kidding. You mean, I don't have to get up in the morning? You mean I don't have to fight anymore, I don't have to be so alert?"

Well, I didn't quite say you don't have to get up in the morning.

"But if God runs the world, then I don't have to."

Well, that would be true if all along you were getting up in the morning in order to run the world.

If you got up every morning because you thought you had to run the world, then guess what? You don't have to get up anymore. God is now running the world. You don't have to do it. You can roll over and go back to sleep.

But on the other hand, if all along you were getting up not because you had to survive; you were getting up because you wanted to serve, you didn't see the world as being your enemy, it wasn't you against the world, it wasn't you fighting to survive, you were getting up because there's a lot of good to be done, and here's an opportunity to do it, so you got out of bed and go to it.

We're here to serve our creator. Here's another day in which we can serve our creator.

If that's what motivates us, if that's what gets us up in the morning, then finding out that all of these things such as whether it's going to rain or not, whether it'll be peace on earth or war on earth, is really up to God and you don't have to worry about it, you don't have to worry about Vietnam or Nicaragua or the universal global fears because God is in charge, that doesn't necessarily mean you're going to sleep late.

On the contrary, it inspires you even more.

Because in your service of God, which is what wakes you up in the morning anyway - even if it wasn't the service of God, the service of your family, the service of mankind - but to serve. Then knowing that God is also involved in these things doesn't threaten you at all. On the contrary, you feel privileged that you can do something for a much greater cause.

Finding out that God is doing the same thing doesn't make you go to sleep. It makes you want to do it more because you're not competing with God. It's not, "if God is doing it, then I don't have to" - of course you don't have to! We're not talking about surviving, we're not talking about keeping the world in existence, making sure the world doesn't come apart at the seams, we're talking about serving.

If you find out that other people are serving as well, that inspires you to serve better and more. It's an inspiration, not a discouragement. If you find out that God himself is involved in making this world better, it makes you want to serve him even more. You would get up early, not later.

And that's the key to bringing faith from that disembodied stage, from that transcendent stage... bringing it into the system, into everyday life to where it does affect your behaviour, it affects your mood, your performance, the choices you make in terms of what you're going to do, what you're not going to do, because faith is no longer a matter of faith, it's become a matter of life.

It's become a way of life. That's called ingesting faith - or, in different words, eating matzah.

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