I experience and often hear descriptions of moments of greatness and moments of insignificance. Moments of intimacy and moments of distance. Moments of inspiration and moments of disappointment. I feel as if I'm observing a tug-of-war between the highs and the lows of life, relationships, and spirituality. Our history is filled with such moments of upheaval. Biblically, these emotional events turn up in the most dramatic scenes and laws.
The infamous Sotah, the woman accused of adultery, is pulled from both sides. She brings an offering to God, connecting to Him even as she is warned about the mysterious waters that may yank her one way to death or the other to blessing. She is humiliatingly paraded around the Temple, and she is lovingly reminded that God, so desperate for peace between her husband and her, allows His Name to be erased.
She finds herself in this horrible situation because she too was pulling in different directions. Every marriage has ups and downs, highs and lows, but she pulled away from her husband, and she came back close to him, and then pulled away again, back and forth. She has been living betwixt and between, and now finds herself at the center of an intense tug-of-war.
The Nazirite is tired of the tug-of-war of a relationship with God. He is frustrated as he is first pulled by the moments of inspiration only to soon find himself jerked in the opposite direction by disappointment. He's torn between the pull of greatness and the yanking back of insignificance. He's tired of the back and forth and withdraws from the world into what he believes is holiness. He'll be yanked back into the contest of life with all the back and forth, but he needs his time of peace.
The most famous Nazirite, Samson, experienced, "The spirit of God began to bounce in him," indicating that he lived one moment as a holy man, and the next, as a person struggling with his passions. Was he human or an X-man? Was he a Jew or, because of his great strength and courage, more of a Philistine? He is at the center of a tug-of-war; pulled by the tails of two foxes trying to separate, one day seeing a powerful lion and the next a dripping honeycomb. He stood his entire life between two pillars pushing both away as he desperately looked for peace. "She lulled him to sleep on her knees (Judges 16:19)," the mighty, imposing, larger than life hero, finds a child's peace falling asleep with his head on Delilah's lap. He is fully aware that she will betray him, but that moment of peace without any tug-of-war is worth losing his the strength that made him so different and torn.
Ezekiel has a vision of the Chariot of God in which he sees,"The Chayot ran to and fro (Ezekiel 1:14)," because even in the Highest Heavens there is a back and forth; the Living Angels run toward God only to pull back for fear of the intensity. Even in Heaven there is a tug-of-war.
We are approaching Sinai, where at one moment, "Warn the people lest they break through to God to see (Exodus 19:21)," they will run to, only to, "see, tremble, and stood from afar (21:15)." The rope was being tugged back and forth even at Sinai.
This is not the child's game of tug-of-war. There are not two parties pulling in opposite directions. There is only one person, standing in the center of his own struggles. "I had the greatest prayer of my life," one day, and, "I'm disappointed in my prayer," the next. "Our marriage is more passionate than ever," today, and, "we've lost any sense of connection," tomorrow. "I am inspired to find answers to all my questions," right now, "My relationship with God can no longer be all or nothing; there are too many issues," a little later.
The "all or nothing" of a relationship with God is not all inspiration or none, all highs or none, but the willingness to live at the center of the tug-of-war of a meaningful life. We've been standing right there ever since Adam and Eve, and we're carrying on with all the ups and downs and back and forths. I find my peace not in perfect faith but in realizing that I stand with the Highest Angels and the Sotah, with Samson and Sinai; I find my peace when I understand that when I'm willing to live with the tug-of-war, I'm standing as a human being with God and Israel at Sinai.
Shabbat Shalom & Chag Sameach,
Rabbi Simcha L. Weinberg
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