A Spiritual Workout

Nov 11th, 2011 by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Portion of the Week
“Good people strengthen themselves ceaselessly (Confucius).” My back is aching more than usual, and it’s my fault. I knew that if I would shovel the snow that fell over Shabbat  two weeks ago that my body would hurt. I was being a good person, as I cleared the snow (when my wife wasn’t watching) so that my wife could reach her car.

Then, my older neighbor, a doctor, mentioned to me that he exercises all year so that he can shovel the snow without hurting himself. I have not been regularly exercising to prepare for the winter, or even to strengthen my muscles to support my constantly aching back. I have not been ceaselessly strengthening myself; does that mean that I am not being the good person described by Confucius? Probably.

If I have to exercise to prepare for shoveling snow, I certainly have to exercise to be ready to be tested by God. I’ve been wondering whether this Spiritual Workout is what our Sages mean when they describe Abraham as tested ten times: The ten times that Israel tested God in the desert, are actually nine plus one that was more than the previous tests combined. The first nine tests were “tests” of how far Israel could go in testing God; they were all preparation for the tenth test. Abraham’s first nine tests were a spiritual workout, all meant to prepare him for the tenth and only test that truly mattered.

“He looked and saw the place from a distance,” can also mean that Abraham looked back on how far he had traveled through life to arrive at this test. He understood that all that preceded this moment was a complex workout to prepare him for the Akeidah.

We all feel tested by God, but I wonder how often we consider whether the immediate test is part of a spiritual workout, or the defining test. Failing a workout test, as the Ramban suggests Abraham did, is not a failure; it is a learning experience to train me for the defining test. The difference matters.

I think I’ll go exercise…

Author Info:
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