Out Of Control – Rabbi Barry Gelman

This past year has been a very frustrating, scary one for many people. The economic crisis has left many people feeling helpless and out of control. Not only in the realm of the economic crisis, but in many other areas of life, we may feel that we are not in control. 

There are some who have put much effort in to raising their children to follow a certain path, yet they choose a different, often a heartbreaking path. As a result, we feel helpless, out of control.In our relationships, especially our marriages, many feel that there is no time to work on a marriage under stress and that our marriages are just sort of limping along.

I spent time talking to my congregation on Rosh Hashana about feeling out of control and at least one spiritually and religiously positive aspect of this feeling. I am happy to share it with you.

Events in life that humble us altogether bad. They supply a needed corrective for a sense of arrogance that leads us to believe that everything is in our control and that we can correct any problem if we only wanted to.

This shocking awareness of our limitations and our helplessness is part of the spirit that Rosh Hashanah seeks to instill in us. On this day do we say: ve’yeda kol pa’ul ki attah pe’alto ve’yavin kol yetzur ki attah yetzarto, “May every existing being know that Thou hast made it; may every creature realize that Thou hast created it.” Spirituality consists in the acknowledgment that we are pa’ul not only Po’el; that we are the objects of events, and not the subjects who determine them. Theologians have called that “Kreatursgefuhl”, the awareness of our creatureliness, of our severe limitations in the face of God and the world. And it is true that we are limited in what we can do — sometimes tragically so. (I gleaned this insight from a Drasha given by Rabbi Normal Lamm)

 This idea is the essence of petitional prayer. When we ask God for things it is an admission o need and a call for help.

 So the recent crisis, and the unsettled areas of our life, may have a positive impact on our souls as they compel us to realize that we are not all powerful and that there are forces greater than us.

In ancient times, when humanity was ravaged by weather, and disease, humility was in abundance. People felt humbled in the face of those great forces. In our time and society when we able to protect ourselves from weather and fight disease we no longer feel that sense power nor the humility that comes with it.

Perhaps the economy, we are now realizing, is also a powerful force, not always in our control. Not all aspects of human relationships are in our control either. Perhaps our current feelings of helplessness will help us regain our sense of humility.

I think this idea specifically relates to the morethodox as we pride ourselves on our modern sense of self sufficiency and being in control. We consider ourselves part of  society that has accomplished so much that we may, at time, loose perspective on what we really can control and who really is in control. While we should not trade away our intense involvement in the world of science, medicine and technology nd business,we should be aware that our successes in those areas come with potentially dangerous spiritual side affects.

We should embrace the lesson of humility that difficulty and distress bring. Humility is a good thing even if it is born from negative experiences.

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