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Why Is A Difficulty Called Nissayon in Hebrew?

Published on Friday October 22th, 2021

We have seen that trials are nothing more than a sign of G-d's love. Let us now try to develop some methods of reflection in order to measure ourselves against the difficulties of life.

We all want to succeed in what we do, whether in the field of mitzvot, work, marriage, etc. To do this, we generally develop a well-defined strategy that will allows us, according to our estimation, to succeed in what we are going to undertake. When an obstacle or even an error arises, we get carried away against the people or the circumstances that made our plans fail, or we accuse ourselves of not having foreseen such setbacks or impediments...Or, we cry and lose hope.

Yet our Sages teach us that there is a deeper way of seeing things. To think that a successful day is a day in which there are no obstacles or pitfalls is an incorrect way of looking at things. What appears in several texts of Chazal is that the problems of life are inbuilt into life itself, they are not by chance. Hashem wants us to advance and He thus sends us difficulties so that we learn to overcome them, in the same way that a weightlifter, must train himself to lift heavier and heavier objects in order to reach a respectable level, despite the difficulty of the effort that he will have to put in. So too, man must experience the trials of life in order to come out stronger.

Take the example of an irritable person. If life is for her a long calm river, without any annoyances, she will never have any chance to fix her terrible defect of anger. Hashem, Who in His great goodness, wanted to teach her patience, will send her daily opportunities to get upset in order test her patience. The tests will increase in difficulty each time, so that the heightened level she reaches is constantly tested anew. Certainly, after a few years, this person will certainly have advanced and overcame her tendency to get angry.

That is why, the Ramban teaches us, that a test in Hebrew is a "nissayon", which comes from the root "ness" meaning "to raise", because through testing us, Hashem wishes to raise us! The purpose of a test is to direct our personality. Without a test, we would advance very little, or worse, we would regress without even realizing it...

Regarding this, the Ramban questions the purpose of the ordeals that Avraham Avinu was put through. Indeed, knowing the future, Hashem knew full well that Avraham was going to overcome them. Why did He therefore send him these ordeals? The Ramban responds that one of the reasons why Hashem sends trials to a tzaddik is to help him realize his spiritual potential. Indeed, before the test, he had high moral qualities, however, it was only through the ordeals that Hashem sent him, that he could implement them.

In order to pass the test in the best possible way and to emerge stronger, it is important that we learn something alongside our work, in order to help us structure our progress.  A person, caught in the spiritual frenzy of Yom Kippur, can for example decide to take upon himself to never get angry again. Such a resolution, however beneficial it may be, is none the less the result of momentary decision. In order to be able to keep up this decision, instead of deciding never to get angry again, a person should take upon himself to learn for example, a few minutes or even half an hour of mussar a day. This, will ensure that their decision is carried out in the best possible way, and will bring about a real change.

Another essential point that we tend to neglect is that of tefila. Any work on one's middot must be accompanied by adequate tefilot during which we ask Hashem to assist us in areas where we feel that we are lacking. Whether during the three daily tefilot, or a personal tefila addressed to Hashem in our mother tongue, no tefila is futile.

We sometimes see people praying for years and their prayers are seemingly unanswered. You must know that no sincere tefila is said in vain. If indeed the prayer did not bring about the salvation that a person wanted, it nevertheless has an impact on the personality of the one who prayed it, on his spiritual world and sometimes even on the whole world. As the Gemara says: "Although he does not see it, his neshama sees it. Hashem is fond of our prayers, and He wishes us to rise and sanctify ourselves through them. It may happen that Hashem sends a trial to a person for the sole purpose of awakening him to prayer. And this will transform him!

I can testify about myself that when I arrived in Israel some fifteen years ago, I was confronted with a certain phenomenon that bothered me. I thus asked Hashem to help me on this specific point for a whole year. Even if I was perhaps only half-answered, I can assure you that these tefilot had an extraordinary impact on me. I was able to totally change my way of praying and get closer to Hashem in an unparalleled way. And that was certainly Hashem's goal in sending me this ordeal.

We know that Moshe Rabbeinu prayed a total of 515 tefilot to enter Eretz Yisrael and that his request was not granted. Yet it would be wrong to think that his prayers were prayed in vain. Our sages explain among other things that his prayers allowed him to see, from afar, the land of Israel, and this is what gave it this exceptional feature described by Chazal as: "The air of Eretz Yisrael gives wisdom." There are certainly many other areas that benefited from the positive influence of Moshe Rabbeinu tefilot.

Rav Yossef-'Haï ABERGEL

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