An “Open Book Test” is one where we can literally use the text-book, or online pages to help us pass an exam. On one hand, it reduces the test to speed and the ability to find answers quickly. Memory and lessons learned may not be as important, since we can look up things we do not know. On the other hand, it reinforces things we hopefully do know and quickly enables us to learn things we did not study or perhaps missed.
Of course, my Open Book means the Five Books, and all of the lessons we can learn there. Torah offers so much guidance for all of us. It is about learning and understanding and having Faith. Easy? Sometimes yes, sometimes no… and sometimes it is a deep and painful challenge… but so rich and rewarding in the end, if we can find joy in the process, truly learn and grow. Then, and sometimes only in retrospect, we will see the true wisdom. While it would be amazing to feel and really comprehend the lessons as we are learning them, more often than not, the lessons are learned only after time, space and distance.
Reading Ben’s post last week pained me. Not just because I have lower back issues and literally know, and viscerally understand the pain he spoke of. Not just because I can deeply relate to the career frustration… the unending battle between creativity and commerce and the fears that it all presents. It pained me because Ben is my friend… and when a friend suffers, we all suffer. It pained me because we are all going through so many tests right now, and the questioning and immense frustration we all feel, along with a real lack of clarity and answers can be unnerving, even for the most faithful. I completely sympathize and empathize with Ben on so many levels.
The sheer level of anger in the world is on the rise. I see it in friends and family, and sadly, I feel it in my own body and mind. Life can be a daily struggle. Growing up is NOT what it was advertised to be. So how do we stay strong and centered in the eye of a storm?
There is an ongoing debate over civility and manners… standing up and speaking truth to power… not allowing hate to rule and rue the day. It is scary out there, truly. While we are all or should be deeply concerned over our borders and how people are treated… over our leaders and politicians and how they are behaving… over our standing and place in the world… For most of us, the issues are personal. How do I get and keep good insurance, pay my bills, protect myself and my property. These are the daily tests we face, and it is not only about passing the test… it MUST be about how we study and how we perform. A “grade” is just one indicator.
The following is all thanks to Rabbi Shlomo Seidenfeld and the recent class he led for the JMI Group.
Before I proceed, let me say that these are things that many of us know and intellectually understand, but are NOT always easy to follow. It is a battle, a struggle, and in some ways, that is the test itself. I can say first hand, that sometimes I look up and say something like “Really? That, too?! Why???!!!”
In the last week I have had to replace four tires that should have had at least a year left on them… and now have to replace a hot water heater… Yes, these are first world problems. I get it. But for me and my personal life, that realization does not make it any easier. This is ON TOP OF all the other issues I am dealing with… career… financial, etc. Things happen, I get it… but sometimes we just want to scream COME ON! ENOUGH!“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”
Shlomo’s take on another quote. Not easy, but I get it. There will always be something. There will always be pain. Life is filled with polar opposites. So life will ALWAYS give us tests… but the ways we deal with those tests is key. And as I say a lot, the way we take those tests… the “means” matter. We need to be very wary of the famous quote that “The ends justify the means.” This is a slippery slope.
“Pain reveals character. Tests are there to help us create ourselves.”
This is absolutely true, and ties in to what I just said. This is ALL ABOUT THE HOW. How we handles ourselves… how we perform during the test… the HOW is so important to defining WHO we really are.Shlomo used the example of the Burning Bush as a way of understanding tests on five different levels.
- When we are being tested we are on Holy ground.
- Tests may burn, but they will NOT consume us.
- Tests are a way of G-d revealing himself.
- Tests liberate us and free us.
- Tests make us an ambassador and give us the ability to share and teach others with our own, real world experience.
I also believe that tests force us to be fully aware and present, which is such an important way to live life, but something we often ignore or let slip away into day dreams and chattering brains.
While it is not easy, if we look at tests in this “light” and take the lessons of the Burning Bush with us and to heart, perhaps we can be less stressed and more easy with the tests that will inevitably come our way.