August 16, 2013: Our Challenges Belong to Us (Ki Teitzei)

During this season of introspection and moral reckoning, how frustrating it can feel when we notice the same personal challenges surfacing over and over! “Here I go again!” we say to ourselves, with a mixture of despair and amusement. “I thought I already put to rest [my resentment at this person / my preoccupation with this issue / my struggle with this behavioral pattern / …]!” When it comes to character improvement and spiritual growth, we seem to find ourselves on an eternal treadmill.

In typical Hasidic fashion, the modern sage Netivot Shalom psychologizes the opening words of this week’s Torah portion, Ki Teitzei (“when you go out”):

“When you go out to wage war against your enemy…” (Deuteronomy 21:10) Why does the Torah specify “your enemy?” Because every person on Earth was sent to this world with a particular purpose to fulfill and a particular enemy that is unique to her alone. What is the sign that identifies your particular enemy? When you notice one particular issue around which your Yetzer Hara (“evil inclination”) continually rallies and strengthens—that’s your particular enemy. Your life’s work is to combat and subdue your particular enemy. A day on which you have done nothing to engage your Yetzer Hara is not a day worth being alive.

We often wish we could run away from our personal struggles. However, Netivot Shalom counsels the exact opposite. It is our unique constellation of personal issues and challenges—and the progress we make to overcome them—that gives substance, definition and meaning to our lives.