There are times when we feel that life is particularly challenging. We may be facing unusual circumstances, sickness, financial setbacks or trouble with a family member. However, this may not be the time to give in or give up. Sometimes we experience unusual opposition when something great is about to happen and our destiny is about to be fulfilled.
In Parshat Shemot (4:24-26) we read of a curious incident that occurred to Moshe. He was on his way to fulfill his destiny and liberate the Jewish people in Egypt from slavery. While stopped at an inn, a supernatural force tried to kill him. Rashi called this force an angel. R’ Shimon Ben Gamliel referred to this force as Satan (Nedarim 32a). If this force had succeeded in killing Moshe, imagine how the whole narrative of liberation from Egypt would have turned out differently. History would have been rewritten and the story of the Jewish people might never have happened the way it did or at all.
This supernatural dark force has been referred to by many names. Whether it is called the yetzer hara, satan, or sitra achra (the opposing force), its purpose is always to set up opposition: to prevent individuals from fulfilling their destiny. In modern-day movie lore it has even been called the dark side of the Force.
The Vilna Gaon, in his commentary on the story of Iyov (Job), describes the mission of the sitra achra as one to create the obstacles and difficulties we find in fulfilling God’s plan. When we overcome these obstacles the honor of God is elevated.
There are many examples of the dark forces trying to oppose the heroes of the Torah from fulfilling their destinies. In the story of the Akeidat Yitzchak, the Gemara tells us that it was the satan who suggested that Avraham be put to the test to see if he would sacrifice his son (Sanhedrin 89a). The Midrash related that the satan created a lake along the way to hinder the two forefathers from fulfilling their mission. Once again, imagine if Avraham had not passed this test, how his destiny would have turned out much differently.
When Moshe ascended Mount Sinai to receive the Torah and came down later than expected, the forces of evil were at work again. The satan (the opposing force) came and showed the Jewish people something resembling Moshe being carried in the air, high above in the sky. The people interpreted this to mean that Moshe had surely died. Rashi explained that the satan said to them, “Moshe has died, for six hours have already passed and he has not returned.” Within a short period of time, the people who had witnessed the miracles of the liberation from Egypt and the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai began to have their faith unravel.
In our own life experiences we need to recognize that these dark forces mostly oppose us when we have great destinies to fulfill. The sitra achra typically tries to influence us if he sees greatness and fulfillment ahead. In fact, using that perspective, when we face unusual difficulties and challenges in life perhaps we need to tell ourselves that something great may be in our future and may be coming down the road soon. It might even be seen as a compliment. The bigger our destiny the greater our challenges.
In life, we confront situations that shake us up spiritually. We have moments of testing in which we know the right thing to do, but feel pulled in the opposite direction. Some people overcome temptation and do the right thing. Others simply capitulate. The sitra achra is strong and can feel unbeatable. He is crafty and resourceful. Nevertheless, with God’s help this can be overcome, and success means reaching another level of personal greatness. Having emunah during difficult times depends on not losing our faith when life’s challenges may seem overwhelming. It means being able to say that “all God does He does for the good” (Brachot 61b) even though “bad” events seem to be happening at first glance. May Hashem bless us to help overcome the obstacles along the way so we can reach our spiritual heights and ultimately fulfill our destiny in the most positive manner.
Rabbi Dr. Avi Kuperberg is a forensic clinical psychologist in private practice. He is vice president of the Chai Riders Motorcycle Club of NY/NJ. He leads the Summit Avenue Shabbos Gemara shiur and minyan in Fair Lawn, NJ, and is a member of the International Rabbinical Society. He can be reached at [email protected]