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Go Jump in a Lake

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Topic: God Testing People

Name@Withheld wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

Something has been eating me up inside since the summer. My family and I and some friends of my Dad from work were camping out over the Fourth of July weekend in the mountains. We were swimming in this river and my friend looked like he was going to drown in the river! But I could not bring myself to jump in and save him even though I am a good swimmer and took a lifeguard class once when I was 13 (I'm 20 now). But I just froze, and another camper jumped in and helped him, so I didn't have to. Anyway, I know I'm Jewish because both my parents are Jewish and I had a brit milah and mitzvot and everything when I was a kid. But I haven't been very observant in a while, but I've been reading your site and I think maybe I should become more religious after this experience. But I have to know: Did I do a big sin by not jumping in right away? I feel so bad. Please help.

Also, I want to know if I should come to Israel because of the Arabs killing Jews? Thanks so much.

Dear Name@Withheld,

Thanks for writing. It's clear that you feel guilty for not doing what you feel was right, to save the life of your friend. That is a very understandable feeling.

When a person is in a clinch situation like you were in, sometimes a part of their personality comes out that they weren't aware of. This is called in Hebrew a "nisayon" or "test."

It's a situation G-d puts a person in, to bring out parts of their personality that they might not be fully aware of. If the person passes the "test," then that good aspect of his personality gets strengthened. If he "fails," this can also lead to good, because it can be a sign for the person that he needs to work and improve this part of his personality. (The word "nisayon" also means "sign.")

Perhaps G-d was trying to give you a very clear message that you need to work on your aspect of courage. Courage doesn't only mean jumping in the river: Any time you make a difficult moral choice, and anytime you choose what is right over what is convenient, that is courage.

Like it says in Pirke Avot, "Who is courageous, he who conquers his desires."

You mentioned you've been toying with the idea of becoming more observant. Perhaps some fears or desires are holding you back. Maybe this is the time to conquer those feelings.

As for your second question, "should I come to Israel," I can't decide that for you. But realize that there are millions of Jews living here in relative safety, and we're not running away. I feel that it is quite safe and advisable to come here. In fact, I encouraged my mother to come visit, and she did!

Under the current circumstances, Jews are advised to avoid Arab neighborhoods. But in any major city -- in America and elsewhere -- it is equally true that one should avoid dangerous neighborhoods.

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