The phrase “May you live in interesting times,” references a Chinese curse. According to Jewish tradition, such a phrase could be seen as a blessing. It is normal to question why people suffer through challenges – both large and small – but Judaism views these tests, known as nisyonot, as opportunities that God provides each individual to grow and meet his/her true potential.

Judaism asserts that every individual has a purpose and a potential to meet–a goal that cannot be accomplished by sitting back and letting life take one where it will. The Talmudic sage Rabbi Yochanan discusses this point in Sanhedrin (106a), where he notes that whenever the term “vayeshev,” and he dwelt or settled, is used in the Torah, trouble follows shortly thereafter.

As an example for an individual, Rabbi Yochanan cites Genesis 37:12: “And Jacob dwelt in the land where his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan…and Joseph brought to his father their evil report.” On a national level, he cites Numbers 25:1: “And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit harlotry with the daughters of Moab.” (He also cites Genesis 47 and I Kings 5.)

The implication of “vayeshev,” which shares the same root as the verb “to sit,” implies settling down to passively experience life. One who is passive in his/her life is unable to achieve his/her full potential in life.

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