The great kabbalist, the Arizal, taught that after a person dies and is laid to rest, after those who came to see him off to his “final” resting place have gone home, he receives new visitors. This time, though, they are not of the corporeal type, but rather angels, and their reason for visiting is not to pay their respects to the newly deceased. (See Shaar HaGilgulim, Ch. 23)

Their reason for coming is to ask the soul a skill-testing question whose answer is worth a lot more than $64,000. The question?

“What was your name?”

Whats my name? That’s the question the angels are going to come all the way down from Heaven just to ask me in the grave? Why? What could be simpler to answer than that?”

A lot, because it turns out that from birth we actually have two names, one with which we are eminently familiar because everyone called us by it, and another which many go a whole lifetime never hearing. Guess which name the angels want to hear?

Our Spiritual Weaknesses

Our regular names come from our parents, and when they choose it they often have other things in mind besides us, like a deceased relative, for example. What is our other name? Who gives it to us, and why do we even need it?

It is the name of the spiritual weakness that we have been given to work on and fix up, and we need it to help us figure out what we’re here to accomplish. If people are devoted to self-perfection, to becoming the very best people they can become, then they will no doubt confront their spiritual weaknesses along the way and be forced to work on them.

Spiritual weaknesses are challenges to be overcome, not something to be ignored or indulged.

They see their spiritual weaknesses as challenges to be overcome, not as something to be ignored or even indulged. They will devise ways to use their strengths to rectify their weaknesses, which will make their lives more meaningful. While others around them accept personal mediocrity, they will grow and fulfill their potential of living in the image of their Creator.

When the angels visit such people after death and ask, “What was your name?” they understand the question and know what to answer. Having spent a lifetime fixing their spiritual weaknesses, they know them by name as they know the one their parents gave them.

What happens to the person who cannot correctly answer his or her visiting angels? The Almighty puts the soul through a rectification process to make up for after death for what was not achieved during life. The angels “teach” the soul its other name in preparation for the next phase of self-rectification which the soul needs to undergo once it is reincarnated.

In summary, we have the following points:

  1. We are here in this world to spiritualy perfect ourselves.
  2. We do this by figuring out our spiritual weaknesses, which the learning of Torah helps us to do.
  3. Our objective in life is to become spiritually stronger and overcome our weaknesses.

For some people, spiritual weakness might translate into selfishness, and an inability to sympathize for and empathize with others. For others, spiritual weakness might result in an obsession with physical pleasure, something for which they tend to sacrifice higher values for lower ones. The possibilities are as many as there are people, if not more.

Different Approach to Challenge

This approach to life represents a whole different approach to life’s challenges. Once a person realizes that his spiritual weaknesses and challenges in life are really his or her opportunity for growth and self-perfection, the strategy for dealing with them becomes more constructive. For example, when spouses struggle to get along with each other it might just be a signal that their spiritual weaknesses are interfering with their ability to become close to each other. Rectifying their weaknesses may rectify the marriage.

The following is a story in the Talmud:

Rabbi Chiya’s wife used to pain him. But, when he would find something (that she would like), he would wrap it in his turban and bring it for her. Rav asked him, “Why do you do this? She pains you!”

He answered, “It is enough for us that our wives raise our children and save us from sin!” (Yevamos 63a)

There are basically two possible explanations for this story. Either Rabbi Chiya was a masochist, which he most certainly wasn’t, or as someone who was devoted to the Torah’s ideal of self-perfection, he saw his marriage as an opportunity for self-growth, and that gave him the capacity to cope with his marriage difficulties.

Another example might be “difficult” children. They might represent an opportunity to confront our own shortcomings and, in the process, learning to solve the problems of the children. Or of a difficult boss or co-worker—it’s all basically the same idea.

Obviously this does not mean that you have to become a “doormat” for every nasty person you encounter. The Torah acknowledges that divorce is sometimes necessary, there are times when leaving a “bad situation” is wiser than putting up with one. Sometime growth comes from staying away from compromising situations more than from confronting them.

But it does mean that before we do turn our back on spiritually challenging situations in life that we carefully analyze why we have to, and why we want to. The divorce rate has gone through the roof because many people have chosen to eliminate a difficult spouse, often at great cost to their families and others, rather than confront their personal weakness, losing what might have been a great opportunity for personal growth.

Adapting that age-old expression, “You can pay us now or you can pay us later,” we can correctly say: You can pay in this reincarnation, or you can pay in the next one. We should all live long and meaningful lives, but we should also make sure that when those angels come calling that we can answer their question, so that what comes around does not have to go around again.