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September 2, 2015 / 18 Elul, 5775
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Crisis In Faith (Conclusion)


Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

In last week’s column, I published letters from two women who complained that they were experiencing crises in faith. One, a single woman in her early forties, an only child of Holocaust survivors, was devastated by the illness and subsequent death of her mother (her father had passed away some years earlier). ‘What happened to all my prayers?’ she asked.

The other woman’s crisis stemmed from the global suffering of innocent young children. She wondered how a benevolent G-d could allow such tragedies. She was so disturbed by this question, that she felt that it hampered her religious growth. ‘Can it be,’ she asked, ‘that G-d created the world and then walked away?’

Dear Friends:

I will attempt to address each of your concerns separately. First, allow me to express my heartfelt sympathy to the woman who lost her mother. May G-d grant you comfort and consolation among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. The passing of a parent is always very painful. A part of your life is cut away, and that is one of the reasons that we cut our garments at the funeral. But I understand how your mourning is doubly painful, because you feel so abandoned and alone. You ask, “Where did my prayers go? Why didn’t G-d answer me?”

But He did answer you, and your prayers went directly to His Holy Throne. You may be taken aback by this answer, but if you reflect upon your situation carefully, you will see that it is so.

You wrote that for years, you were alienated from your mother because she was too controlling. Her Holocaust background rendered her overly cautious and that stifled your freedom. As a result, there was much tension between the two of you, which early on led you to take your own place. When your mother fell ill, however, and suffered a severe heart attack, followed by a debilitating stroke, you felt a need to move back home. You closed up your apartment and gave up your social life to spend every free moment after work with her, and for the first time in many years, you bonded. You even prevailed upon her to pray with you – something that she had never done before. She also shared with you stories of her concentration camp experiences, and your relationship took on new life. Your story brings home a very clear message – one that was imparted to us by our father, Jacob.

Our Torah relates that Jacob asked for the gift of illness prior to death. Gift, you might wonder? Isn’t it better to depart from this world without suffering from infirmities? Indeed, prior to the patriarch’s request, that was the condition of the world. People died suddenly, merely by sneezing. So it is that, to this day, in almost every language, when someone sneezes, we say “gezuntheit” or “G-d bless you”, for sneezing was fraught with danger. Obviously, Jacob regarded death – free of illness – as a major problem and beseeched the Almighty for the gift of illness, which G-d deemed a wise request and granted.

Jacob understood that a man must be given an opportunity to put his affairs in order – to say a proper farewell to the members of his family, to bless them and charge them with their responsibilities. As painful as illness might be, He also understood the benefit of children attending to the needs of a parent who is about to embark on his final journey. He also understood the importance of assuaging hurts, rectifying wrongs and cementing relationships. Additionally, a man must have an opportunity to make peace with his Maker, the Almighty G-d, and do teshuva, so that when he arrives in the next world he will be accepted into the Heavenly Kingdom.

You, my dear friend, had an opportunity to do all that for your beloved mother. You cemented your ties, you enveloped her in your love – you were given the privilege of making up for the acrimonious years and you even brought your mother to teshuva and taught her how to pray, something which her anger from her concentration camp experiences had prevented her from doing. So, instead of being bitter, be grateful to G-d for His incredible chesed. He allowed you to make tikun in your mother’s last months of life. So yes, He did answer your prayers!

Can you imagine how terrible it would have been if one day, you received a phone call from the police to tell you that your mother had been found dead in her apartment? Can you imagine the terrible guilt that would have consumed you had she died before you had an opportunity to make peace with her? You can of course argue that you could have made peace while she was alive and well – but alas you didn’t, and that’s the tragedy of man. We need wake-up calls, and G-d, in His infinite kindness, granted you your wake-up call. Perhaps now, you can understand why Jacob regarded illness prior to death as a gift, and why the Almighty deemed his request wise.

Know that G-d hears and answers all prayers that emanate from the heart. He collects every tear drop – so your tears and your prayers are in front of His Holy Throne, and they testify that you made peace with your mother and honored the Fifth Commandment. So, instead of being angry, thank G-d for His many kindnesses, His incredible chesed.

As for your being bereft of family – don’t just resign yourself to a life lived in loneliness. If you don’t have a biological family, try to acquire an extended one. Our sages advise us on the importance of having a chaver tov – a good friend.

Additionally, there is no reason to give up on marriage. To be sure, it’s not easy, but it does happen. People of all ages find their shidduchim. Whether you marry or not, however, you must make an effort to find close friends. Don’t expect people to seek you out. You must take the initiative – you must extend yourself and communicate with warmth and love. There are countless singles out there in situations similar to yours who would welcome a genuine, warm friendship.

And now, I turn to our friend whose crisis in faith stems from witnessing the suffering of innocent children.

From time immemorial, this question has challenged man. Even Moses, who spoke to G-d face to face, asked why the good suffer while the wicked remain at ease.

The scope of G-d’s response is too intricate and involved for an article of this nature, but allow me to quote just one passage: Hashem told Moses: “…You will see My back, but My face may not be seen” (Exodus 34:23). This means that we cannot possibly understand the events that transpire before our very eyes. It is only in retrospect – years, at times centuries later, and sometimes not even in this world, that we can gain a glimmer of understanding. I write “glimmer” because we finite beings cannot comprehend the ultimate purpose of the Infinite.  Anything that we see, is only a small particle of the whole. It’s like viewing a minute of a film and writing a critique of it.

When Job lost his family, his fortune, his health, he too questioned G-d, and G-d responded by challenging him with His own question: “Efoh haieesa?” – “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations?” And G-d went on to ask Job many more questions of this nature, to which he had no answers. That question of G-d speaks to all of us, and even as Job, we stand humbled in stupefied silence. Having said all this, allow me to bring some additional thoughts to your attention.

Our forefathers, who experienced the lash of bondage in Egypt, did not understand the meaning of their suffering. They had no clue that the Egyptian exile was a prelude to Sinai, that our commandments would be somehow connected to “zeicher l’yetzias Mitzraim” – in memory of our going forth from Egypt, for only a nation that was delivered from bondage could understand the meaning feeling the pain of the downtrodden. “And you shall love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:19).

Moreover, G-d invites us to join Him in partnership, to make Tikun Olam – to bring healing to the world by building pillars of justice and loving kindness. We may not have been present at Creation; we cannot fathom the ultimate design of G-d, but we stood at Sinai and we are here now, and it is for us to combat the evils of which you speak. It is to that end that we must exercise our free will. So rather than blaming G-d, let us look within ourselves and determine why our world has become so corrupt and decadent.

There are also Kabalistic answers to your questions that revolve around gilgulim – transmigration of souls, but in the final analysis, none of the thoughts that I advanced are definitive. There is no way in which we humans can possibly perceive G-d’s intent. I have often given the analogy of a toddler who regards his mother as cruel because she makes him take baths, forces him to go to bed, and takes him to the man in the white jacket who jabs him with needles. But even as the toddler protests, in his heart of hearts, he recognizes that Mom is the best woman in the world, and he would panic if she were absent even for a second.

Next to G-d, we are not even toddlers. How then can we possibly hope to understand? But shouldn’t we have at least as much faith in our Heavenly Father as a toddler has in his parents? To divorce ourselves from G-d would be suicidal, for without Him, we cannot survive.

As to your comment that sometimes you feel that “perhaps Hashem created the world and then turned and walked away” – that is the most devastating of all your statements, for, if that be so, you have no One to believe in, no One to whom to pray, and your world becomes a hopeless, small dark cave in which only evil and death reside.

Instead of reducing G-d to the limits of your mind and heart, let your spirit soar by kindling the light of Torah, by praying, by keeping His mitzvot, and if you do so, I guarantee that you will find the faith that you seek.

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