Last week I published a letter from a thirty-eight year old single woman who lamented that despite her having become a ba’alas teshuvah, forsaking her secular life, committing to Torah and mitzvos, going to rabbis, receiving berachot – in short, doing all the “right” things – she has failed to find her bashert, her soul mate. She wondered where G-d was and what all her sacrifices were all about. She was angry at G-d and regarded all her efforts as having been for naught. “My joy in Judaism has disappeared,” she wrote. The following is my response.
My dear friend:
As I write this column, the portion of the week is Chukas. I have found that if one searches properly, the parshah of the week always offers clarification on the challenges one has to wrestle with.
You have resentment in your heart. You feel you have been treated unfairly and that your commitment to Torah and mitzvos has been futile. In your disillusionment, you are angry at G-d and ready to give it all up.
Look in the Torah portion to which I referred. Miriam, Aaron and Moshe himself, the giants of our people, had their hopes dashed. Their dream of entering Eretz Yisrael was never realized. They could have argued, “For this we sacrificed? For this we labored? The nation has the privilege of entering Eretz Yisrael and we do not? Where is justice? It’s just not fair!” But they remained silent and accepted the will of G-d with equanimity, love, and a full heart.
Throughout the long centuries of our painful history, the emblem of our people has been unconditional faith. No matter where life took us, no matter what catastrophe befell us, we clung tenaciously to our G-d. Obviously there have been individuals whose faith faltered, who disappeared into the melting pot of assimilation, but we as a people triumphed, and our “Shema Yisrael” reverberated and continues to reverberate throughout the world.
I myself, a child of the Holocaust, can testify to this. With my own eyes I saw the indescribable suffering of our people. I will never forget the holy countenance and the voice of my saintly father, HaRav HaGaon Avraham HaLevi Jungreis, zt”l, who, after our own liberation from Bergen Belsen, received the catastrophic news that he was the only surviving son of the glorious rabbinic house of my grandfather. In a trembling voice, his eyes filled with tears, my father called out: “Ribbonoh shel Olam, I ask only one thing – that all my children, all my generations, should remain by Torah.”
Think about this and absorb it well. Wouldn’t my father have been justified in saying, “I am through! If this is the reward of great tzaddikim, if this is how You protect Your beloved chosen ones, there is no reason for me to remain and sacrifice. I’ve had it. I quit.”
Wouldn’t that have been the logical response? Wouldn’t that have been the reaction of so many in our generation who recognize entitlement but not indebtedness, rights but not responsibilities, privileges but not obligations? But my beloved revered father, like millions of others spanning many centuries and continents, had only one request, one prayer – that the light of Torah forever shine in the hearts of his descendants.
Having said this, I will try to address your personal dilemma and individual struggle.
While more than 40 years ago I had the zechus, the merit, of establishing Hineni, one of the first ba’al teshuvah movements in the world, I had actually been involved in outreach from early childhood. My father was a visionary, way ahead of his time. To the dismay of many in the chassidic world, he went to Szeged, not to be confused with Sziget, a shtetl in Romania. Szeged was a cosmopolitan city, the second largest in Hungary, as well as the most assimilated. My father created an Orthodox community there and kindled the light of Torah in the hearts of our people.
So it was from a tender age that I was nurtured in outreach. Over the years I learned it is dangerous to tell a secular person if he or she would only do such and such, the heavens would open up and all their dreams would be fulfilled. Our Torah way of life is not a candy store; lollipops do not fall from the sky, nor are there any guarantees of living “happily ever after.”