Latest update: April 26th, 2013
Just a few short days ago we were in summer mode, vacationing in the mountains, at the cottage, or on the road visiting family, friends or sightseeing. But with the start of September and school, we become all to aware that the Yamim Noraim – the Days of Awe – are upon us, that sobering period of time when a year’s worth of our actions and activities will be evaluated by our Creator. His ultimate assessment and judgement will affect the quality and quantity of the days of our lives.
For the Jewish people, it is a time to look inward and contemplate with equal parts of hope and dread what kind of year awaits us.
For some, the prayers and requests offered up last year did not have the outcome they so fervently asked for. Sadly, there are individuals, families and communities that have suffered life-shattering events. Many are still reeling from horrific news or events which occurred years before. They or those they love suffered unexpected serious injury or loss of life through accidents, violence or disease.
Others are dealing with more recent devastating news – that they or a loved one has a serious illness or affliction; lost their parnassah; some have had their hopes cruelly dashed by yet another miscarriage or mourn month after month for a pregnancy that never happens.
As is natural, their first reaction after they catch their breath from the blow they received is, “Why me? Why me?”
The only way to perhaps answer this question – one that has been asked for thousands of years by slave and king alike – is to take yourself out of the situation and ask yourself, “Why not me?”
Is there something that separates you from your friend, neighbor, fellow Jew or from the rest of humanity?
Do you have a greater number of good deeds than everyone else? Are you so much more special or outstanding or more needed than the rest of the klal that you should be immune from misfortune?
You know the answer. No, you are not better, nor more elevated than other human beings. You are just another noodle in the pot – indiscernible from the others.
The reality is that man is totally clueless as to why G-d allows unbearable tragedy to strike.
Some people may have be arrogant enough to assign a reason for why Hashem does not stop an unspeakable misfortune from occurring, but the truth is how could any mortal know Hashem’s will and be able to say that things happen for this or that “sin?”
Some who are more modest in their self-assessment have theorized (not insisted) that suffering may be a tikun, a rectification for actions done in a past life, however, at the end of the day, Hashem’s ways are inscrutable.
While it is very human, if you or someone you love is in pain, to try to understand why, ask yourself this question – if you were to win a multi-million dollar lottery, would you also scream out, “Why me?” Would you question why Hashem singled you out from all others? And when it is someone else’s face smiling as he holds the check with the one and the endless zeros following it, would you not sigh, “Why not me?”
Many great minds have wondered why bad things happen to good (read ordinary) people, undistinguishable both in deeds and lifestyle from millions of others. There is no answer. Only the Master of the Universe knows the “why” of what happens to His creations. After all he is the Celestial Architect and Judaism teaches that He orchestrates every detail of our existence. The only free will we have in this matter is how we react to our good and bad fortune.
Obsessing over “why me?” is futile, and takes away from your ability to handle (survive) whatever it is you are dealing with.
I have come to the conclusion that those afflicted with great misfortune have been given the rare opportunity to perform perhaps the hardest and most sacred mitzvah there is – the one found in Shema. The Shema is the ultimate affirmation of a Jew’s faith. Throughout our tragic history of persecution and brutalization, the last words gasped by our dying martyrs has been, “Hear O Israel, Hashem, our G-d, is One.” The pasuk that follows describes the hardest mitzvah to obey – “And you will love Hashem your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength.”
It is very easy to be G-d fearing. It does not take a whole lot of effort to be terrified of the Almighty, who is quite capable of punishing those who anger Him. The Torah is full of warnings of what our lot will be if we disobey His will. Being petrified of someone mightier than you who can turn shatter your world in a blink is a very natural reaction.
But loving Hashem with all your soul – in other words unconditionally, despite what you feel is undeserved and unequivocal tragedy – is the true epitome of faith. When you find yourself in a horrific “why me” situation, and you can still love G-d the Judge and accept His degrees – albeit with a shattered heart – saying with sincerity gam zu l’tova this too is for the good that is the ultimate declaration of genuine emunah.
It is said of the sage Rabi Akiva that he smiled as the Romans were torturing him to death, and as he started to die, he recited the Shema. His bewildered talmidim asked him, “Rebbe, even here, now?”
Rabi Akiva replied, “All my life I recited the Shema, with its command to love God with all your heart and all your soul. I worried if I would ever have the opportunity to fulfill this mitzvah in its entirety. Now I have been blessed to love God with all my soul. Shouldn’t I be happy?!”
Perhaps when disaster befalls us, Hashem is giving us an opportunity to take an exam that He knows we will ultimately pass, and that the reward for doing so is beyond our mortal comprehension.
I know that I struggle (and I suspect many others do) with the concept of embracing Hashem so wholeheartedly. As a child of Holocaust survivors I find it very hard to say gam zu l’tova, when I look at the fact that six million Jewish men, women children and infants were butchered. It’s not like they passed away peacefully in their sleep.
Many starved to death, died of exposure, succumbed to disease, were hanged, shot, subjected to horrific medical experiments, were gassed, or burned alive.
But I try to balance this awareness with a constant hakarat hatov for the good in my life and in the lives of those who I hold dear.
And everyday I pray for the unconditional emunah and bitachon that is so elusive. Life is so much easier when you can wholeheartedly embrace the reality Hashem has bestowed on you. Only then can you life your life be b’simcha, consoled and fortified with the belief that this too was for the best.
My Rosh Hashanah bracha to my dear readers is that you find your way to Hashem despite your troubles and tzarus. It is only through unwavering acceptance of His will that one can attain true happiness and peace of mind.
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