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April 17, 2014 / 17 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Heavenly Father’

Crises And Wake-Up Calls: The Only Answer

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

For the past several weeks I have been discussing the various crises currently engulfing us. With this column I will conclude the series (at least for now). What I write is based not on whim or opinion but on that which is rooted and documented in our Torah.

There is an amazing prophecy in the Yalkut Shimoni – a Midrashic compilation that eerily foretells the events of today: Rabbi Yitzchok said, “The year in which Melech HaMashiach will be revealed, all the nations of the world will be provoking each other. The king of Persia (Iran) will provoke the king of Arabia (Saudi Arabia). The king of Arabia will go to the King of Edom (the leader of the Christian nations – the president of the United States) to take counsel, and the king of Persia (Ahmadinejad) will threaten to destroy the entire world.

The nations of the world will be outraged. They will fall on their faces in panic and experience pains like birth pangs. Israel too, will be outraged and in a state of panic ask, Where do we go?

“But say unto them, ‘My children, do not fear. The time of your redemption has come…. and this last redemption shall be different from the first that was followed by further bondage and pain. After this last redemption, you will not experience any further pain or subjection” (Yalkut Shemoni, Isaiah 59).

The Klausenberger Rebbe, zt”l, referring to this teaching, said, “Remember these words. They are perhaps not understood now, but in time they will be and be a source of strength to our people.”

Had you heard these prophecies centuries ago, when they were written, you might have scoffed. Even if you read them as recently as 1970, you would have been hard put to believe it, for of all the Muslim countries the Shah’s Iran was probably the friendliest to the U.S. and Israel. But today the impossible has become possible, and events are unfolding so rapidly we have difficulty absorbing their impact. How are we to understand it all?

The Yalkut compares our suffering to birth pangs. But birth pangs are deceptive; when the contractions begin, it’s easy to ignore them because they are mild and occur at long intervals. As birth becomes immanent, however, the contractions intensify and the pain becomes more intense. And just when it appears the woman can no longer endure the pain, the baby is born and new life enters the world.

It is these labor pains to which we are witness today. How long will they last? It’s anyone’s guess, but one thing is certain – please G-d, the birth is sure to take place. In the interim, however, we may ask, “Is it possible to ease the suffering? Is it possible to protect ourselves from these painful contractions?”

For that too, our sages have an answer: “Let he who wishes to be spared the birth pangs of Messiah occupy himself with Torah and gemilas chasadim (acts of loving-kindness) and let him be scrupulous about Seudah Shlishis – the third Sabbath meal.”

The first two recommendations – Torah and gemilas chasadim – are self-explanatory and do not require much elaboration, for he who is committed to Torah and mitzvos and to reaching out with loving kindness must, of necessity, become a better, more spiritual person.

But eating a third Sabbath meal is not as readily comprehensible. We are enjoined to have three seudos – Sabbath eve, Sabbath noon, and the third seudah in the late afternoon as the Sabbath Queen prepares to depart. Through these three meals we honor the three Patriarchs, the three sections of our scriptures and the three Sabbath meals of manna G-d provided us during our sojourn in the wilderness (Exodus 16:25).

This final Sabbath seudah is called Shalosh Seudos, which translated literally means “Three Meals” rather than Seudah Shlishis – the third meal. Our Sages explain that the reason for this is that all three Sabbath seudos are embodied in this one.

This third meal presents a most auspicious time for prayer. And to this very day, when I close my eyes, I can hear the sweet voices of my revered father and my beloved husband, of blessed memory, leading their congregants in singing Psalm 23, the psalm traditionally chanted at the Shalosh Seudas: “The L-rd is my Shepherd, I shall not want…”

The task of the shepherd is a lowly and lonely one. Day in and day out he is destined to wander from place to place, seeking pasture for his flock, and yet David did not hesitate to refer to G-d as a Shepherd, for he perceived that G-d’s love is so total, so encompassing, that when it comes to caring for His children, nothing is beneath Him.

What a magnificent and fortifying thought – for no matter where life takes us, even if we have to walk in the treacherous valley overshadowed by death, we need not fear, for G-d, our Shepherd, will always be there to lead us to greener pastures, even if at first we do not recognize the pasture is green.

Still, it is difficult to comprehend how the mere eating of a third meal, singing Psalm 23, and discussing Words of Torah can actually protect us from the suffering that will accompany the birth pangs.

But there is a profound lesson at the root of this teaching. The first two Sabbath seudos are eaten when we are hungry, but after a festive noontime seudah we are hardly in the mood for yet another meal. So it is not to satiate our hunger that we gather around the Shalosh Seudos table. Rather, it is to celebrate the Sabbath and sing her praises, and that is why the Third Meal encompasses them all.

The Third Meal is symbolic of the conversion of the physical to the spiritual. Ultimately, that is our purpose – to become spiritual beings and to free ourselves from the shackles of materialism. It is something our generation, obsessed with materialism and the pursuit of pleasure, has yet to learn.

You might of course wonder, Why must we experience birth pangs in order for Messiah to come? Why can’t he just announce his presence? But the Messianic period will be very much like Shalosh Seudos, when we sit around the table not to satiate our physical hunger nor to glory in our material achievements, but to celebrate our spiritual attainments.

In order for that to happen, we will have to divest ourselves of all the icons we hold dear. Therefore, our hallowed institutions, the bastions of strength in which we placed our trust, will have to fall away. It is that painful disintegration to which we are witness today. The corporate world, government, religious institutions, science, medicine – all have failed us. And worse, we no longer feel safe or secure in our daily lives. Terrorists and suicide bombers have become a reality of our existence and no army or police force is capable of defending us from them.

Additionally, we are witness to constant horrific natural disasters; we see the devaluation of our assets, be it the dollar or the Euro; we see dictators who for generations ruled with an iron fist falling like dominos as they are overtaken by Muslim fanatics. Yes, prophecy is unfolding before our eyes.

How long will these birth pangs last? Until we recognize the simple truth – that we can rely on no one but our Heavenly Father. So let us sound the shofar, awaken ourselves from our lethargy, and heed the voice of our Father calling us. And that is the only answer to the question What are we to do?

Even as I write these words, I realize it may seem like a simplistic response and will disappoint and irritate many. But there is no way that we, the Jewish people, can escape our destiny. G-d appointed us to be His light on this planet, a light that illuminates the world with His Torah; a light that proclaims G-d is One and His Name is One.

That is our calling and we cannot escape it.

A Prayer For Relief

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

Several weeks ago, there was a flurry of articles in various newspapers about the possible release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit via a prisoner exchange. Some seemed quite optimistic that his tragic situation would finally be resolved. Sadly, to date, nothing has changed and he remains a prisoner, concealed and cut off from those who cherish him.

In addition, the frum world has been rocked by several scandals involving pillars of the community whose moral integrity and Yiddishkeit seemingly have been overwhelmed and enslaved by the yetzer harah. Below is a petition to our Heavenly Father for rescue from the evil – both external and internal – that threatens our physical, mental and spiritual well-being.

A Prayer For Relief

Our Father who is Everywhere, our life’s details are known to You,

You exhorted us to be b’simcha, but it is so very difficult to do.

For in our thoughts are the imprisoned, those hidden away,

We cannot be at peace as they languish day to day.

We remember the missing soldiers, their fate unknown for years,

We see their families’ anguish; we hear their tormented tears.

Please end their unbearable sorrow, stop their relentless grief,

For their sake, and the nation’s, give them full relief.

Let the cell doors be thrown open, let the captives be given new life,

Let them know once again, the embrace of parent, child and wife.

May they return to their loved ones, sound in body and mind,

May the drink the nectar of freedom, so sweet and loving and kind.

For their suffering is intolerable, and has been going on for so long,

They remain incarcerated and hidden, though they did no wrong,

Remember your tzaddik Yosef, who was swallowed up in a cell,

You freed him and raised him – have mercy on our captives as well.

Please end the bitter hopelessness that is the agunah’s lot,

Emancipate the future for which they have desperately fought.

Melt the stony hearts of their “husbands” – give wisdom to all involved,

So the dead-end existence of these women will finally be resolved.

So many of Your children helplessly indulge in self-affliction,

Enslaved to toxic vices, ensnared by numbing addiction.

Give strength to their spirits; help them regain their souls,

So they may return to the sunlight, freed from their dark holes.

Give relief for those beset by relentless, paralyzing sorrow,

Give them hope for a pain-free tomorrow,

After years of torment, may it be Your will they soon find,

Life-giving resolution – and finally, sweet peace of mind.

Whatever the cause of bondage, we look to You for release,

Emancipate all from their “shackles”, please let our heartache cease.

Bless all the captives with freedom, so they can start their lives anew,

And the nations will see Your mercy – and pour loving praise on You.

Prayer – What Is Missing? (Part Two)

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

In my last column I promised that, B’Ezrat Hashem, I would outline constructive steps to help reverse the madness that seems to have overtaken our world. One of the most powerful weapons that we, the Jewish people possess, that has been our shield from the genesis of our history is prayer. Through genuine prayer, we can conquer and triumph over every adversity.  “Ahm zu yatzarta li – I created this nation,” Hashem declared, “So that they might proclaim My praise.” Indeed, to be a Jew is to know how to pray and proclaim the One-ness of G-d.

We the Jewish people introduced prayer and G-d to the pagan world. Because of that, for centuries, we suffered persecution, mockery and slaughter. If today there are people other than us who can say “Amen,” “Hallelukah,” recite Psalms and pronounce blessings, it is because we imparted that gift. But tragically in our long centuries of exile and darkness, we, the nation that created prayer, forgot how to pray. Yet perhaps more than ever before we need prayer.

The world is running amok. From day to day, or more accurately, from moment to moment, a new crisis erupts, the latest being the tragic Madoff scandal. How can one understand it? The numbers are staggering – it is totally incomprehensible, all the more so because those who were taken in by this mammoth Ponzi scheme were not naive novices, but savvy, successful individuals highly respected in the world of business, finance and academia. What is happening? What is going on?

Those of you who have been following my columns know that time and again, I have written that we are living in exceptional times. There are no coincidences in the world.  What we are experiencing today are wake-up calls that are Chevlei Moshiach – the birth pangs of Messiah. These birth pangs are meant to wake us up and, therefore, can be very painful. Thus it was foretold that terrible suffering would mark this period.

How long will these birth pangs last? Until we come to the realization that there is only One in Whom we can place our trust, and that is our G-d – “Ein Od Milvado.” And so before our very eyes, one by one, our cherished icons have dissolved. We have seen events unfold that even in the wildest stretch of our imaginations could never have been anticipated.

If just one short year ago someone had told us that the invincible fortresses of finance and industry would vanish overnight, we would have labeled him as delusionary.  And yet that is exactly what occurred. But we don’t get it.  Nor have our wake-up calls been limited to the world of finance and industry…. havoc abounds everywhere: natural disasters, illness, the breakdown of families, corruption, moral decay – the very concepts of honor, integrity, and respect have all but disappeared.

Perhaps the most telling commentary on our morally bankrupt society was the barbaric stampede of shoppers at a Wal-Mart in New York. In its frenzy to find a bargain, the crowd actually trampled a human being to death! A society that is so ridden with greed must find its soul before it totally consumes itself.

Now, in addition to this internal decay, we are also witness to an escalation of anti-Semitism. Only 68 years after the Holocaust, we are witness to the demonization of Israel. Make no mistake about it, this means all Jews, not just Israelis, even if you are in denial and try to convince yourself of the contrary.

In 1929 the Stock Market crashed and the Great Depression enveloped America and then spread throughout the globe. It took Hitler, yemach shemo 10 years to convince the world that it was all the fault of the Jews. Today, that which it took Hitler 10 years to accomplish is being done overnight!

With the Internet, You Tube, and other sophisticated media outlets, venom and hatred are spread like wildfire. Achmadinejad, the Hitler of today, gave voice to this when he addressed the United Nations and placed the blame for the current world financial meltdown on “Zionist Jews” and for good measure announced that “Israel is cesspool that must be exterminated.” And amazingly, or more correctly, typically, there was no protest, no outcry; as a matter of fact, he was feted. Conversely, consider only how the Moslem world reacted to a cartoon …but when the Jewish people are slandered, no one reacts.

There is nothing new about this Jew baiting. It is as old as our history. But astonishingly we, the Jewish people, don’t get it. We remain asleep and oblivious to the fact that events unfolding before our eyes are wake-up calls.  Since 9/11 we have had so many wake-up calls, but have we changed? Have we come closer to Hashem?

It is written that during this very difficult period of Messianic birth pangs, Yishmael will terrorize our people. His savagery and brutality will know no bounds and his bloody hands will touch every part of the globe. Consider only the decapitations, their obsession with killing, and their glorying in the torture and suffering of Jews. Consider only Mumbai. Who would ever have believed that these Islamic terrorists would choose a small insignificant Chabad House in India sheltering a few pious Jews for barbaric torture and slaughter? Who would ever have imagined such a thing?

Yet, more than 26 years ago, the Klausenberger Rebbe predicted that this would occur in India in the period preceding the coming of Messiah. (This amazing prediction of the Rebbe is documented in his writings and recorded on tape.)  So how do we understand all this?

We have a teaching, “Eis tzarah hi l’Yaakov…” It is a time of travail for Yaakov, the Jewish people… But, the passage concludes, “From that trial, our salvation will emerge.” And so, in the very name of our foe is our salvation to be found. Yishmael literally means, “G-d will listen.” The very first step in neutralizing the bloody terror of Yishmael is to turn to our G-d and place our trust in Him.  But, alas, we turn to everyone and everything but our Heavenly Father.

Consider for a moment a parent who has three grown children. One of them calls in regularly, but his communication is always superficial. He just seems to be going through the motions and there is no genuine sincerity to his call.

The second son visits only when he needs something. If he doesn’t get his way he accuses his father of not being loyal or loving, and may cease to call altogether. Then there is the third son, who never even attempts to call or visit. He is totally estranged from his father and has no desire to build a relationship. Tragically, most of us relate to our Heavenly Father like one of these sons. So we have to rediscover the unique power that is to be found in our own voices, the power that has the ability to pierce the Heavenly Gates.

To be sure, there are those who, upon reading this, might protest: “I prayed and prayed and nothing happened.”

When you are on a treadmill, how do you know that you are doing well? The obvious answer is “perspiration.” What perspiration is for the body, tears are for the soul. You have to come clean in front of your G-d and “spill out your heart like water.” What’s more, if you are on a regimen of exercise, you don’t give up – you keep at it and continue to build up your muscles. Similarly, you never give up on prayer.

My brother, HaRav Yonoson Binyamin HaLevi Jungreis, reminded me of this lesson. A few weeks ago, my family commemorated the Yahrzeit of our dear, beloved mother, Rebbetzin Miriam Jungreis, a”h. On the way to the Beis HaChayim, the cemetery, my brother reminded me that our esteemed, beloved father, HaRav Avraham HaLevi Jungreis, zt”l, would often quote the old Munkatcher Rebbe, who asked, “Why is it that at the end of our prayers we recite the closing lines of King David’s Psalm 27, “Kavei el Hashem.”  “Place your trust in the L-rd, strengthen your heart. Place your trust in the L-rd?”

Why, the Rebbe asked, should this prayer be recited at the conclusion of the service? Would it not be more appropriate to recite it as we commence our prayers so that we might pray with more intensity?

Herein lies a great teaching for all of us.  Our relationship with our Heavenly Father cannot be like that of the impetuous son who, when he doesn’t get his way, sulks and doesn’t come back.

Our father Isaac and our mother Rebecca prayed for the gift of a child for 20 years, and they never gave up. As a matter of fact, all our patriarchs and matriarchs prayed relentlessly for many, many years for a child, a gift that came easily to others, but was given to them only after much struggle, pain and prayer. Our prayers must be “Avodah Sheb’Lev – the labor of our hearts.” Only such prayer has the power to elevate and transform us into the people that G-d meant us to be. So it is that at the conclusion of our prayers, we strengthen and remind ourselves to continue to pray until our words ascend on high and reach the Heavenly Throne, thus affirming our mandate to proclaim “Ein Od Milvado.”

Since the readership of The Jewish Press is composed of people from all backgrounds, before concluding this article, I would like to offer some practical suggestions that will help us grow in prayer.  If you do not know how to pray in Hebrew, that should not hold you back, for it is written “It is permissible to recite the Shema in every language.” Of course, it is preferable to pray in the Holy Tongue, but if we do not know how to do so, the main thing is that we pray. Today we have amazing prayer books with English translations and explanations, which clearly delineate which prayers are to be recited on each occasion. The ArtScroll Prayer Book is a very fine example of this.

1) Designate a special place in your home for prayer. 2) Teach your children by example. Let them see you stand before G-d. 3) When you pray, turn off the phone and keep in mind at all times that you are having an audience with the King of Kings. If you have not prayed in the past, don’t be intimidated by the vastness of the prayer book. Just get started and you will grow in prayer.  You may also wish to consult a rabbi as to which prayers you should commence with. 4) Collect your thoughts and stand in awe in front of Him. If your mind wanders, stop and apologize and ask Hashem to help you concentrate. You might also find it helpful to point to the words with your finger. It will help you to focus.

And now a word to the men: Make a strong effort to daven with a minyan. There is an awesome merit to this.  Be careful about donning your tefillin and bear in mind that, when doing so, you are consecrating your intellect, heart, and might to G-d. Don’t be late going to shul. If you had an appointment with the President, you would be sure to be on time. Do not desecrate your meeting with G-d with private conversations, and be sure to turn off your cell phones.

G-d has promised “He will always be near to those who call upon Him in truth.” Prayer is our most powerful weapon through which we can change the world. How many wake-up calls must we receive before we absorb that message?

In my next column, B’Ezrat Hashem, I will expound upon the three-fold formula that our sages teach can protect and preserve us during this difficult period called “Chevlei Moshiach.”

The Light After The Dark

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

This column is dedicated to the memory of my beloved father, Chaim ben Aaron Yosef HaCohen, a Holocaust survivor who left the darkness of This World nine years ago on Rosh Chodesh Kislev to bask in the brilliance of Olam HaEmes.

 

Many of us, especially those who are in mid-life, have weathered certain “storms” in our lives – some easier to cope with and “get over” than others. Some have had to deal with major traumas and soul-breaking loss – the fortunate ones have only had to deal with arguably benign but annoying setbacks and disappointments, but because they seem to be never-ending, they are physically and mentally draining nonetheless.

 

The question that comes up from time to time, whether we think it privately or utter it out loud to close friends and family is – why? Why do we have these troubles? Most of us consider ourselves good people, and we basically are when compared to the many individuals or groups who from time to time have crossed our path – or those of our friends or loved ones – or our community – who have been nasty if not downright evil?

 

Our history is tragically replete with the reality of our brutalization by individuals and nations. And on a personal level, all of us no doubt can list a handful of people from our childhood and adulthood who have caused us untold misery – be it a classmate, neighbor, employer/employee, landlord/tenant, family member, friend, etc.

 

In addition to having toxic people stress and distress us, the agnas nefesh “good” people are put under can be caused by situations over which one has no control. Some are relatively minor in the greater scheme of things – like a flat tire on the highway or tripping on the ice and breaking an arm – or major – like the loss of one’s parnasah or a debilitating, chronic illness.

 

Sometime we wonder why we were even born, and indeed a consensus by Talmudists centuries ago determined that it was better not to have been born than to be born and suffer.

 

We do however believe that a better existence awaits us in 120 years, and that gives us much comfort. But there is still the nagging question: Why didn’t Hashem just skip this part – our life in This World – and just place us in the Olam HaEmes? Why go through a lifetime of aggravation- at best -or of heartache at worst?

 

I don’t in any shape or form have the chutzpah to think that I have an answer for a question that has eluded more learned and scholarly minds than mine. But a little incident when visiting my granddaughter, Tamar Rachel, who is a toddler, gave me a possible, tiny glimmer of insight.

 

Tamar, who usually takes a late morning nap, ended up one day – shortly after the clocks were set back an hour – falling asleep during late afternoon. Normally, it is still daylight when she wakes up, but that time it was already dark when she opened her eyes.

 

I heard her crying and ran to get her. As I turned on the light, her crying, her obvious terror and loneliness evaporated – and she flashed me a brilliant smile.

 

It occurred to me, that in her baby view of the world, she had gone from a scary, sad place to one of light and happiness. No doubt the 60 or so seconds she experienced in the darkness, feeling helpless and vulnerable and stressed must have seemed like a lifetime to her. And when the light came on, her world changed into one of warmth and safety – and her eyes radiated with joy, relief – and appreciation.

 

A bit of a light bulb went on my head as well, as I thought that perhaps this is why we have to spend time in this imperfect, scary world – so that when we reach the Next One, we will appreciate its perfection all the more.

 

Human nature is such that one has to be in the dark in order to truly and fully enjoy the light. Perhaps had we immediately been put in Olam HaEmes, we would not be able to embrace its wonder. How sweet sugar is after we swallow a bitter medicine.

 

To Tamar, her seconds in the darkness alone must have seemed never-ending, a lifetime, but blessedly replaced by nonstop light and the presence of a loved one.

 

 To us, the woeful days of our lives must seem like an eternity, but they are not. They too are like the blink of an eye, and our loving Heavenly Father quickly and compassionately turns on the light for us. Forever.


 

The Heavenly Gift Of Restraint

Wednesday, April 28th, 2004

With Pesach upon us, Jews must refrain from indulging in some of their favorite foods, drinks and even cosmetics for over a week. No matter how much a person craves a bagel, a shot of
whisky, or a dab of a favorite perfume, he/she scrupulously avoids these items.

In the weeks leading up to Pesach, even the most habitual procrastinators get off their couches and force themselves to do groan-inducing activities such as scrubbing the oven, the fridge, and the floors. There is no “I’ll do it later” option. Men and women know they have to roll up their sleeves and get the house, the car, the office, and the store chometz-free and ready for Pesach.

For Torah fearing Jewish families, there is no question about doing what is necessary to properly observe the laws of Pesach, or for that matter, those of kashrut and Shabbat and
Yom Tov during the year. This is part of their life pattern, wherein they consistently fulfill the requirements of daily prayer, family purity, giving charity, kashrut, etc. Doing so requires self-discipline, restraint, and controlling impulses. These traits, that are invaluable in successfully handling life, are tragically lacking in today’s hedonistic society.

There has been much press lately about the epidemic of obesity in American children. The fact that so many youngsters are dangerously overweight is not really a surprise. As they grow up in this age of self-gratification, permissiveness and green lights for all kinds of immoral behaviors, why shouldn’t children eat what they want, when they want, and how much
they want? In a “do what feels good” society, kids are doing just that – snacking themselves to oblivion. There are no rules to teach them self-control or patience.

Over the years, non-observant friends and acquaintances have mocked me about keeping kashrut and Shabbat and being “religious,” expressing their opinion that, for example, while “in
the old days” there might have been a reason for not eating pig or shellfish due to sanitary problems, in our modern times, with food inspectors and sterilization and homogenization
techniques – the idea of “forbidden” foods is obsolete.

They are totally missing the point! Many of our mitzvot don’t have an obvious explanation. We can try to understand the rationale for mitzvot, but we can never plumb their true multi-faceted depths.

The value of keeping the rules and regulations of the Torah becomes apparent to anyone raising children - even without knowing their “whys.” To me, it’s all about the crucial
development of self-discipline, self control, and restraint. For that reason alone, every mitzvah is a blessing and a gift from Hashem.

A child who has to wait a few hours before having an ice cream because he had a meat lunch learns early in life to control his urges. He learns to be patient. He realizes that he can’t get what he wants – when he wants it. A die-hard baseball fan who refrains from watching a ball game on Shabbat - because it is Shabbat – is learning that he has to make some sacrifices, and that the world does not revolve around his desires. These are invaluable lessons that will help
children deal with life as adults.

Instant gratification - the philosophy of the masses – is what is undermining physical health and family life in the western world. The individual raised in a secular society whose mantra is “I want this…and I want it now,” is in serious trouble, because the people he comes in contact with also worship the “me comes first” motto and may even lie, cheat, and steal in their quest for pleasing themselves.

Child psychologists know that children – (and I believe adults as well), crave boundaries. Kids may protest loudly when their parents set limits to what they can or cannot do, but deep down, they desperately need guidelines and boundaries. Parents who make it clear to their children what they are allowed or not allowed are giving the message that they love their kids and are watching over them. The world is fascinating – but scary, and all human beings need and yearn for limits – and secretly appreciate having them. Without limits, there is anarchy, chaos and confusion. Getting structure in the form of “no, you can’t do this or go there” from those who are more experienced and wiser is actually reassuring and appreciated.

So, too, our Heavenly Father has, out of love, given us rules to guide us through our life’s journey so that we do not get overwhelmed, lost, or stumble onto dangerous paths. The
resulting attainment of self-restraint, of self- control, of patience, is the ultimate Divine bracha and reward.

Crisis In Faith (Conclusion)

Wednesday, September 17th, 2003
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.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/rebbetzins-viewpointrebbetzin-jungreis/crisis-in-faith-conclusion/2003/09/17/

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