Guest Author - Lisa Pinkus
Quite often, an unexpected tragedy or misfortune – the loss of a job, diagnosis of a chronic illness, discovery of a loved one’s addiction – can cause one to question the role of G-d in the world of people.
G-d is often referred to as a parent, and – we – His children. What parent would intentionally cause bad things to happen to their child in order to teach him a lesson or punish her for her behavior? Tough love and allowing children to feel the natural consequences of their actions is quite different than “G-d’s sentence” of a chronic illness or the inability to get pregnant – seemingly, G-d induced situations that we are not able to understand or comprehend in this world.
But, a parent who causes damage – emotional, physical or otherwise – is breaking the law, and his or her behavior is punishable by law. It is difficult to accept that G-d knows and bestows all that will happen in our lives, that G-d would even allow the thought of such terrible and difficult actions to exist. Is it people who are such devout believers, whose utmost faith lies in the palms of G-d’s hands, who are able to come through such tragedies faster, healthier and with a deeper acceptance of understanding?
When attending a class or reading a book regarding what Jewish thought says about dealing with difficult moments, it makes perfect sense. When you are in the midst of the calamity or are watching a loved one go through it, it’s a bit more confusing. There are a lot of “yes, but’s” that arise, and the answers – really – remain in a paradoxical plane that defies comprehension.
In Exodus, when Moses is on Mount Sinai for the second time – after smashing the first set of tablets – he comes before G-d and asks “… if I have indeed found favor in Your eyes, make Your ways known to me, so that I may know You…” (Exodus 33:13). Later in this conversation, G-d says to Moses “You shall not be able to see My face, for no human can see Me and live” (Exodus 33:20). According to Rashi, G-d is limiting the extent of His goodness, which Moses is able to see. Additional conversations around this point indicate that 1) since G-d does not have a physical presence, “seeing” Him occurs in a different manner from seeing a friend; and 2) the meaning beneath this statement tells us that we are not able to comprehend G-d in His entirety.
The Talmud actually speaks of people losing their faith in G-d when tragic events befall them. It is the only time that a loss of faith is mentioned which shows us (at least) two things:
1. Dealing with tragedy is one of our most difficult life struggles, and
2. G-d expected the wavering reaction of our faith.
Ultimately, this brings us back to the bottom line of life unexplained. As far as science and technology can bring us, there are still many occurrences we have no answers for and no control over. So, what’s a Jew to do? Pray? Reach out to others for support? Put less effort into trying to understand and more effort into moving forward with what life has given us?
One thing is for certain; you cannot search for your answers in the midst of the moment. Most of us are human beings with emotions, and it is part of the natural process to sit with the emotions a situation brings you. It is only later on that we can attempt to make an intellectual grasp of what occurred. And, in actuality, we must find a way to transform the event and move forward – or else we will have stopped living.
Our attitude plays a tremendous role in our healing and our ability to move into the future. If G-d has determined that specific events will occur, the free choice of humankind certainly has an impact on how those events play out. G-d tells us, for example, that we will be enslaved in Egypt. He does not say anything about being tortured or mistreated. Our questions for the Almighty might change when we examine the circumstance from a different perspective.
Our faith, our connection to G-d in spite of whatever circumstances we are faced with, determines our life in the World to Come (HaOlam HaBa). If we were not presented with these tests, if our lives went along in status quo mode, we would have no motivation to learn and grow and no ability to appreciate the truly extraordinary things we are given every day.
As great as our discomfort is when we are suffering, so may our delights be as high when we are joyous.