Tag Archives: grief

Broken

Broken FaithA certain man was profoundly depressed. He perceived his many flaws and failings and they pained him, but he did not feel confident that he could atone for them. How could he possibly rectify such serious wrongs?

When Rav Yissachar Dov of Belz, zt”l, was asked what someone in this state of mind should do, he offered powerful words of encouragement. “You must understand that God never rejects the Jewish community, as we find in Chullin 29. The halachah is that if an individual is defiled within the community, he can bring his korban Pesach along with them. His personal sacrifice is not rejected because he is part of the community.

“By the same token, someone who takes stock of himself and finds himself riddled with faults should not give up. Although his feelings of inadequacy push him to abandon his efforts to serve God altogether, God forbid, he must take heart and do what he can. It is true that he is defiled, but if he becomes one with the Jewish community, God will enable him to rectify his many transgressions.”

The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh, zt”l, offered different advice to help fight feelings of spiritual inadequacy, however. “A person may contemplate the many mitzvos in the Torah and say, ‘How can I possibly fulfill them as required?’ Similarly, someone who has transgressed many sins should beware of what his yetzer haram (evil inclination) will surely claim: ‘How can you rectify so many evil deeds?’

“It is for this person that Moshe warns us, ‘And you should know today.’ He was alluding to Shabbos, regarding which the verse states, ‘Today is Shabbos.’ Moshe was telling us to how to answer such discouraging claims. We must say in our hearts: ‘Our sages explain that keeping Shabbos is likened to fulfilling the entire Torah. Through learning the laws of Shabbos and keeping them carefully, week after week, God will help me rectify my spiritual failings.’”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“Joining the Community”
Chullin 29

If you’re a Christian, you may find several things about this commentary that trouble you. For one, it’s addressed to the Jewish people, so how can it apply to you? It also talks about a Jewish person’s difficulty in fulfilling all of the Torah commandments, which doubtlessly, you believe don’t apply to you. Also, the vast majority of Christians either don’t see the relevance of keeping the Shabbat as Jews do, or they believe that going to church on Sunday and then doing “whatever” afterward, fulfills this requirement.

Take a closer look.

While I agree that the commentary was written specifically to apply to Jews and that the 613 commandments Jews believe they are obligated to fulfill do not apply to non-Jewish Christians (or the vast majority of them, anyway), there is a lesson to be learned here. Despite being “saved” by Jesus Christ, a Christian still can feel as if he or she is spiritually deficient. It’s not like it’s impossible for a Christian to sin or even impossible for a Christian to suffer under multiple, habitual sins. It’s hardly impossible or a Christian to feel terrible guilt over having committed many sins and to experience a profound distance from God.

Some Christians in this situation simply give up their faith and surrender to their sins and the values of a fallen world.

The message of the esteemed Ravs we see quoted above is a message of hope that we Christians can look to as well. We are grafted in to the “cultivated olive tree” and “if the root is holy, so are the branches” (Romans 11:16). But while Rav Yissachar Dov suggests that a Jew can draw strength from the larger Jewish community, and the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh states that when a Jew observes the mitzvot applying to the Shabbat, it’s as if he fulfilled all of the Torah commandments, where does that leave us? How can a Christian overcome a profound sense of guilt over committing not just a few, but many sins across a long time period while professing faith in Christ?

The answer really isn’t that different. One of the reasons we gather in groups and worship communally is to gather strength and encouragement from each other:

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. –1 Thessalonians 5:11

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. –Hebrews 3:13

SorrowYou may not want to open up and expose the full truth of your being to your entire congregation or Sunday school class, but you can find someone on the Pastoral staff whom you feel you can trust, a compassionate Bible teacher, or a close Christian friend, and ask them for help. Yes, turn to God in prayer, repent in the name of Jesus, ask for forgiveness and the strength to stand tall under temptation, but don’t forget the kindness, grace, and support you can receive from a believing neighbor or friend. God provides us human comforters for a reason.

The other point also applies, though it may be more difficult to see.

In yesterday’s morning meditation, I suggested that it is appropriate and even beneficial for Christians to observe and keep the Shabbat in a manner similar to the Jewish people. That is, to keep an entire 24-hour period of time devoted to drawing nearer to God and to separating from the routine and stress of day-to-day life. Christians tend to see keeping a Sabbath in this manner as a list of what they can’t do (can’t go shopping, can’t go out to lunch, can’t mow the lawn), but it’s more about freedom than about restriction. It’s the freedom to put down the load you carry the other six-days of the week and to spend time focusing who you are; putting all of your attention on God, on prayer, on Bible study, on discussing the teachings of Jesus with others.

Christianity doesn’t have a tradition that says fulfilling one set of holy acts somehow fulfills all of them, but we don’t generally look at things that way. We know that Jesus atoned for our sins, so we don’t concern ourselves with all of the separate actions we would have to take to atone for all of the different sins we committed. We aren’t responsible for making the atonement ourselves, only for accepting the fact that Jesus is our atonement.

Still, as Christians, we can be overwhelmed by the amount and the depth of our sins and how we can ever manage to break the cycle of our disobedience. How can we remove all of the darkness from our souls and know that we are clean after leading sinful lives for months or even years? Wouldn’t a lifetime of sin and hypocrisy as a Christian take a lifetime to undo? How can we be forgiven if we still sin? Rather than trying to see the end result, we can take the “a journey of a thousand miles” point of view on the matter. We can start by focusing on just the first step.

Here’s the deal. Your life is a mess. You’ve really screwed up and you’ve been screwing up for a long time. Maybe your married life is worse than Arnold Schwarzenegger’s or you’ve severely “abused” Google’s image search feature on your computer to view women “inappropriately”. Perhaps your business dealings have been less than “open and above board” or you’ve been putting your hand in the boss’s till rather than helping your employer earn a profit.

Maybe you’ve been calling yourself a “Christian” and going to church on Sunday, but behaving no differently than the atheists and agnostics that populate your community, your workplace, and your neighborhood.

There’s hope. There’s always hope. You can turn it around. It won’t be easy and it won’t be quick. I know you’d like it to be. I know it might seem easier to just give up, but that only puts more distance between you and God and trust me, you’ll regret it in the long run. God said, “”Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other” (Isaiah 45:22) and please notice that He is addressing “all you ends of the earth” and not the Children of Israel exclusively.

Faith and belief in Jesus isn’t enough to help you. Knowing God exists and leaving it at that isn’t the answer. James, the brother of the Master, said that we must have faith and deeds (James 2:14-24). We must trust that when we turn from sin to God and desire return, that God will be there with open arms waiting for us, like the Father of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). We must not only believe God will accept our repentance, we must actually take the “risk” of returning and abandoning the sins that keep us from Him.

The only mistake you can make that is absolutely fatal is to walk away from God and never look back. Short of that, while you’re alive, you have hope. The world may be broken, but God can heal your brokenness.

There’s no such thing as defeat. There’s always another chance. To believe in defeat is to believe that there is something, a certain point in time that did not come from Above.

Know that G-d doesn’t have failures. If things appear to worsen, it is only as part of them getting better. We only fall down in order to bounce back even higher.

From the wisdom of the Rebbe
Menachem M. Schneerson
as compiled by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman in his book
Bringing Heaven Down to Earth

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Awaiting Dawn

Waiting for DawnPeople ask, “But how could you see so much good in the future when so much evil predominates now —-and it grows day by day?”

But such is the order of things: Darkness was only placed in the world to challenge light. As the light intensifies, the darkness thickens to defy it.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Defiant Darkness”
Chabad.org

Kletzky’s parents marked the end of their seven-day grieving period Wednesday morning with a religious tradition of walking outside their Brooklyn home. Nachman and Esty Kletzky, surrounded by relatives, walked around their block at 15th Ave. in Borough Park at about 6 a.m. “It’s a sign that your escorting the soul to its resting place,” said Jack Meyer, of Misaskim, an organization that provides services to grieving families.

Story from NYDailyNews.com

“In the midst of cruelty and horror, human beings can respond in such a warm and caring way it restores our faith in the world and mankind. That is the atmosphere I feel here right now,” said Rabbi Alvin Kass, describing public support for the Kletzy family.

Story from CBS New York News

This is the third “morning mediation” that has been prompted by the death of 8-year old Leiby Kletzky. Perhaps I’ve got this matter too much on my mind, but when something so horrible happens in the world, we should not disregard it after it has been discussed for only a week or so. Certainly Leiby’s parents will not be free of their mourning in so short a time, if at all. Yet the questions I pose here must also be at the forefront of their thoughts and feelings, only with far greater intensity and sharpness. I continue to search for answers within their own context and from the Rebbe, who knew their Brooklyn community and every soul in it so well.

They say the most profound darkness comes just before the dawn. The harshest oppression of our forefathers in Egypt came just before their liberation.

That was a coarse darkness of slavery of the body. Today it is a darkness of the soul, a deep slumber of the spirit of Man. There are sparks of light, glimmerings of a sun that never shone before —-but the darkness of night overwhelms all.

Prepare for dawn.

I woke up much earlier than I expected to this morning. It was still dark outside with no hint of dawn on the horizon. When you are the only one awake in your household, it can feel especially empty, no matter how many people are asleep in their beds. The first subtle bands of light in the east may be only minutes away, but they might as well be on the other side of midnight. Yet we wait for the light, not just out of expectation, but with enduring faith.

“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the LORD rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn. –Isaiah 60:1-3

Tree of LifeThe Jewish people today exist in an unbroken line between the present and the ancient days when the words of the Prophet Isaiah were first spoken, so it is no surprise that in their darkest hours, they would turn to the light. Through Jesus Christ, the rest of the world can become attached; grafted in to these words and promises and become sharers of the light and indeed, disciples of the light of the world, who we all long to see come.

After 33 centuries, all that’s needed has been done. The table is set, the feast of Moshiach is being served with the Ancient Wine, the Leviathan and the Wild Ox —-and we are sitting at it. All that’s left is to open our eyes and see.

[Adapter’s Note: These words I write, but I do not understand. But then, if I understood them, I suppose I would not need to be told to open my eyes.] -Rabbi Tzvi Freeman

I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. –Matthew 8:11

Rabbi Freeman quotes from a letter written by the Rebbe:

Before I had even started school, a picture of liberation was already forming in my mind.
Such a liberation, and in such a way, that it would truly make sense of all the suffering, all the oppression and persecution we have undergone.

It is not that there will be no more darkness, no more suffering, that those things shall cease to exist.
It will be such an essence-light that darkness itself will become light
—even the darkness and suffering of the past.

While the Rebbe wouldn’t have considered the following, we who are the disciples of the Master cannot help but recall these words of prophecy and hope as we continue to wait for him to come:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. –Revelation 21:3-4

In the midst of pain, all we can do is cry and call out, “Abba! Father!”, endure the suffering, and look forward to the days when there indeed will be no more tears, pain, and death. When sorrow will be abolished from the earth and the King will reign in justice, mercy, and bringing joy and peace to the subjects of the Kingdom. May the Moshiach come soon and in our days. Amen.

“They (Mr. and Mrs. Kletzky) have had thousands of people who came to show them moral support,” he said. “Now the trying time starts. They’re all alone. … Now they’ve got to cope with it on their own.” -Jack Meyer of Misaskim

Everyone will sit under their own vine
and under their own fig tree,
and no one will make them afraid,
for the LORD Almighty has spoken.
All the nations may walk
in the name of their gods,
but we will walk in the name of the LORD
our God for ever and ever. –Micah 4:4-5

Brilliant Light

BrillianceDescribing the joy of the Rebbe is something like describing the majesty of the Rocky Mountains to a prairie dweller. We think of happiness as all the outer trappings of smiley faces and the “having-a-good-time” look. But what we saw on the Rebbe was an inner joy – the sort you feel when a sudden, brilliant light bulb flashes inside – except continual and constant. Not a joy that dissipates and burns itself out, but a tightly contained joy of endless optimism, power and life, waiting the special moment when it would burst forth like an unexpected tsunami, sweeping up every soul in its path.

The Rebbe once confided that he himself was by nature a somber and introspective person. With hard work, he said, he was able to affect his spirit to be full of joy.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
from the wisdom of the Rebbe
Menachem M. Schreerson
Bringing Heaven Down to Earth

Last March I wrote about Failing Joy 101, mainly because I don’t go around all smiley and happy all the time. I have my moods. I can be “down”. People who are perpetually perky and “up” kind of annoy me. But that’s not what joy is all about.

Yesterday’s “morning meditation” was in part, about the murder of 8-year old Leiby Kletzky and how his death affected his parents, his Borough Park (Brooklyn) community, and ultimately, everyone with a conscience. I lamented at one point that it will be a long time or never, before Leiby’s parents, an Orthodox Jewish couple, will ever experience joy again. After all, how can they?

The words I quoted from Rabbi Freeman’s book at the beginning of this blog post are from a chapter called “From Despair to Joy”. It’s easy, under the circumstances, to imagine the despair being experienced by Nachman and Itta Kletzky, but how can any reasonable and compassionate person expect them to go from “despair to joy”? Certainly it won’t happen very quickly and only a cad would suggest that people who are in severe emotional and spiritual pain should just “pull themselves up by their boot straps” and “get on with life”.

But what can you do when soul-numbing grief steals your last crumb of joy and all you’re left with is a life in the emotional shadows of depression and loss?

Depression is not a crime. But it plummets a person into an abyss deeper than any crime could reach. -The Rebbe

If you stare into the Abyss long enough the Abyss stares back at you. -Friedrich Nietzsche

The Rebbe could easily have been talking about little Leiby’s murder and Nietzsche could have well been describing the consequences of the crime, or at least, the consequences if we allow ourselves to stare too long into that deep, dark place. The Rebbe “responded” to Nietzsche thus:

Fight depression as a blood sworn enemy. Run from it as you would run from death itself.

I don’t think the Kletzkys can run from death just yet. Death is what surrounds them as they sit shiva for their son. And yet, they can’t sit there forever staring into the darkness, and neither can we, unless we want to be consumed.

The Rebbe anticipated our question, “how can I be happy if I am not?” and suggests an answer:

True, you can’t control the way you feel, but you do have control over your conscious thought, speech, and actions. Do something simple: Think good thoughts, speak good things, behave the way a joyful person behaves – even if you don’t fully feel it inside. Eventually, the inner joy of the soul will break through.

Sounds a lot like some of the things the Apostle Paul taught:

…and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. –2 Corinthians 10:5

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. –Philippians 4:8-9

Paul suggested thinking of wholesome things and putting them into practice and the Rebbe asks that we start with our thoughts, if necessarily, set our feelings to one side temporarily, and then behave as if we are experiencing joy. The antidote of both Paul and the Rebbe to despair is to do joy.

To be healthy, a person needs to be affecting his surroundings, uplifting those about him and bringing more light.

InfiniteI’ve heard this teaching of the Rebbe more than once. Even when everything has been taken from us and we feel completely empty inside, unable to fill the void in our very being, we still have something we can offer someone else. In bringing another person light, we may discover some of that light is being nurtured within us, dispelling the darkness of the abyss.

The Rebbe tells us that God created the natural state of human beings to be one of joy. That is hardly apparent as we look around us, watch the news, drive through traffic, and otherwise co-mingle with other people, but as his proof, he says, “look at children and you will see”. He also offers us this:

People imagine a place of G-dliness as serious, awesome and intrepidating. That fact is, where G-d is, there is joy. -The Rebbe

How good and pleasant it is
when God’s people live together in unity!
It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
down on the collar of his robe.
It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the LORD bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore. –Psalm 133 (A song of ascents)

There are times when we feel very small, and afraid, and alone, even in the midst of our loved ones. You’ve probably felt this way in the middle of the night, when it’s quiet and dark and when everyone else is asleep, but your private pain and anguish will not give you up to rest. You may feel tormented by a world far larger than you are and you feel yourself shrinking into the night, into the abyss, and you fear in your tininess, that you will be swallowed alive and disappear altogether.

But even at that moment, when you feel as if you are about to vanish from God’s universe, there is something you own that no one can ever take away from you. It will anchor you and safeguard you. Here’s the secret:

A person is happy when he knows something worthwhile belongs to him. A person is very happy when he feels he is small and yet he owns something very great.

We are all finite owners of the Infinite.

We could argue with the Rebbe that we belong to the Infinite and not the other way around, but that’s the secret. He also belongs to us and as long as He does, we can never disappear. It’s not just that we are small and He is large. If God were only big, He would have limits, He could be eclipsed by something even bigger, God could be measured, God could be quantified. God wouldn’t be God.

But God is not big, He is Infinite. He has no limits. He cannot be measured. He does the eclipsing. In fact, being Infinite means God is not like anything or anyone we have experienced or can experience. That’s the secret. That’s the miracle. In our tininess, in our smallness, in our minuscule existence, we own something more than worthwhile, something very great, something Infinite! And belonging to Him and having Him belong to us, we can never truly be lost. Our breadcrumbs can never be consumed. We always know the way home, even in the darkest night.

Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” –John 10:25-30

Sparks in a Jagged Darkness

Man alone in a caveIt is written in the holy Zohar that those who have their needs provided for today and sit and fret over what will be tomorrow are not being practical – they are simply incorrectly focused.

Every day you are nourished straight from His full, open and overflowing hand, Everything in between – all your work and accounts and bills and receivables and clientele and prospects and investments – all is but a cloud of interface between His giving hand and your soul, an interface of no real substance which He bends and flexes at whim. If so, if He is feeding you today, and He has fed you and provided all you need and more all these days, what concerns could you have about tomorrow? Is there then something that could stand in His way? Could He possibly have run out of means to provide for you?

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
from the wisdom of the Rebbe
Menachem M. Schreerson
Bringing Heaven Down to Earth

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?Matthew 6:25-27

But what if you’re starving?

Sometimes when reading and studying, I hit a wall. While the Bible and the Talmud are replete with encouragement and promote the ideals of faith and trust in God, there is still great suffering in the world, even within the community of faith. People die in pain and loneliness every day. Children are starving to death. Women are beaten and raped. They rely on God’s goodness and kindness even as do you and I. But what happened to God?

I’ll put it another way.

Last week, an 8-year old Jewish boy named Leiby Kletzky who lived in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn was kidnapped, brutally slain, and dismembered by Aron Levi, a 35-year old man who lived in the same community. While the event was truly horrific by anyone’s standards, the fact that it happened in the insular Haredi community and that the crime was committed by another Orthodox Jew living in the same small group rocked the Borough Park Jewish community to its core. Sadly, some exploitive groups wasted no time in trying to turn this tragedy to their advantage, adding insult to mind-shredding grief.

Losing a child by any means is beyond devastating. But how can any two parents even begin to cope with the circumstances surrounding the death of young Leiby? Showing unbounded grace in what is doubtless the most difficult time of their lives, Leiby’s parents, Nachman and Itta Kletzky, issued the following public statement:

“We are forever grateful and thankful to Hashem (G-d). We would also like to express to each and every individual – to our friends and neighbors and our fellow New Yorkers and to all the volunteers and to all the agencies from the local, city, state, and federal, who assisted us above and beyond physically, emotionally, and spiritually – and to all from around the world, who had us in their thoughts and prayers. From the depths of our mourning hearts, we thank you!”

Though this statement is brave and open, no one but Nachman and Itta Kletzky can know the immense depth of the pain they are enduring and will continue to suffer under for the months and years to come. They buried their son last Wednesday evening. Does even God know how they’ll continue to walk with Him now?

Sometimes, you’ll hear it said in church that, “what was meant for evil, God means for the good.” In Judaism, the sentiment is expressed as “everything is for the good, perhaps not immediately, but eventually”.

This is true in principle since we must acknowledge that everything in Creation, every object and every event, has a single Source.

Still, how can we not search for a reason beyond the simple platitudes of religion when something hideous and horrific enters our world? What miracle of God could give meaning when an 8-year old boy walking home in his own neighborhood is viciously extracted from life? Can even something like this make a difference?

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” –John 9:1-5

Jesus subsequently heals the blind man so that, for the first time in his life, he can see and his life-long suffering “for the glory of God” ends, but those events happened half a world away almost 2,000 years ago. What about suffering today? The pain is real; the anguish is almost a tangible thing. How can anyone endure without God and even with God, suffering is hardly a matter of saying, “don’t worry, be happy”.

The Rebbe’s lesson as told in Rabbi Tzvi Freeman’s book gives an answer of sorts, but I’m not convinced it’s particularly satisfying:

In every hardship, look for the spark of good and focus upon it with all your might. If you cannot find that spark, rejoice that wonder beyond your comprehension has befallen you. Once you have unveiled and liberated the spark of good, it can rise to overcome its guise of darkness and even transform the darkness fully to light.

Man aloneI wonder at what future point will (or if) Mr. and Mrs. Kletzky be able to rejoice again. The Rebbe lived in the same community in Brooklyn where Leiby was murdered and although Rabbi Freeman now lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, he spent many years studying under the Rebbe in Brooklyn. Staring the spectre of ghastly death straight in the face, how would he feel reading the words of his book today?

I’ve asked a lot of questions and I don’t have an answer to even a single one. I know what the answers are supposed to be and I know the ideals behind them, but there is often a difference between ideals and when horrible events have brought you to your knees or have ground your face into the dirt and sand.

In Rabbi Freeman’s book, he writes of how anxiety and uncertainty can be like a raging storm at sea. He calls to mind the ark of Noah and how that ark endured the greatest flood the world has ever known, brought about by the wrath of a completely just God. From the Rebbe’s wisdom, he suggests the following:

Do as Noah did and build an ark. An ark in Hebrew is “taiva” – which means also “a word”. Your ark shall be the words of Torah and of prayer. Enter into your ark, and let the waters lift you up, rather than drown you with everything else.

That’s a bit like saying, “when you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hold on with all of your might”. That’s probably what the Kletzkys are doing right now and will do for some time to come. But a life of faith cannot be lived all of the time in prayer and Torah study. Eventually, you will have to stop sitting shiva and re-enter your day-to-day existence. How can this be done?

It’s a paradox: The greatest revelations are to be found not in meditation, study and prayer, but in the mundane world – but only if you would rather be meditating, studying and praying.

It is one of the most ingenious innovations of chassidic thought: Even if you fail to conquer the darkness entirely, even if you are still rolling in the mud with the enemy – you can still find G-d in the struggle itself.

Jacob, when facing what he thought was certain death at the hands of a vengeful Esau, literally found God in a struggle (Genesis 32:22-32), and despite many other hardships, including the death of his beloved wife Rachel and the perceived death of his favorite son Joseph, he went on to found a twelve tribes of Israel. Could something like this be true of us?

I have some Christian friends in the Puget Sound area who both struggle with cancer. To face this struggle with courage and composure isn’t the same as a lack of suffering. Once recently, I responded to their plea with this:

Our greatest blessings were uttered not by Moses, not by David, not even by G-d Himself. They were uttered by a wicked sorcerer, hired to curse. The most brilliant diamonds hide in the deepest bowels of the earth; the most intense blessings in the darkest caverns of life. -Rabbi Tzvi Freeman

In suffering, no one thing helps all that much, if at all. Even the awareness of God with us may not comfort sufficiently and His presence may even remind us that the all-powerful Sovereign, who could have turned aside our disaster, chose not to. All of the words of the Bible, all of the well-wishes of friends and family, all of the prayers and cries ripped straight from our souls still do not cause the pain to vanish and the jagged reality to become smooth.

The only thing I can offer is that, put all together, they may help us make it through one hour, or even one day. Then we start over again and try to make it through another day…and then another. God’s vision is infinite, but an hour at a time or a day at a time is as far as most of us can glimpse when extreme hardship strikes like a heartless predator. We seek shelter from the storm in the ark and try to ride it out. We exit from the ark and struggle through the aftermath of our world that’s been destroyed.

We pray to God to please help us make another one.

Please.