A key determining factor is the depth of our faith; with deeply rooted beliefs, we can weather any storm. No one is born with faith; if we want rock solid faith, we have to develop it ourselves. Then, our beliefs will sustain us throughout life’s struggles, as the prophet Habakkuk says (Habakkuk 2:4), “…The righteous person will live through his faith.”
A fundamental belief of Judaism is that whatever happens to us is from God, out of His love for us and for our benefit (Tractate Berachot 60b). This is not advocating passivity. We need to do what we reasonably can to improve our lives, including asking our Father in Heaven for help. At the same time, we can learn to let go of insisting on specific outcomes.
Each moment of your life, your Creator gives you whatever you need to fulfill your purpose for that moment. If after reasonable efforts you do not get what you are after, then God is saying to you, “My dear child, right now you can fulfill your life’s purpose with what I have given you.”
A common misconception is that difficulties are bad for us. In truth, adversity is a growth catalyst like none other. Suffering can lead to clarity, crystallizing what is really important – coming close to God, through Torah, prayer and acts of kindness. Adversity opens us up to a deeper connection with all three:
Torah – hardship reduces our drive for many of life’s superficial pleasures. Then, we can be drawn to the deepest pleasures – the sweetness of Torah study and the joy of living in oneness with God and His Torah.
Prayer – when we realize no one else can help us, we call out to our Father. Pain can propel us into His arms; the comfort and support we will feel there will enable us to get through the most trying times.
Kindness – hardship can make us more empathic, tearing down the walls that hold us back from being there for each other.
Even when our lives feel like they are falling apart and difficulties surround us on all sides, the real opportunities of life – Torah, prayer and acts of kindness – are still accessible; reach out and allow them to lift you up and elevate even the most trying circumstances. As Reb Noson of Breslov wrote, “Our days are like a passing shadow and time rushes by. Nothing but the Torah, prayer and good deeds that you manage to seize each day will remain with you. Everything else is fleeting (Healing Leaves by Yitzchok Leib Bell).”
A flame – symbolic of the soul – is nourished by its fuel below; the flame transcends the fuel and reaches upwards. Similarly, each difficulty you transcend is fuel for your soul to reach upwards, to higher levels of closeness to God. Take advantage of suffering to ignite in you a burning desire for God: A thirst for His Torah, a longing for His company (prayer), and a yearning to do kindness to His children.
The greater the challenge (the fuel) – during which you hold on to your faith – the brighter the flame of your soul will be, illuminating the world with God's glory. This will lead to the ultimate revelation of His glory – the building of the Third Temple – may it be today.
When discussing suffering, the question arises, “How can x calamity possibly be an expression of God’s love and for our benefit?” The fact that we are asking the question only about x calamity is one answer. Since we are not asking about every day of our lives – "Where is God's love?" – implies that the times we did not feel His love were the exceptions and not the rule. God is infinitely wise and we cannot understand His ways, certainly not all the time.
Be prepared for times when you cannot easily reconcile God’s behavior with His love for you and utilize those opportunities to strengthen your faith in Him, one of the purposes of life. Not only does faith sustain us as mentioned above, faith and observances – physical declarations of faith – enable us to truly be alive and benefit from the opportunities of this world. The choice you make during adversity, whether to come closer to God – believing in His love for you – or to move further away, is a defining moment of your life.
The reality is that even during difficult times, our Father has not abandoned us. We are always surrounded by His love; it is in the oxygen in our lungs, the warm clothes on our backs and the heat in our homes. Amidst adversity, His love is hidden. Nevertheless, search for fortifying glimmers, signs God is with you – comforting and supporting you – in fulfillment of the verse (Psalms 32:10) “…But he who trusts in God – with lovingkindness, He will surround him.”
No matter what happens in life, no matter what is taken away or never given, we can always have faith. We always have our Father’s undivided attention and love. Nothing can take those away.
“Who am I?”
We are not our bodies, which temporarily cloak who we really are – eternal souls. When the body dies, only the soul remains. Even if our bodies are racked with physical or emotional pain, our souls remain untouched, our essence unaffected. The less we identify with the passing experiences of our bodies, and the more we focus on preparing our souls for the Next World, the less painful and more fulfilling we will find this world.
The body is the vehicle our Creator lends our souls to accomplish their task in this world – to come closer to Him through the choices we make, thereby earning the bliss of the Next World. Psalms gives voice to the soul’s mission and yearning (73:28), “But as for me, the nearness of God is my good.” Coming close to God is the only good. Everything else is good to the extent it helps us reach this goal, or bad, to the extent it detracts.
The body/vehicle prefers a smooth path in life, but our souls are willing to endure a rocky road, as long as we get to where we have to go. Many times, it is the places that are difficult to reach where we gain the most, whether on a level we can see in hindsight, or on a soul level – beyond the limited perception of the body.
Becoming a living Kaddish
The seeming senselessness of our suffering compounds our pain. Finding meaning soothes and comforts us. Often, the event which appears to be the most meaningless is death. When a close family member dies, Kaddish is recited in the synagogue to elevate the loved one’s soul. Surprisingly, this prayer contains neither mention of death, nor of uplifting souls. The prayer focuses on praising and enhancing God’s glory in the world. This teaches us that when a person who has experienced severe pain is still able to praise God, tremendous elevation of His glory occurs. In addition, when a person who has passed serves as a catalyst for the recitation of Kaddish and its accompanying elevation of God’s glory, that person’s soul becomes supremely elevated.
Amidst pain and suffering, declare with every fiber of your being, “…God is just; my rock, there is no wrong in Him (Psalms 92:16).” When you do this, the greater your difficulties, the more you elevate your soul and enhance God’s esteem in the world. When people see someone who is a living Kaddish – a person who experiences suffering, yet holds tenaciously to his or her faith – they will respond about God, as they do to the Kaddish recited in the synagogue, “May His great name be blessed forever and for all eternity.”
Our ancestors, upon leaving Egypt, showed tremendous devotion to God; they followed Him in the wilderness in an unsown land (Jeremiah 2:2). God considers their loyalty an act of kindness to Him. He remembers their devotion for their sake, as a source of eternal merit for them and their descendants.
Emulate your ancestors. Follow God and stay devoted to Him, even when He leads you through barren and trying passages. When you do, God will recall those times and say about you (ibid), “I remember for your sake the kindness…how you followed Me in the wilderness in an unsown land.”
Your loyalty to God will be an eternal source of merit for you and your family
For part two of this article, click here.
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