Questions better left unanswered

Sunday, 12 February, 2023 - 9:17 am

Dear Friend,

This is the week!

The most transformative moment of world history took place in this weeks Parsha more than three thousand years ago at a mediocre mountain in a deserted desert.

G-d descended onto the Mountain of Sinai and said:

I am Hashem your G-d…..

With these opening words of the Ten Commandments Hashem laid out the ‘game plan’ and the ‘manufacturers intention’ for the inhabitants of the world.

The foremost goal and Mitzvah is to believe in G-d.

The mission is to create an abode for G-d here on earth. This means that the entire universe should be permeated and convinced of the existence and relevance of G-d.

We do this practically by filling the world with acts of goodness and kindness as per Hashem’s moral code.

By living our lives the way Hashem instructed us, by sharing the Universal Morality laws to all of the worlds inhabitants, we created an abode for the Divine.

Once that is completed, Hashem moves on to His ‘end game’ which is utopian. It will be all about basking in the presence of the G-d’ly ‘light’ and ‘energy’ that we have ‘drawn down’ into the world resulting in a new reality of a world that is naturally peaceful, good and idyllic. Our entire occupation at that time will be knowing G-d in a deeper and more inspiring way. It’s called the coming of Mashiach. We all await this and work industriously towards its realization.

So for now, as we edge ever closer to that Mashiach epoch, we are busily carrying out our G-d given mission. An important mission. A good mission. A holy mission.

But nowhere does it say that it is an easy mission.

On the contrary. It’s a mission that takes our innermost strengths to be galvanized. G-d designed a world that is full of concealments. He has obscured himself in order to create an intricate web of disguise which makes it’s a truly challenging ‘hide and seek’ situation.  

He hides, we seek Him.

Sometimes He uncovers His Presence in epic ways. Like Exodus from Egypt, splitting the sea, raining down the Manna for forty years in the desert.

More often He delivers His miracles in a more ‘natural’ way. Albeit, nature is not so ‘natural’ when you think about it. It is a series of miracles that we get used to because of their predictability, thus we refer to it as ‘nature’. However you want to look at nature, there are small almost imperceptible exceptions to the rules of nature that appear at time. Within the natural and predicable order of ‘nature’ He embeds events that can be aptly coined ‘small miracles’ as well as ‘coincidences’ that are just too ‘coincidental’ to be waved away as mere happenstance.

If you are sensitive to seeing them you have a much better chance of noticing them. If you search for those signs from G-d, they often show up (sometimes when you least expect them). Those are uplifting and heartening moments.

The Almighty is infinite. We are finite.

Why do we need try to find His presence? Can we as finite beings ever get closer to Him the infinite One.

Yet, G-d asks us to ‘know Him’ as the Rambam writes in describing the most fundamental Mitzvah of the Torah ‘to know G-d’. For that reason he gathered the entire Jewish people, men women and children, to reveal Himself to them by saying ‘I am your G-d…’.

As much as He is unfathomable, He really wants us to get to know Him as best as we can.

There are so many ways we can find Him and perceive Him. Through studying His Torah. Particularly through the study of Kaballa and Chassidut the scholarly works that explore the many facets of G-d’s Being that we can somewhat understand.

We can find the Divine design through studying the marvels of His universe. Science, especially modern science, points to the unity of G-d in so many ways.

It is for this reason, to try and discover G-d’s presence in everyday life, that I love sharing stories of how we can find G-d in the Divine Providence that shows up as we go about life.

The Torah teaches that G-d is good. G-d is merciful. G-d’s love to us is like a loving parent to an only child born to elderly parents who despaired of ever having a child.

To know G-d is to know that He and only He is the source of every atom, microbe and guides with precision every interaction in the universe.

Which makes it so painful and inexplicable when one encounters tragedy.

Earlier this week I received an email that made me cry:

Lkovod Rabbi Kantor

I receive your weekly parsha thoughts and I very much enjoy them. A number of weeks ago you spoke about the concept that Hashem is with someone even when they are going through a challenge ,and that a person should find comfort in that Hashem is there with him as he is navigating through the challenge. I Have thought about it a lot over the last few weeks and have difficulty with this concept. Hashem is the one that caused my child to be in a terrible physical situation and has done nothing to help him in any way since he became ill 13 months ago. How can I find comfort in the fact that Hashem is here with us if he is ignoring our tefillos (prayers) and pain .Of what benefit or comfort can i one have from this concept if the fact that Hashem is there does not help him in any way . Conversely the thought that Hashem is there but yet ignores our pain and suffering makes it more difficult for me to handle and not less so .

You spoke just 3 weeks ago about the fact that more than a parent loves a child Hashem loves us. How can that be true. There is no sane parent that would destroy his child and rob him of the ability of talking moving eating etc . and yet that is exactly what Hashem did to my child. To my understanding that is the opposite of love. That is anger and a deep hatred to do that to a young child. To me Hashem hates us and our family for doing this to us and what use is it if he is there with us, if the only thing he does with his presence is hurt us and not help us.

Any illumination you can provide on these concepts would be much appreciated.

It’s the age old question that even Moshe asked of G-d.

Why do bad things happen to good people?

Honestly, there is nothing I can answer that person who wrote me the letter as to WHY this is happening to them.

Moreover, I don’t believe we should ever make peace with suffering like this by suggesting an answer. Some questions are better to remain unanswered.

As to trying to find the good in the bad? That is not for someone on the outside to speculate.

Only the person going through this unspeakable tragedy has the right to try to blaze a path of light through this stifling darkness.

For the rest of us, we should provide a shoulder to cry on, and galvanize to act in a way that we can help and alleviate to the maximum possible.

I was not sure if I wanted to address this from a public column. It was written to me by an individual, going through a private and individual excruciating situation.

However, this very question got bumped up to headlines in the Jewish world.

Tragically, this week we got the news that Mrs. Henya Federman the Chabad Shlucha of St. Thomas Island passed away. Henya passed away at the age of 40 on Wednesday after battling for her life for more than two months in the aftermath of a water accident that claimed the life of her 4-month-old daughter, Shterna.

Many thousands prayed for her and did mitzvahs in her honor during the past few difficult months.

When people confide in me, sharing their challenges and difficulties, I often think about the difference between ‘subjective’ problems and ‘objective’ ones.

Some problems are ‘in the mind’. For example, if you are bothered because you are not sure how you will pay your rent next month, it’s a real problem because having a roof over your head is a real need, but it’s a ‘subjective’ problem in some ways. For if you train your mind to trust in Hashem that He will provide, you can live without angst till the rent is actually due and hopefully something will happen that allows you to pay the rent. Oftentimes, problems ‘solve themselves’ (hidden miracle?) and then we see how misplaced our stress was. And yes, many of us live with stress over things that we ought to solve at the ‘mind’ level.

Some tragedies though, are objectively tragic.

Like a young child being robbed of his health as the letter above.

Or a forty years old mother to twelve surviving children, passing away.

These are ‘objective’ tragedies that defy explanation.

How can one reconcile these unimaginably painful events with our firm belief in G-d who is Good, Kind and Omnipotent.

I have no answers. And at the same time, I have no doubts. Why do I have no doubts.

Because intellectually it makes perfect sense not to be able to understand G-d and His ways.

G-d is infinite. I am finite.

By definition it is impossible for me to fathom Him.

The interaction I had with a Holocaust survivor in my early teens in downtown Melbourne keeps coming back to me.

We, young budding Yeshiva students would visit our ‘Mitzvah route’ ever Friday in the Melbourne CBD to share Torah pamphlets and lay Tefilin with the Jewish men. There was a Holocaust survivor who loved our visits and always refused our gentle requests that he perform the mitzvah of Tefilin. He would say ‘after what I saw in the Holocaust, I cannot believe in G-d’. We never pushed him. As we were taught from a very early age that we needed to be sensitive to everyone. Especially to someone who had gone through the inferno of the Holocaust. We were given to understand that we could never understand the depth of a survivors hurt and their subsequent relationship with G-d.

One week, the survivor shocked us when he said ‘I envy you, for your belief in G-d’. We asked him incredulously, ‘what? Why do you envy us for our belief’? To which he responded ‘if you couldn’t pay your bills (evidently his sign-making business was struggling) you wouldn’t get mad at yourself and consider yourself a failure. You would say ‘it’s bashert’ – Divinely ordained to be this way. You would ‘blame’ G-d. I have nobody to blame when I can’t pay my rent other than me. I wish I could believe in G-d’.

To have questions on G-d’s actions when one faces something that defies explanation, is a valid relationship with G-d.

G-d allows us to question Him.

Only someone who has gone through tragedy is able to feel and relate to the depth of the hurt and pain that yields the painful questioning of G-d is really able to address this difficult question.

(In this vein, a very good book on this topic just came out written by a rabbi who suffered the great tragedy of losing his wife, mother of their eleven children, at the tender age of 36. Why G-d Why?: A Guide for the Brokenhearted  or its tag line ‘how to believe in Heaven when it hurts like Hell’).

I pray that we all be blessed to only have ‘subjective’ challenges and ‘mini’ problems.

And I stand humbly and in awe of those giants whose belief in Hashem is steadfast even during the most trying of situations.

It is inspiring beyond belief to witness their acceptance of their ‘Divinely delivered package’ without them wavering from their path of following Hashem in every aspect of their lives.

I pray that G-d gives you and I many uplifting stories of Divine Providence to share with each other in good health and happiness.

They abound. We all have so many things to be grateful to Hashem for.

Hashem allows us to complain when things are tough.

And Hashem rejoices with you as you SING when you feel blessed.

Every morning when one wakes up and his or her soul has been restored, rested and refreshed, we thank Hashem.

Every time one recalls that Hashem has given us His special mandate to connect to him via doing His commandments, this is a cause for true celebration.

In this week’s Parsha we read about receiving the Torah.

Mazel Tov for receiving the Torah.

Let’s celebrate it. By studying it. And by singing with joy about it.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

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