When the Chofetz Chaim himself, the saintly Rabbi Yisrael Meyer Kagan, was bemoaning how people were losing their faith and attachment to Judaism, it was the Rosh Mesivta (high school principal) who helped him feel better. The principal pointed out that even back in Egypt, when the Jews still remembered their forefathers and G-d’s promise, and knew the length of the exile, they still lost hope. “But they did not listen to Moshe, because of their fallen spirits and the difficult work…” [6:9]
The Mishnah tells us that we should say a blessing when we get exceptionally good news, or exceptionally bad news. These blessings are different, and the blessing that we say is based upon how we feel right now, regardless of future effects. For example, if a river floods a field, the farmer knows that the fresh sediments and nutrients will make his crops grow better for years to come. But emotionally, he sees that his current crop is ruined – and thus he says the blessing for bad news.
How is that consistent with the rabbinic teaching that everything which G-d does is for the best? That’s also part of the Mishnah! G-d is watching out for us, taking care of us, and meeting the unique needs of each individual – every minute of every day. So how can there be such a thing as “bad news?”
The Torah also knows that there such a thing as human nature. It is normal and human to feel happy in some situations, and sad in others. It is even unhealthy for a person not to feel a variety of different emotions in different situations. It is a sign that something is wrong with the person, and that is certainly not what the Torah expects of us.
So to be faced with doubts and questions is, in fact, totally normal, especially in trying times. The key is to remember that, indeed, G-d is watching out for us, and to use that knowledge to persevere and move forward. Thus the question is not whether we have doubts, but how we face them!
There are many many times in which I have met with situations in which I personally did not see a way out. At those times, I pray to hashem to guide me, to help me, to give me courage to face whatever I need to face. The answer or “advice” I receive from Hashem is that I have been equipped with intelligence and compassion and that I need to take all the action steps which are necessary to do my part, and that Hashem will guide me toward those steps…to have shear faith in him and to trust that the outcome will be the right one if I follow the guidance provided. G-d fills me with strength to act rather than stay paralyzed in fear. I love G-d with all of my being.
I just don’t understand how people say that God, who allows us to be ravaged by diseases, even tzaddiks, not to mention killing us en masse, is looking out for us.
Thanks for writing. That’s really the point of this piece. We don’t understand, and things often appear dismal, but our own experience of G-d and the experience of our descendants fills us with the faith to trust that He’s looking out for us. There are many perspectives that are helpful for maintaining faith in the face of tragedy. The issue cannot be addressed on one foot, and even with all the answers it’s a lifetime process of growth., especially with those who have experienced tragedy themselves. At the same time, there are many who experience tragedy and emerge with a much stronger faith, a faith that may have pulled them through the tragedy and which they embrace for the rest of their lives. Personally, I have found the lectures and writings of Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb to be helpful with this challenge.