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Dear Emuna: Losing Faith
Dear Emuna

Dear Emuna: Losing Faith

Struggles with faith and concerns that a neighbor is harming his children.


Dear Emuna,

The fact that your name is Emuna, faith in Hebrew, must mean that you have a strong connection to the word. I have been struggling for a LONG time with my belief and trust in God. I have a hard time with the why bad things happen to good people. I have had to deal with many tough life circumstances (no worse than many others, I guess), but I still cling to the fact that God runs this world (since He created it) and knows what's best, and we only see a fraction of the picture, etc. So my question is, how do I know that God is pleased with me or not? In other words, I feel like I'm doing all the right things to serve Him, yet I keep getting sent difficulties that supposedly I can overcome, although sometimes I feel totally helpless. Can you help?

-- Struggling

Dear Struggling

I’m not sure whether my name is a help or a hindrance on this issue. We all have the same potential for deep faith and trust in the Almighty. It is our spiritual inheritance from our forefather Abraham. Having the potential and accessing it are of course not the same. We sometimes make the mistake of thinking that there is just one more thing I need to do and then I will have acquired emuna. It is a lifelong challenge and a constant choice. I have to choose it at 3:01 and then again at 3:02 and if I’m lucky maybe not again until 3:05. It is the willingness and determination to keep making the choice that forges our trust and our relationship with God.

As you mention we all have tough life circumstances; no one has a carefree existence, whatever the external appearances will be. You’ve probably heard the famous parable where a group of people is told to put their troubles in a bag in the middle of the circle and then choose which bag they want. Everyone, of course, chooses their own bag. On some level, we recognize that the situation we are in is tailor-made for us and offers the best opportunities for growth and closeness to the Almighty.

While I understand your pain and confusion, I don’t think your question is that right one to ask. If you are serving the Almighty to the best of your ability then you can be confident that He is, so to speak, pleased with you. The fact that you continue to confront challenges does not invalidate that. As my husband is fond of pointing out, the Almighty is not a coke machine. We don’t put in the prayers or the mitzvot, push a button and get what we want.

In the first place, what we think we want may not ultimately be good for us and so the Almighty won’t give to us. Secondly, our desires, prayers and mitzvot are only a piece of the puzzle in the Almighty’s accounting. He has to taken into account the implications of every action and event on all the people affected -- on the family, the community, the Jewish people…Divine providence is a complex phenomenon and can’t be analyzed or described in simple mathematical equations.

As far as feeling helpless, there is both a positive and negative aspect to that. On the one hand, we need to make our effort. We need to make our choices. On the other hand, we need to recognize that the outcome is NOT in our hands; it is completely and totally in the Almighty’s hands. And that sense of powerless is good for us. That gives us perspective and should ultimately allow us to relax. It’s not up to us; it’s up to our wise and omnipotent Father in Heaven who only wants and only does what’s best for us.

-- Emuna

Dear Emuna

I live in apartment building and late one night, walking by the door of a family that recently moved in, I heard some terrible screaming and yelling. The father was berating his 10 year old daughter, cursing her out in a manner that sent chills down my spine. This wasn't just a typical parent losing his cool; it was scary. I didn't hear any evidence of physical violence, but I am concerned. Should I call child services? Or is that jumping the gun and not very neighborly?

-- Concerned Neighbor

Dear Concerned Neighbor,

Not knowing where you live makes the answer more difficult. In Los Angeles, the Jewish community has representatives who have made themselves experts in this area and have also made relationships with the appropriate government departments. The advantage of this is that they are the first step in referral; the case doesn’t land immediately in the lap of some faceless government bureaucrat.

Even if there is no official system in place, I would recommend speaking to a community leader – the rabbi of your community, the school principal, someone in a position of authority who has likely dealt with similar situations like this is the past – and either ask their advice or, even better, hand it over to them to take responsibility.

We don’t want to close our eyes to any type of abuse, but we also want to be careful not to interfere inappropriately or even, God forbid, destructively in someone else’s family. We don’t know what actions will put the children at greater risk or when the government mandates removing them from the home, no matter the psychological and spiritual cost.

This is definitely a situation calling for professionals and even they need to proceed with caution. They should be your first line of inquiry; child services is for when all other options have been exhausted.

-- Emuna

July 10, 2010

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Visitor Comments: 12

(11) Anonymous, February 20, 2014 11:17 PM

about struggling

usually when people have these doubts they look for answers somewhere else - moving to a new community, where there are religious families, shiurim (wonderful speeches) given by Rabbis and their wives.
MANY people go to Israel and find their spot there. If you are (spiritually) lost and don't know where to go, you should find a rabbi, be it Chabad, or Sefaradi, online or in person, or any other religious area where you can have long talks and be inspired to pray and believe that
g-d REALLY is there. You probably haven't found the right place to ask your questions yet, but I guarantee you, you will find him!

(10) Elisheva, October 18, 2010 1:47 PM

potential abusive situation

Several commentors disagree with Emuna, and say that the neighbor should call child services immediately, with even the suspicion of a child in danger. I think that Emuna's point is valid-- although clearly the situation isn't great for the 10 year old, having child services remove her from her home may not be warranted -- and possibly even more emotionally damaging to the child than keeping her in her home with proper outreach involved. Also, even if the child DOES need to be removed from her home, it is beneficial to have a community organization involved, rather than "some faceless government beaurocrat"-- so that the child's needs are better understood in the context of how she has been growing up until now (e.g. Shabbos, kosher, etc-- a child can be traumatized by having everything familiar taken away, including religious needs). Much as we like to rely on our government to fix everything, we all know it's not infallible. And often-times, those more involved in the particular community can better understand and better provide what is needed.

(9) Andy, July 14, 2010 7:50 PM

reply to the anonymous #8

My comment may have been worded in a way that was unclear. I believe you may have misunderstood and for you certain you misquoted me. I agree that spiritual giants such as Pearl Beinisch along with the Mengele survivor the "Holy Woman" Chaya Sarah Kramer and others including I suppose some victims of violent rape, incest etc do accept that everything comes from God and that it is on the real level good and tailor made for them. My problem with the article is that these examples are hardly "most people" who I believe do not share this view regarding similar trauma being opportunities for growth to get closer to the Almighty [even though through a big picture lens they indeed may be ] and I do not believe that most people would choose their own bag of troubles. Maybe they would if if they were aware of the big picture. I stated for me personally that requires a huge leap of faith but NOT blind faith. I may have been unclear but there is a big difference. Even Moses who spoke face to face with the Almighty required at least a small step of faith as when asked he was given no answer as to why the righteous suffer. Even requiring a huge leap is based on something tangible. Some sort of aknowledgement that God has given me many gifts and is not a complete stranger. That I trust him even though I can't always see the good. Blind faith is based on nothing which I believe Judaism does not demand. The commandment to know that there is a God seems to eliminate the need for blind faith. Thank you for the suggestion re Rabbi A Tatz. I have for many years been an avid listener and reader of his material . Possibly I'm mistaken but I do not see a conflict between his Torah insights and his interpretaions of the sages'widom and what I have written in the comments.

(8) Anonymous, July 13, 2010 11:44 PM

to andy

this is in response to comment 6. did you read greater than angels? the interview with pearl beinisch? she says at the end that she would not erase the years of horror that she lived during the holocaust, because she learned so much from it. she grew from it. read it! and my teacher is also a survivor, and when she told us that everything hashem does is good and tailor made for each person, i skeptically asked as you do- everything? even the ghetto? the holocaust? and she said definitely yes. answers like that come from unshakable emunah, trust in Hashem. Its not about blind leaps of faith. its knowledge of God and how He loves and cares for us. (for m,ore information on this topic, i suggest you listen to classes by rabbi akiva tatz-he makes it fabulously clear) i hope you learn more and are able to change your views, because you will have a happier life that way.

(7) Anonymous, July 13, 2010 11:07 AM


Continuous verbal abuse is mental abuse which leads often times to physical violence. The verbal threat of it is almost worse that the actual abuse.. I am a survivor of this tactic...Post traumatic stress disorders and the like...If it scared you...think of what it did to a ten year old didn't say if the child answered back.. I think probably not... for if she said anything... the threat of bodily harm probably kept her silent.... it is tricky.. because if do say something... and no one does anything... the blame will go on to the child...from the perpetrator...and he may go underground with his tactics...I agree with L.S. call someone and explain what happened, and if you have heard anything since.. sometimes a stressful move/ and or alchohol can make people say and do things they wouldn't normally do. I'm no expert but been there...D

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