Dear Rebbetzin Feige,
I enjoy reading your articles very much. I know that the Jewish perspective is to alleviate suffering when you see it, and not to ask why God inflicted this suffering. I try with all my heart to do that, but often I find myself getting angry at God. I don't want to be angry. I know I'm just a humble human being who can't possibly comprehend the whole picture, and I sincerely want to have a loving relationship with my Creator, but I can't help the feeling. Can you offer any perspective?
Rebbetzin Feige responds:
Part of your anger is a product of seeing God as differentiated into discrete parts rather than a unified wholeness. In the words of the Zohar (a major Kabbalistic work): "God is the wholeness of everything." In seeing the world as disjointed pieces, the good and desirable on one hand and the problematic (the suffering) on the other, we create a distorted picture of God whose essence is "echa" -- oneness.
Our primary statement of faith, "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One" can be understood at a deeper level as "Shema" ("hear" shares a meaning with the word "gather"-- collect.) In Hebrew, the word "Israel" shares the root "you struggled." "The Lord" denotes God's attribute of mercy. "Elokeinu" -- our God -- refers to the attribute of justice.
Putting all of these meanings together renders this classic verse that declares the faith of Jews in the following way: We who struggle with the many issues that might undermine faith -- namely reconciling the God that is compassionate and merciful with "Elokim," the God of rigorous judgment -- we need to gather all the disparate, disjointed parts of ourselves and recognize that ultimately both aspects are "Hashem Echad" -- all of it is a wholeness emanating from the same source of kindness, from God's unity.
In simpler terms, the "Shema" prayer is a plea to all the complex pieces of ourselves to come together and resolve the "struggle" by realizing that both the compassionate and what appears as harsh in life are in fact "one" -- and flow from the single, benevolent Source, God.
We need to abandon the futile attempt of trying to understand with our heads alone, and return to a holistic understanding that God is everything.
On a practical level, this means that we need to abandon the futile attempt of trying to understand with our heads alone, and return to an intuitive, holistic understanding that God is everything. He is the context of our existence -- the space of our lives. He is inside of us and outside of us. And yes, the painful (what appears to us as such) is part of the fabric of that space. But so are the breaths we take, the beauty of nature, the occasions of joy, the smile of a child, the devotion of family and friends, the inner resources of our being, etc., etc. Let us not dichotomize life, but rather, with the wholeness of our being embrace the wholeness of God and all that He provides. Focusing on the distressing pieces alone is anathema to and a betrayal of the unity of God, which His very essence.
To keep myself from falling into this common pitfall, before addressing and importuning God for my perceived lack and needs, I put it all into perspective by first enumerating all of the potentially taken-for-granted blessings in my life, reminding myself that all of it, everything I do have and that which I don't have, emanate from the same source. In this context, there is a good chance that anger will dissipate and that gratitude and hopefulness will take its place.
The Jewish people, after experiencing many miracles, encountered a number of difficulties during their sojourn in the desert. Their disappointing response was to ask the fateful question, "Is God in our midst?" Rashi, a foremost commentator of Torah, provides an explanatory metaphor. He says it is like a child who, while being carried lovingly on the shoulders of his father, meets travelers along the way and asks them, "Have you seen my father anywhere?"
"My dear child, indeed there were only two footprints, but they were mine, not yours."
In a variation of the theme, a person cries out to God with a complaint that He wasn't there for him in his hour of greatest need, proven by the fact that were only two footprints in the sand -- ostensibly his own. To which God replied, "My dear child, indeed there were only two footprints, but they were mine, not yours. Whenever you had to face adversity, I was carrying you in My arms."
Finally, consider the metaphor of a mother who brings her baby to the doctor for a shot, his inoculation. The mother holds the screaming baby down, recognizing that the benefit of the shot outweighs the pain. Even as the mother's complicity and role in her pain is undeniable, after the shot, the baby clutches onto her even more desperately. At an intuitive level the baby senses that, regardless of the fact that she allowed this hurt to happen, her mother is, nonetheless, her only bastion of love and devotion.
Anger directed at God is not a constructive response. It creates distance. If you move away from the anger, you will be able to dip into your core intuitive wisdom and understand that what you desperately need is greater closeness and connection to the Source, to your Heavenly "Parent". And despite your disappointment in the things you can't understand, ultimately, it is only in that relationship that solace and strength can be found.
My dear DT, bottom line, remember that the choice of how to respond to situations in life is always ours. Thoughts and feelings of anger may rise up in our minds and hearts at any given time, but we determine whether to indulge them or to let them go and make room for our innate intuitive wisdom to inform our lives.