Talk to Hashem
Although it took place more than fourteen years ago, the conversation I had with my Rebbi, Rav Mosheh Twersky zt”l Hy”d, in the wake of 9/11 remains vivid in my mind. As I imagine many people felt at that time, a sense of emotional disorientation and feeling rudderless loomed large. So, I approached Rav Twersky and asked: “Rebbi, what are we supposed to do?” I assumed that a tragedy of such enormous magnitude demands some sort of concrete response. Also, I really needed something that could serve as a vehicle to allow some sense of emotional relief (the sense of, “ok, at least I am doing something…”).
My assumption was that Rav Twersky would prescribe some sort of increase of avodas Hashem. Perhaps a few extra minutes of Torah learning every day, or reciting a particular chapter of Tehillim. His totally unexpected response, therefore, caught me completely off guard.
“Talk to Hashem.”
Three words. That’s it. When Rav Twersky saw my befuddled look, he added, “Perhaps you don’t know what I mean…I am not talking about Shmoneh Esrei…Just talk to Him.”
Last year, Rav Twersky, together with his fellow kedoshim, was killed al kiddush Hashem while davening in Har Nof. In the wake of that terrible event, along with many other thoughts, this interchange rose to the surface of my mind. To our great sorrow, Klal Yisrael has suffered many additional tragedies both before and after the Har Nof Massacre. Klal Yisrael has, throughout its odyssey in galus, enjoyed periods of relative calm and gone through other periods of great difficulty and sorrow.
Although the media can make it very difficult, by no means should we focus only on the negative and brood with a sense that we are living in a terrible world. We must certainly be very grateful to Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu for the degree of security and prosperity that we do have, which is far greater than that which many of our ancestors had. Nevertheless, we are going through a very tough time, and the pain and difficulty is real and acute. Of course, one who has not been through the loss of a loved one in a terrorist attack cannot possibly imagine how difficult it must be. But, still, all of Klal Yisrael feels the aching, enduring pain of these numerous, terrible tragedies. And it can be hard to deal with this pain.
I can’t say for sure if Rav Twersky would have said the same thing now as he said after 9/11, but I do think that it can be a big help, and I therefore wanted to share it. I also cannot say for sure what Rav Twersky’s reason was for determining that talking to Hashem was the most important thing to do – he generally kept his words to a bare minimum and would often not elaborate unless specifically asked to do so – but I would like to humbly offer perhaps one explanation.
The Gemara in Eiruvin (18a) says that the two yud’s in the word vayitzer - in reference to the creation of man - convey, “Oy li mi’yitzri, oy li mi’Yotzri, Woe is to me from my yeitzer hara, woe is to me from my Creator.” Rashi there explains that what this means is “woe is to me from my yeitzer hara if I don’t capitulate to him because then he is always troubling me, and woe is to me from my Creator if I transgress His will.”
What exactly is this meant to teach us? Isn’t it patently obvious to us all that the yeitzer hara drives us crazy? And isn’t it just as obvious from the whole Torah that one can expect woe if he violates the mitzvos? Furthermore, is that a way to talk?! Imagine a person saying: “Oy my Creator. Oy vey my Creator! Oh how I am going to suffer from Him!” Is that a way to talk?!
What Chazal are doing is conveying a basic truth of our situation in life: that there is an ongoing tension within us, and that this tension is a deliberate, necessary, and fundamental aspect of our makeup. Inherent in the creation of man is that life is an ongoing struggle. Chazal’s usage of the expression oy li indicates that this struggle is inevitably going to have an element of bitterness in it from time to time. When we experience these feelings of angst we should not get thrown off course by it. It is normal and to be expected. More than that, it is a healthy indication of living life properly, no different than the uncomfortable burn of the muscles when one exercises them properly. To be engaged with life, to be engaged with Hashem and in the life-process of ongoing growth means that there is going to be some tenderness and hurting along the way.
And that’s ok.
Rachmana libah ba’ei, Hashem wants the heart. To have a relationship means that your emotions have to be engaged. And emotions are sensitive. Relationships are delicate because emotions are their fulcrum. Emotions are intense and not necessarily rational. They can be hurt and seethe with pain.The critical point, though, is what to do with these intense feelings. If you’re not careful, the angst and pain can overcome you and cause you to cross some very severe red lines by angrily lashing out at your perceived source of pain. And that can cause the exact opposite of what we really want. Instead, those intense feelings can be used as a springboard for strengthening and deepening the relationship.
How? By employing the skill of effective, positive, respectful communication.
Rachmana libah ba’ei. Hashem wants your heart. Whether it is sad or happy, feeling pleased or upset. Chazal don’t tell us that Hashem wants our hearts half the time. If A says to B, “I only want you to share your feelings with me when you are happy and upbeat”, then that is most certainly not a relationship. A relationship means that we are together through thick and thin, through the happy moments and the sad or angry ones. Rachmana libah ba’ei. He wants your heart. Tell Him how it feels. Talk to him. Share what you are feeling with Him. Say to Him, “Oy, Hashem it hurts so much!”
A woman who had a very troubled life, enduring years upon years of suffering, had an additional woe to deal with: she was having a lot of trouble keeping her emunah alive. She felt that Hashem had abandoned her. She went to Rabbi Pesach Krohn who told her this, “You’re angry at Hashem. That’s good because it means you believe in him. You cannot be angry with someone whom you think does not exist. What we need to do now is find a way for you to be able to work through your feelings.”
Don’t close up; tell Hashem how it feels. Tell Him why you are so upset. Pour out your heart to Him; not only in prayer, but also, and perhaps primarily, in intimate conversation. Talk to Him. But, as in all relationships, do it with care and a healthy dose of self-control. Don’t cross red lines that will only have a counter effect of what it is that you really want. Because what we really want is to feel Hashem’s love.
If you need to, say, “Hashem it hurts. I am in so much pain. I don’t know what to do! Oy, Hashem!” Just the act of simply sharing with Him how we feel binds us closer to Him and provides us with the emotional strength to keep going.
But the truth is, there is also something concrete we can ask of Him. Often, what hurts the most is the feeling that Hashem doesn’t care about us, chas v’shalom. We can say to Him, “Hashem, I know that everything you do is for the good, and that You are with us in all our pain and suffering. But that knowledge is way up in my brain and I don’t know how to bring it down to my heart! Hashem, please, even if for whatever reason You won’t remove the hardship and suffering, please make something happen in my life – even if it is something small - that will show me that You are with me, that you care about and love me, and that you are always on my side. Or, if that is asking too much, then please Hashem, at least help me by allowing my emotions to feel Your love despite the pain. Help me to simply feel and know in my heart that no matter what happens in my life, it is Your love and concern for me that is the guiding force behind it all.”
This is the lesson, I think, that Rav Twersky was trying to convey to me fourteen years ago when we all felt lost in a sea of pain and turbulent uncertainty. Talk to Hashem. He is waiting to hear your voice.