When G-d’s behavior is inexcusable
Many of us haven’t had a good night’s rest since October 7. We are obsessed with Israel’s war against Hamas, and we’re constantly checking for updates, desperate for some good news. The hostage deal is gut-wrenching as we are faced with some of the most heartbreaking ethical questions that mankind can fathom: Do we put the life of a hostage before that of a soldier who might get hurt from Hamas’ reorganization? Do we release terrorists to save lives now, even though the lives of future hostages are being placed in grave danger?
How do we react to such anxiety? What can we do to make a difference?
I found a most inspirational message in the Torah portion:
A striking observation in the Torah is that all of our holy Matriarchs (Sara, Rivkah, Rachel, and Leah) suffered tremendously from infertility, often for many decades. While the women around them seem to have had no difficulty falling pregnant, these giants of Israel suffered endlessly in this existential human need. It’s not as if they were even biologically related to each other, in which case we might say that they had a genetic disposition towards infertility.
Why would G-d want them to suffer? Where is G-d when we need Him?
The Torah’s answer (Midrash Tanchuma Toldos 9, elucidated in Shaarei Tefilah pgs. 33-34) is both stunning and life-changing—our matriarchs came from wealthy and well-respected families. They each had sterling character traits. And they were drop-dead gorgeous! If G-d had granted them children effortlessly, they would have had everything that they needed; they would never have needed to turn to G-d in prayer. G-d yearns for a relationship with us. He therefore denied these women this basic need deliberately in order that they would turn to Him to fulfill their wishes.
This idea runs contrary to everything that we thought we knew about prayer—we don’t pray because we need to fix our problems; we have problems because we need to pray! If you don’t ask, you don’t get—G-d wants us to ask so that we will get. If we don’t ask, then He gives us a reason that forces us to ask!
It’s not always in our successes, but actually in our struggles that we find out who we truly are.
When the saintly Rabbi Mordechai of Chernobyl once demanded 10,000 rubles from a disciple who wanted to host him, the man was shocked. Although it was so out of character for his Rebbe to be so taxing, he shrugged it off and prayed deeply to G-d for a financial miracle.
Days later a Russian military attache was passing through town and demanded to stay at his home, as was customary in those days. After the party left, the housekeeper found a wallet filled with gold coins that they had left behind. Having had no way to locate the soldiers, the householder joyously brought the bounty to his Rebbe, delivering the goods as requested.
Much to his surprise, the Rebbe immediately handed the money back to him and told him that it was his to keep. “I never dreamed of asking for this money for myself,” the Rebbe explained. “In heaven I saw that you were destined to receive a large sum of money, but that you were neglecting to pray for financial assistance. I had no choice but to concoct a reason for you to appeal to G-d for support. Gei gezunterheit—Enjoy it in good health!”
In the Grace After Meals, we thank G-d for having created “many living things and what they lack.” It would seem far more logical for us to thank G-d for having fulfilled their needs. Why do we thank Him for making us want?
G-d cares for us deeply and desires a relationship with us. It is only when we lack something that we are forced to turn to G-d for assistance. We thus thank Him for giving us the reason to turn to Him in that deep and meaningful connection that only prayer can forge.
We implore you to turn away from the news for a few minutes each day and pour your heart out before G-d in private, sincere prayer for our brothers and sisters in Israel: Pray for the welfare of the hostages—that they may all be safely returned to their families very soon; Pray for the success and safety of our brave IDF soldiers—that they succeed in their mission to destroy Hamas and return the hostages; Pray for the strength, courage and character of Israel’s political leaders—that they be fearless in the face of world pressure, that they boldly proceed with destroying the Hamas terrorists and that they never negotiate with terrorists. Pray for the citizens of Israel that they be safe and secure in their borders and pray for mankind to see the truth and have the moral compass and character to stand with Israel and support her.
Your prayers are precious to G-d. You are his child. He is waiting to hear from you.
When G-d doesn’t answer us
But what happens when G-d does NOT answer our prayer? What happens when He seems to fail to deliver the goods?
Filled with faith, we know with conviction that our prayers never fall on deaf ears. They always make an impact on high. The only catch is that, as the Rebbe once told a chassid, Rabbi Zalman Gourarie, “Our prayers are always answered, but it’s answered in G-d’s time—He doesn’t tell us when and how long it will take.”
Sometimes our answer could come after a generation, but it will eventually come.
Dr. Tal Nir is a doctor in Kiryat Malachi, Israel. Though he was raised on a secular Kibbutz without any faith at all, he found his way back to Judaism and is today a fully observant Chabadnik with a wife and 8 beautiful children.
His mother once told him the story of her youth—she was raised in a religious family in Belgium. When the Nazis came, they took her parents and her sister. Only she remained because her blue eyes and blond hair made her look Aryan. She was taken in by a foster family that agreed to watch her until her family returned. At the tender age of 12, she was forced to adjust to the harsh realities of her new life. Her foster family mistreated her and forced her to work long and hard hours for them, a Cinderella of sorts. She had no choice but to bite the bullet and do as she was told.
One night she made a deal with G-d upon her bed: She would recite the Shma Yisrael each night as her parents had taught her if G-d would promise to return her family to her. She faithfully recited the Shma each night until the fateful day when she learned that her entire family had been murdered in the camps.
Furious with G-d, she ran as far as she could from her faith, settling in the secular kibbutz Degania, where she married and had her son Tal.
One day, Tal came over with his entire family to visit her. As they sat around “savta’s” (grandmother’s) kitchen table, they noticed a candle burning in the middle. It was Yom Hashoah—Holocaust Memorial Day. It suddenly occurred to Tal that all of his children bore the names of his mother’s deceased relatives. Recalling the terrible story of his mother’s youth, he declared: “Look, Mother! It seems that your prayer has finally been fulfilled! All of your long-lost relatives have returned to you! They are all seated here: your father, your mother, your sister; they are all here!”
Shaken, she broke down in tears, as she admitted: “Yes, you are right. They are all here. And there are more of them here than were ever lost in the first place!”
A classic Yiddish aphorism declares “Der Aibershter bleibt nit kein bal chov”—G-d never remains a debtor. He always comes through eventually. His patience can really get to our kishkes, because his response to our prayers can easily be in another lifetime! But as long as we know that He will ultimately deliver, we can rest assured that all will be well. We have nothing to fear!
His timing is designed to teach us how to trust.