Even in Hell
MyLife Essay Contest 2016
It was winter 1986. We had newly arrived in Crown Heights from Eretz Yisroel with two infants. The basement we could afford to rent was so cold that the snow seeped under the outside door into the kitchen/dinette and never melted. My husband found a job for a pittance. I was a British Citizen without a green card. I found odd sporadic jobs. It was not a particularly comfortable and inspiring time. One day, my husband said to me, “Tova, read the portion of Tanya for today, it will help you.”
Silence. I was in no mood to read Tanya.
Throughout the day my husband was gently persistant. “Tova, did you read Tanya? You will like it. Tova, read Tanya. On and on……………”
By 9:00 pm my husband said, “Tova, come and sit with me. We will learn today’s portion of Tanya together.” With a stony cold heart I sat with him by our donated table. A couch was a dream and a life-time away. My husband is a convert and I might as well have been one. We both had given up successful lives in the Church to pursue truth. Our families thought we had gone stark-raving mad. So we were alone. With our faith and with our ‘One G-d’ but despite our difficult situation, neither of us had any regrets. However, snow in the house, no money, and no food with two little boys aged two and one was not the easiest task.
Tanya: (Iggeret HaKodesh Chapter 11) When someone finds himself in a difficult situation he should remind himself of two things – 1) that the Abishter is re-creating the world at every second. He did not create the world and retract to some faraway place in heaven. He is re-creating the world each and every second and if not it would revert back to nothingness. 2) The Abishter is good, therefore everything has to be good on some level even though we do not see it.
This was definitely food for thought. My stony heart opened a crack to allow this idea to take a flimsy hold. More than thirty years later I realize that this important Chassidic teaching has become my absolute life-line.
Two hyperactive sons out of five children made any hope of yeshiva a nightmare. Two of my siblings buried in their prime with cancer. One of my siblings drowned at six years old. One son diagnosed with schizophrenia at nineteen years old and drug addicted. My own battle with two tumors, four surgeries in one year, and on and on – I have learned to say out loud, in the midst of the utter hell, fear, confusion and isolation, “The Abishter is recreating the world at every second. The Abishter is with us now.”
Can I have said at the moment when my beautiful sister was dying of cancer at thirty-two years old and asking me, “Do you know how hard it is to get one breath? Just one?” Her six year old son sitting by her side. Could I have seen at that moment that G-d is good? No. I could not. Honestly, I am not on that level. But I could acknowledge that G-d is with us, in this hell, in this pain, and in His Divine Wisdom He has decreed that this was the way things needed to be at that moment.
When my oldest brother who had always protected me when my mother had forgot that she had given birth to me was holding my hand whilst dying of cancer and apologizing to me that he could no longer fight it – it was too big and was consuming him, could I see at that moment that G-d is good? No I could not. But I could acknowledge that G-d was creating that hell, that consuming pain, and that in His Divine Wisdom He decreed that, that was the way things needed to be at that moment.
When our son at nineteen years old suddenly exploded into a full-blown psychotic attack and blasted the entire family into hell in one moment, when I return home from a full day of work and find every inch of our home, the walls, the floor, the furniture covered in vomit because he has over-dosed on drugs, or when drug addicts are bashing on our door threatening to kill us because he has debts which he denies, can I say at that moment that G-d is good? No, I honestly cannot. But I do acknowledge that He is with us, in this hell, in this fear and terror, and that in His Divine Wisdom He has decreed that this is the way things need to be for now.
When bombs from Lebanon are exploding just meters from our home in Tzefat; when at his work in the Rivkah Zeev Hospital my husband is handling people torn-up in a vicious war just an hour and a half away – do I at that moment feel that Hashem is good? Honestly it is beyond me. Never the less, in my soul I am content to leave the Creator-of-every-second to guide us through the darkness into the Eternal Light of Moshiach. With this faith I live.
From the Alter Rebbe’s teachings I have learned that G-d does not send us a test.
G-D IS THE TEST! If G-d ‘sends’ us a test then this means that He is there and we are here. This is not according to the Alter Rebbe’s teaching. If G-d is creating a situation that feels like hell, then He is that hell. We have nothing to fear, only to realize that He is right here with us and all we need to do is reach out and hold onto His hand. Then we go on His strength and not our own. We have only to know with absolute conviction that this concealment of G-d is actually of His purest Essence. The Alter Rebbe also teaches us that the ‘Yud – Kay” of Hashem’s Holy Name is referring to the situations in life that are concealed good and that only in the time of Moshiach will we actually see the goodness, whereas the ‘Vav-Kay’ of Hashem’s Holy Name is referring to the revealed good that we feel and see right now.
Sometimes I feel like we are on a death march called Golus. We fall, we utterly collapse. We see our friends and closest acquaintances in horrific pain – husbands/wives dying, children left orphaned, wives being beaten, murdered. Such cruelty and chaos all around. We feel that we have not even one more ounce of strength, and then G-d carries us through, because He is with us and because He is compassionate and good, and because one day we will all be truly liberated; re-united with our loved ones in a place where there will be no more pain, no more terror, no more hell. A time when G-d’s purest Essence will fill the entire world for eternity.
When G-d tests us we can react in two ways. We can become angry and frustrated and say, “Why me? I was trying so hard and ‘wham’ G-d smacked me down.” This attitude will distance us from G-d. The second way we can react to the situation is to choose to surf with it – to accept it – to feel the pain, ride the waves. This will in the end bring out our own refined essence. It will purify us and bring us to a greater intimacy with the Divine. If we can find courage to do this then the very act of acknowledging that “THIS TOO IS FROM G-D” will also elevate and purify the world, releasing the hidden sparks and bring us closer to the coming revelation of Moshiach.
So how do we actually do this? Many times we hear from the non-observant Jews that the Torah observant Jews are brainwashed. I have thought about this a lot. I do not want to be a brainwashed person. I have come to realize that actually we are all brainwashed. We just choose what we want to brainwash ourselves with. I have chosen to brainwash myself with Tanya. Happy is he who chooses to meditate on the phenomenal teachings within this little book. If we intellectually try with all of our might to grasp these teachings and then wait a while, giving them time, then they will seep into the depths of our hearts imbuing our entire beings with peace.
Psalms 91: 4 “With His wings He will cover you,
and under His wings you will take refuge;
His truth is an encompassing shield.”