Cantor Lee: I was recently asked how G-d could be so cruel. This wasn’t the first time her family suffered greatly. In fact the woman had walked out on G-d for many years and only recently came back. But now again, she was so angry! It brought to mind Rabbi David’s Yom Kippur sermon from last year...
Rabbi David: Moses, as we all know, the holiest man, master of the prophets, led the Israelites through the desert for forty years. Along with the physical difficulties of desert life that the Israelites had had to endure, he also had to deal with constant complaints, and rebellions. He had to worry where to get water for more than two million people. .
But he had a dream. A dream which probably kept him strong and steadfast for 40 years. A dream to enter the Promised Land with his people.
But he was punished with the most severe punishment he could have possibly received. He died just when the Israelites were ready to enter the land of Israel.
What was his awful mistake that caused his life long dream after forty years of struggle shatter into pieces?
Well, G-D said to him, “In the desert on one occasion I asked you to talk to the rock so water would flow out of it. But you instead hit the rock with your staff.”
And for that Moses was not allowed to see his lifelong dream come to fruition? Scholars have struggled with this question from time immemorial
I don't know the answer. I don't think anyone will ever know for sure.
But maybe for a brief moment in that tense situation Moses wanted to make sure that water would indeed come out of the rock. And that just talking to the rock, asking the rock to produce water, wouldn’t be enough for the water to gush out of it.
Maybe for a brief second Moses doubted his own faith.
Recently I was sitting in a waiting room in the Boca hospital off of thirteenth street. A few people were sitting with me. Suddenly a man turned to me and asked, “Are you angry?” Surprised and a little confused by the question I finally answered, “I am not particularly angry.” “Well, I am!” he practically screamed. “I am angry at G-D! I am furious!”
I was not sure if this was the time and place to begin a philosophical conversation about G-D or life and death. And why did he turn me, a complete stranger, in the first place? Certainly he didn’t know who I was.
“I am mad at him! I am furious!” he insisted. “Does he even listen to our prayers? Does he even care? Does he even exist?”
The man proceeded to tell me about this wife who was stricken with several kinds of cancer and was now fighting for her life. There was so much agony in his words.
After a brief silence he continued with tearing eyes and said quietly, “She has no chance to survive. I don’t even know why the doctor is sending her for another another cat scan.”
He continued, “You know, she is such an amazing person. Such a good sweet soul who wouldn’t hurt a fly. Why her? Why make her suffer so much?”
Don’t get me wrong, I am not usually approached by strangers in public places with such agonizing issues of life and death. Maybe he approached me because he saw my Kippah and wanted to talk to a fellow Jew.
Knowing that there really weren’t adequate words of wisdom to sooth his tormented soul, I said, “I don’t have an answer for you. I don't understand it myself.”
He continued as if he didn’t hear my response. “I was diagnosed with lung cancer. But you know what? I don’t care about me at all. But why her? Such a beautiful soul. I just want some kind of sign! Something! Even the smallest thing that shows me that he exists, that he listens, that he cares, that makes some sense. I just want a sign!”
I put on my rabbinical hat and said, “I know it is hard to hear but maybe we should consider that which does not make sense to us.”
He looked at me puzzled. I continued. “Maybe the struggle itself to make sense of that which makes no sense is what we are all about. Maybe that struggle with the unexplainable, the struggle with so much suffering of your wife and yourself, which is so unfair, is our strongest expression of our belief in G-D.”
“Who knows, ”I continued. “ As strange and unfair as it sounds perhaps G-D is communicating through you and your wife to remind us all how vulnerable we are and how precious life really is. Maybe you are the chosen messenger for everyone.”
He listened and then said, “I give him back this dubious honor. I don’t want it. My wife and I are no messengers. Let him take it back if he even exists or cares.”
I answered, “You need your faith, sir. It’s a powerful gift and can help us get through the toughest of times.” He looked at me. “Are you a rabbi or something?” Seeing my cover was exposed I said, “May G-D send you a your wife a Refua Shleima, full recovery and may He give both of you the spiritual and physical strength to get through such tough times.”
At this point we were already beginning to attract the attention of people around us who were now listening to our conversation. We both became silent when his wife was wheeled into the waiting room. He thanked me for listening to him and they both left.
As I was driving home, I remembered a story I heard from Elie Wiesel of blessed memory. He was describing a scene that happened in Auschwitz. A group of Jews barely alive, starving and weak decided to put G-D on trial. They appointed a prosecutor, defense attorney and judge.
At the end of the trial, the judge read the verdict. G-D was found guilty of abandoning his people. There was silence among the people. Finally someone said, “Well, fellows, it is time to pray mincha, the afternoon service.”
What unwavering faith…
As I was driving I also recalled the pogroms, the persecutions, the endless suffering of Jews in Europe and the Middle East. And yet, none of it has ever shaken their faith in G-D and the belief of the coming of the Messiah.
One of the most profound songs of the Jewish Underground during the Holocaust was “Ani Ma’amim” “I Believe” which quotes the thirteen Jewish principles of the Rambam, the great Jewish scholar and rabbi. It says, “I believe with complete faith in the coming of the Messiah and even though he is delayed I nevertheless will wait for him everyday until he comes.”
Maybe with that rock episode back in the desert, G-D saw the hitting of the rock by Moses instead of talking to it as losing faith and therefore trust in G-D even if just for a few seconds. Maybe this wasn’t about punishment at all but G-d using Moses as the messenger for us, to remind us of the importance of our faith and trust.
There is a saying in Hebrew that “a man can be more fragile than glass and tougher than steel.” Faith, no doubt, is the divine gift given to us to give our spirit the strength of steel, even to the point that nothing can break it. We can then navigate our lives during times of vulnerability and turbulence.
And most importantly, faith brings about Hope another tool in our spiritual toolbox.
One of the best stories that demonstrates this isn’t even Jewish, it’s Greek, the famous story of Pandora’s box. After being told not to open the box she was given, Pandora could not overcome her curiosity. As the box was opened ugly little creatures representing all the diseases and suffering flew right into our world. Pandora closed the box quickly but it was too late.
As she sat on the closed box dismayed, a faint voice asked her to open the box one more time. At first she refused but eventually opened the box. And a beautiful little creature flew out. It was Hope, given to mankind to strengthen our spirit.
In this time of uncertainty, of division among people even more pronounced, it seems the Answer is to return to our Jewish spiritual roots and become the Messengers of Faith and Hope. Only then can we create a World of Peace, Prosperity and Harmony.
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