News and Politics Stories

I Don’t Even Know How To Respond

January 4, 2012

Warning: Some content discussed may be uncomfortable for some audiences or unsuitable for some ages. Discretion is advised.

While Rabbi Yoni generally tries to stray from being carried away by current politics or controversies, many have asked for his official response to this issue. This article in no way represent the opinion or standpoint of any of the organizations Rabbi Yoni is affiliated with. Rather it is the sole opinion of the author alone.

A Jew awakens every morning and whispers a silent prayer to the Creator of all things: “Thank you for restoring my soul to me. Thank you for believing in me when no one else does. Thank you for not just standing by my side, but holding my hand when no one else cares to. Thank you for valuing who I am and what I struggle with. Because of You, I know I am not alone”.

Loneliness is such a scary reality to live in. For a person to think that they are alone in this world, that no one else out there cares about them – there is no sadder place to be. The depression such thoughts can awaken in a person are not only painful, but extremely dangerous. This same idea was mentioned to Adam, the first of all mankind, by Hashem Himself: “It is not good for a person to be alone”. It is for this that King David told Hashem, “Even when I walk through the valley of death – I am not afraid, because You are with me!”. Even through our lowest moments, our weakest times, Hashem never leaves us alone.

I wish to share with you Mary Stevenson’s famous poem, “Footprints In The Sand” in 1936:

One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord. Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky.

In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand. Sometimes there were two sets of footprints, other times there was one only.

This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat, I could see only one set of footprints, so I said to the Lord,

“You promised me Lord, that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there has only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, have you not been there for me?”

The Lord replied, “The years when you have seen only one set of footprints, my child, is when I carried you.”

With these ideas in mind, I would like to share with you my thoughts.

A number of weeks ago, in the YU Beacon, a periodical read by much of Yeshiva University’s student body – though by no means endorsed by it – published an article that shook the Jewish world in ways I couldn’t believe.

An article was written – whether fictional or not – from the perspective of a young, Jewish girl struggling with the issue of premarital sex, and her graphic description of how she succumbed to it. While I may have feelings as to the way the article was written and as to how needlessly detailed it was, I strongly believe that this is an issue that deserves serious attention from the Jewish community as a whole.

Yet, I struggle with two points in the article – though you will see that they are in essence one and the same:

1. “Adjusting the clasp on my Hadaya necklace, I finally take in my whole reflection in the bathroom mirror. My transformation from Occasionally-Cute-Modern-Orthodox-Girl into Sexually-Appealing-Secular-Woman: complete. I had managed to startle myself so much that I rush to cover myself in my peacoat.”

“He says “hey” as he walks in with a bare head. After all of our secret rendezvouses, I’m still not used to seeing him without his yarmulke on, but this time it’s somewhat of a comfort.”

2. “I call up my cousin who lives in the east Village with her stockbroker boyfriend. She’s touching up her manicure while we talk.

“I made a stupid mistake.”

“What did you do?”

My silence is enough of an answer.

“Well, now you have to learn from it.”

Not wanting to hear such rational words, I mutter something and hang up.

The only thing I learn is how to do the walk of shame the day after.”

I struggle with one aspect of this secret meeting between a young, Jewish guy and a young, Jewish girl. The inclination to engage in such relations, I understand. The need to feel loved and cared about, I feel as well. Yet the feeling that he or she must dress as non-religious people when together, simply blows my mind.

Does Hashem not understand him? Does Hashem not love her? Are they no longer Jews, for giving in to the temptations of all men? Do they no longer represent a significant part of our people that are also torn as human beings?

Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook, the Chief Rabbi of Israel before the founding of the State of Israel, once wrote:

“I cannot imagine a person whose soul is not torn. Only a lifeless object is whole, but a human being is filled with conflicting desires, and an inner war rages within him continuously.

The purpose of all my work is to mend the rents within my spirit by means of an all-inclusive viewpoint in whose greatness and exaltedness everything is embraced and comes to complete harmony.”

Every person is torn! Every person lives in a world that tempts them. No person ever completely overcomes their inclination to give into things that are not them. For if they could, there would be no reason for their existence. Struggling is part and parcel of life, and a healthy person can learn and grow from such struggles.

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, one of Orthodox Jewry’s most brilliant and realistic thinkers and leaders before his passing, wrote:

“Who prays? Only the sufferer prays. If man does not find himself in narrow straits, if he is not troubled by anything, if he knows not what צרה is, then he need not pray. To a happy man, to contented man, the secret of prayer was not revealed. God needs neither thanks nor hymns. He wants to hear the outcry of man, confronted with the a ruthless reality. He expects prayer to rise from a suffering world cognizant of its own needs. In short, through prayer man finds himself. Prayer enlightens man about his needs. It tells man the story of his hidden hopes and expectations. It teaches him how to behold the vision and how to strive in order to realize this vision, when to be satisfied with what one possesses, when to reach out for more. In a word, man finds his need-awareness, himself, in prayer. Of course, the very instant he finds himself, he becomes a redeemed being.”

Suffering, being torn – is what prayer is all about. Hashem yearns, so to speak, for such dialogue with man. For man to bare his soul, to shed his outer shell and open his heart, to show Hashem that he struggles with things – but that he knows he is not alone!

My two observations are as follows:

1. How have we allowed a generation of Jews to feel that when they struggle, they cannot be connected to the Source Of All Struggle, Hashem? How can we expect people to embrace their Creator, when they are taught that their Creator does not embrace them? Since when has Judaism become a religion based on Hashem’s conditional love for man?

2. I hurt. I cry inside. I suffer for a human being who feels she cannot be heard. For a pure soul who wishes to cleanse herself of the mud she is covered with, yet cannot find a listening ear to lovingly provide the water. For not just one, but for the multitude of Jews who feel the same exact way. That their Creator, their Torah, their communities and friends – will not embrace them for their shortcomings.

The Talmud teaches: “It is enough that a servant should be as his Master”. It is enough for us to be as loving as Hashem, without conditions. It is enough for us to be as merciful as Hashem, without making exceptions.

Woe to us, when we stand before Hashem and demand the same love and compassion from him – that we refused to provide for others.

When someone writes such an article – she is asking for for that helping hand, for someone to relate to her, for someone to say, “You’re not alone, we all struggle through things as well!”. How painful it must be for her to read the negative responses to her article and realize the sad and ugly truth the reveal – she really is alone, no one really does understand her. I shudder at the thought.

There are so many beautiful people out there, so many sweet souls, that need to be reminded that not only Hashem is walking with them through the deepest depths, but that we are right beside them, holding there hand – and helping them through those scary moments of loneliness. That same hand Adam held on to, when he felt rejected from the Garden of Eden – and emerged the father of mankind. That same hand that grasped King David’s as he waged war against the enemies of his people – and emerged victorious.

If Hashem thinks that someone deserves His love, compassion and one more day on this earth – let us be the ones to whisper this same prayer with them every morning, and hope that Hashem will think the same about us.

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