The age old question of every religion or God-believing individual is: why do bad things happen to good people?
Judaism, as most religions, steadfastly clings to the idea that God is omnipotent and omniscient. With those tenants of faith, we believers have to accept that God was aware of the holocaust and allowed it to happen. So, too, do I believe that God knows of my own suffering and idly stands by and allows it to happen. With that knowledge, today, I sit from my hospital bed, where I’ve been for three straight weeks, remembering the 6 million Jews, who perished at the hands of a genocidal monster. And,yet, my faith continues to waiver.
There are two commandments, for which God promises to those who fulfill these commandments a long life. The first is honoring your parents and the second is before taking away a bird’s eggs for food, the Jew must first shoo the mother bird away, so as to lessen the trauma she will endure from losing her babies.
In the Gemara, there is a story of a boy whose father orders him to bring some bird’s eggs back for him. The boy obeys his father, thereby fulfilling the first commandment. Once he gets to the bird’s nest, he climbs up a ladder to access the nest and shoos away the mother bird before taking the eggs. With this action, at a young age, this boy fulfilled the two commandments guaranteeing long life. But, on the way down the ladder, he fell to his death, and his life was cut off far too early.
A renowned and respected rabbi at the time witnessed this incident and recognized in that instant that just maybe god doesn’t really keep his promises and became secular.
The rabbis in the gmara also struggle this story. How could God be so unjust? In the end, they determine that the ladder, upon which the boy climbed, was rickety. So, the child negligently climbed a defective ladder, relying on a miracle from the heavens to return him to ground safely.
Today, I think of the 6 million Jews, who were forced into ghettos, concentration camps, labor camps and gas chambers. With each day, they believed and prayed that God would intervene, since He can do all things. But, with each day, one Jewish soul after another perished, their bodies became emaciated from malnutrition, their families and material possessions robbed of them, and circumstances only became grimmer.
We were not like lambs to a slaughter. We fought against our oppressors. The famous Warsaw ghetto battled the strongest army in the world with all their might, and they were a force difficult to conquer. They didn’t rely on a miracle, but certainly they hoped for one, one that came far too late.
In the last three years, I, too, have felt imprisoned to a slew of debilitating ailments. In the beginning, I believed I could advocate enough to find the right doctor to heal me, but day after day and doctor after doctor, my health only further imprisoned me in a body, which was slowly falling apart. I never relied on a miracle. I never prayed to one day wake up healthy. Quite the opposite. I usually prayed that I would fall asleep and never awaken, such to avoid tomorrow’s torture. But neither miracle happened and with each worsening symptom I felt like that boy falling in slow motion to his death.
The feeling of god forsaking me, abandoning me and refusing to intervene has shaken my faith to the core. If I pray, I yell and scream and cry. As i do so, I Imagine the millions of yells, screams and tears of the holocaust prisoners. Where was God then? Where is He now?
Post holocaust, many Jews left the religion, walked away from the commandments, created other forms of Judaism which required less work on our behalf. For, why should we strive so hard for the perfection fulfillment of commandments when God can’t even keep his promise to grant the little boy a long life?
More than the Jews who lived through the war, those who witnessed it, walked away from God in anger and dismay. Why should I worship a god who allows His chosen people to be exterminated in mass while the world just watches it happen?
On the same token, I have seen my friends and family give up on my regained health and on their faith in God, just like that rabbi. My faith is tested daily, and I have given up hope that God hears my prayers or that prayer even works in the first place. Thus, I have fallen behind on my own obligations as I fall slowly down that ladder.
But, my biggest fear is that my family and friends who are witness to my suffering will walk, and have walked, away from God for what He has allowed to happen to me, someone, who voluntarily accepted Torah with joy. They have stopped praying, darning tefillin, and keeping the mitzvot. With each one, who makes this choice in my honor, they show their deep love for me, but it breaks my heart that I am to blame for the loss of their religiosity.
But, right as I fell to the last slat of the rickety ladder, these friends and family gathered together like those at the Warsaw ghetto and fought against the health insurance companies refusing to pay for a repaired ladder. In a matter of days, my community, the same community whose ancestors died horrific deaths at the hands of the nazis, donated tens of thousands of dollars to save my life during a time when God didn’t. We didn’t rely on a supernatural miracle. Rather, we created or own miracle to save my life.
While I still fell completely off the ladder and came within 24 hours of dying from a deadly bacteria in my bowels called cdiff, my will to live and to encourage all those who were losing hope, including myself, was stronger than my desire to die in my sleep.
Just as how, at the very last moment of intervention, the Americans invaded Germany and saved the barely breathing bodies of Jewish prisoners in concentration camps, EMTs came to my rescue, and my miracle happened – I met doctors willing to save my life and to putting the shattered pieces of my life back together.
The journey is still ongoing, and my body is still severely broken, but my faith in God is slowly returning. Sometimes God intervenes and sends his angels (US troops and my doctors) at the very last moment. Why He allowed any of it to occur in the first place we will never know nor could we ever understand.
The important thing to always remember is that our relationship with God is just that, a relationship. Trust, communication and giving are necessary ingredients to a healthy relationship. It’s our responsibility to give to each other and to yell, scream, cry out to God for His mercy.
The mitzvot are for us, not for God. They are there for our own identity, community, traditions and for us to teach to our children and future generations. Letting them go and turning our backs on our God and our religion is like forgetting all those who died in the holocaust or forgetting all those who are suffering like I have. If we lose our identities and traditions, we are simply furthering the nazi plight, that is the extermination of the Jewish people.
I don’t know if ill get up off the ground after such a long fall off a incredibly rickety ladder. But, I have the hope that if I do ever get back up and put back together again like Humpty Dumpty, I will never walk away from God or my people.
Instead, I hope to have a family of my own, to increase the Jewish population and to do everything in my power from fulfilling the nazi intention. I will never forget the millions who died, even while suffering myself in a hospital bed in tears.
May we never forget our ancestors and their bravery. Even when we ourselves are afflicted with illness, depression or financial calamity, we should remember that only a few years before, we were robbed of everything, but we nonetheless survived.
The Jewish people live on. We survive even in moments of despair. It is simply our duty to remember who we are and to never rely on miracles, but rather defy those people or illnesses, which try to eradicate us. עם ישראל חי