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Facing Hashem with a Heavy Heart
Me; Not Only It
by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz

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9/27/09

About two weeks ago, my cell phone rang early one morning with a call from Eretz Yisroel. It was from a sensitive, deeply spiritual young man in his early twenties who wanted to discuss a matter that was troubling him as the Yemei HaDin (High Holidays) approached.

This bachur lost a parent while in his early teens, and with deep pain and a not a small touch of anger in his voice, asked me how he could be expected to approach Hashem on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur asking for forgiveness for his sins, when his own heart was heavy with Him for having taken his parent at such a young age. He pointedly asked me if I ever had to deal with his dilemma (I lost my father at the age of 3), and if so, he wanted to know how I processed these feelings when they arose.

I was overwhelmed by the raw power of his emotions (and mine, to be perfectly honest) and was silent for a long time. When I finally responded, I shared with him the following three thoughts:

1) I commended him on his honest and sincere approach to tefilah as evidenced by his not taking the easy way out and mouthing insincere words on the Days of Awe, and for the close, personal relationship he was developing with Hashem, along the lines of the those noted about Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev in this story.

2) I encouraged him to confront rather than suppress his hurt and angry feelings over the loss of his parent – and to go for rabbinic and/or professional help in doing so, as at least in my case, as I noted in my recent Time; Not Money column, these feelings will never really go away.

3) On a very pragmatic level, I encouraged him to think of the Yemei HaDin in terms of a deep, personal cheshbon hanefesh (reflection and self-assessment) in addition to the more intimidating – and in his case, confusing – notion of facing our Creator and accounting for our deeds and misdeeds.

I suggested that if he was not emotionally prepared for the accounting that the Yomim Nora’im require of us, he might be better served concentrating more on the “Me” (personal cheshbon hanefesh) in addition to the “It” (a reckoning of mitzvos and aveiros).

This would be along the lines of the thoughts of the Vilna Gaon on Din and Cheshbon -- (Click here for details) that I was fortunate to hear from our great rebbi, Rav Avrohom Pam zt”l and the words of the Chasam Sofer on the "sin" of not realizing one's potential -- (click here) being worse than even violating the Torah itself.

I share these thoughts with you on Erev Yom Kippur as a possible springboard for mature and real-life reflection as we prepare to daven to Hashem tonight and tomorrow – especially for those who are grappling with similar thoughts for a variety of reasons.

I also ask our readers to consider sharing their thoughts with the young man who called me by posting a comment in the thread below as I am sure that he will appreciate them. (I will be forwarding the link to him as soon as it is posted.)

As it is my nature to be a bit, shall we say, outspoken at times, I ask forgiveness of any readers who were offended by anything I wrote, and please accept my deepest and most sincere wishes to all our readers for a G’mar Chasima Tova.

May Hashem grant us all a year overflowing with nachas, parnasa, hatzlacha, mazel and true simchas hachayim and may He grant a year of Shalom to His children in Eretz Yisroel and throughout the world.

Yakov Horowitz


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1.     9/27/09 - 3:10 PM
AMW

My loss is much more recent than the bachur who asked the question. I had the best mother in the world until I was in my 20's, married, and pregnant with my third child. Losing my mother brought out a lot in me and opened my eyes to a lot inside of me that I didn't know was there. For example, I find myself more empathetic than I ever was, more sensitive, and more serious. I look back at some of the very insensitive things I've said and done to people without thinking and wonder how I could have ever been so blind to other people's suffering. Now that I suffer too, I ask Hashem to forgive me for my callousness and blindness.

On the other hand, I also find myself of late more jealous of friends who still have a mother. They seem to talk endlessly about spending Succos with their parents while I have nowhere to go. My father will come to me.

My third child was born just a few weeks after I got up from shiva, and there was no mother there to help with the baby, the other kids, cook, clean, or even come to the bris. My friends make a bris and their mother is there with them, while I feel so alone. I ask Hashem to forgive me for my jealousy. I guess in my tefillos I don't focus so much on my anger with Hashem for taking my mother away (although the feelings are definitely there), but rather I focus on what this awful parsha in my life has shown me about myself and how I am dealing with it.

I'd also like to mention that I found Rosh Hashana davening so much more powerful this year because I really understand now that people die. It may sound odd, it sure feels odd, but I realized that as much as I davened in the past for chaim, I never really believed that maves could affect me. As fervently as I davened, it was just words. Now it's more than that. I truly want life, I beg Hashem for life, while understanding that not everyone lives. I plead with Hashem from a place of greater urgency.

I look forward to reading other people's posts because, as I'm learning, I have so much to gain from other people's wisdom and I can't get through this alone. So thank you in advance.


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2.     9/27/09 - 4:35 PM
Survivor - Chicago

May you go from strength to strength. I'll give you a thought my rabbi, Rabbi finkel told me during my struggles. The main thing to focus on is the incredible love Hashem has for you. Hashem loves you SO much, he promises to take care of you, his little vulnerable boy.

Nothing can possibly justify or exlain WHY you had to go through this terrible experience. Think about your new found spot on Hashem's protective services. Hashem looks out for vulnerable people. Focus on this thought and you'll feel so much better. You now have a direct connection and protekzia from Hashem.

It's not easy and that's why I was off for a time. But, when you think about rabbi's words you'll realize he's right. You roo are a survivor, love the connections you have with


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3. Same feelings....     9/27/09 - 4:37 PM
YS - Brooklyn

For years, I grapple with this very same issue. I didnt lose a parent but went through other very trying times. Most days I dont daven because as soon as I start, I start feeling bitter and resentful towards Hashem and am afraid of letting loose, so I shut my siddur and stop. Perhaps its a sort of anger that doesnt let me really daven to Hashem.

I've tried many things, but my feelings about my relationship to Hashem has not changed in all these years.


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4. Counseling     9/27/09 - 6:12 PM
Anonymous

"go for rabbinic and/or professional help"

Very moving and honest article. Wanted to comment respectfully on the advice to seek counseling. With all due respect and appreciation to Rabbonim, their guidance is not a substitute for effective therapy with a competent mental health professional. While some problems can be worked through with the help of a wise friend or an insightful Rav, some issues demand the extended time, attention, and skills of a therapist--of course one who is committed to derech haTorah and is grounded in solid hashkofah. The advice to seek help in the wrong place--especially in a situation as complex and psychologically laden as described above--is, at least to my mind, a bit reckless and potentially devastating. Especially since often it takes a competent therapist to actually determine the extent to which therapy is needed--in much the same way that only a doctor can diagnose a medical condition and assess the measure and nature of required intervention.

Umcha Hashem dimaah me-al kol panim...


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5. thank you     9/28/09 - 1:37 PM
the boy

I am the young man in the article written above, I first want to thank Hashem for giving me another year of life since last yom kippur, each day is a blessing. Thank you Rabbi Horowitz for keeping this confidential. Comment #4 that route has been taken in the past, and never seemed to work, i would not suggest it, if you want to know how to talk to someone you are angry at , then you are right , but i want to talk to G-d and therefore asking rabanim who talk to him. #2 thank you for your warm words. for comment #1 & #3, i got an email erev yom kippur with the folowing mashul i will paste it here

here was once a king that wanted to find some one that really loved him as a king and he dressed like a pauper and went to look for people who are happy, to see why they are happy, and he came a cross a simple man playing his violin and he was so full of joy, the king dressed like a pauper knocked on the door as ked the man for a bite to eat, the man invited him in and they start talking, and he asks the simple man what do you do for a living, and he answers that he is a handyman, he then asks how much he makes and he answers 5 golden, he then asks why he is so happy, and he answers because I love the king the king is great. The king went home and decided to test the fellow, and made a decree that nobody is allowed to hire a handyman to do your repairs. The next night the simple man playing his violin and he was so full of joy, the king dressed like a pauper knocked on the door as ked the man for a bite to eat, the man invited him in and they start talking, and he asks the simple man what do you do for a living, I heard that the king banned repairs and he answers that today I was looking for work and someone said he would pay me to chop wood for them , he then asks how much he makes and he answers 5 golden, he then asks why he is so happy, and he answers because I love the king the king is great, he then asks but aren’t you upset at him for making such a decree and you lost your job bec. Of that? The man answered of course not!! The king is great, he is a genius, and if he made the decree I am sure there is a reason for it.

The king went home and decided to test the fellow again to see his loyalty, and made a decree, that nobody is allowed to chop wood, we need the trees. The next night the simple man playing his violin and he was so full of joy, the king dressed like a pauper knocked on the door as ked the man for a bite to eat, the man invited him in and they start talking, and he asks the simple man what do you do for a living, I heard that the king banned repairs and carpentry and he answers that today I was looking for work and someone said he would pay me to clean his stables for him , he then asks how much he makes and he answers 5 golden, he then asks why he is so happy, and he answers because I love the king the king is great, he then asks but aren’t you upset at him for making such a decree and you lost your job bec. Of that? The man answered of course not!! The king is great, he is a genius, and if he made the decree I am sure there is a reason for it.

The king went home and decided to test the fellow again to see his loyalty, and made a decree that nobody is allowed to clean the stables. The next night the simple man playing his violin and he was so full of joy, the king dressed like a pauper knocked on the door as ked the man for a bite to eat, the man invited him in and they start talking, and he asks the simple man what do you do for a living, I heard that the king banned repairs and carpentry, and stable cleaning and he answers that today I was looking for work and joined the army, he then asks how much he makes and he answers 5 golden, he then asks why he is so happy, and he answers because I love the king the king is great, he then asks but aren’t you upset at him for making such a decree and you lost your job bec. Of that? The man answered of course not!! The king is great, he is a genius, and if he made the decree I am sure there is a reason for it.

. The king went home and decided to test the fellow again to see his loyalty, and made a decree, and told the generals that for the time being not to pay the soldiers, The next night the simple man playing his violin and he was so full of joy, the king dressed like a pauper knocked on the door asked the man for a bite to eat, the man invited him in and they start talking, and he asks the simple man what do you do for a living, I heard that the king banned repairs, carpentry, stable cleaning and they stopped paying the army and he answers that today I was looking for work and went to the army , and like you said they did not pay me but listen ill tell you what I did but you cant tell anyone, the king would kill me, you see I took the sword they gave me when I joined the army broke off the handle and sold the blade to the blacksmith and attached wood to it so no one will know, he then asks how much he makes and he answers 5 golden, he then asks why he is so happy, and he answers because I love the king the king is great, he then asks but aren’t you upset at him for making such a decree and you lost your job bec. Of that? The man answered of course not!! The king is great, he is a genius, and if he made the decree I am sure there is a reason for It., even though I don’t understand it.

the next day king said here is the ultimate test, and sends a message to bring this man to the palace, he gets to the courtyard and sees 20,000,000 people and the king takes a person and ties him down and says he is deserving of death for "xyz" and point the simple man and says you are to fill out the execution with your sword. now the fellow gets there and says there are 2 ways about this, either I can say that king I had to sell the metal of the sword to make money, because you stopped pay for soldiers were I joined bec you banned all my other jobs, what do you want, but that will insult the king. so he says " your honor I understand that this man got judged for death, but let us do a test and ask g-d that if this man is innocent let my sword turn into wood" the king says to him listen you are the only person in my kingdom that I truly trust, you are no longer, going to live in your old house you are going to stay with me.

OY! Does hashem test us over and over again, is he trying to get us! no, of course not Avraham had ten tests, before hashem said now I see you are loyal, so to each and everyone of us has those few tests, were the ribono shel olam, wants to test our emunah - belief

we can come to the ribono shel olam and say what do you want from us, we don’t have a bais hamikdash, we don’t have the shchinah, none of the karbanos, no neviem, what do you want from us, but that insults him, instead we have to say ribono shel olam, we love you so much you, gave us so much, how can we have misused you like this.

now please keep sending the chizzuk for me b"h i think i got over a bit of this speed bump, but there will be other boys & girls like me who will need the chizzuck keep on commenting


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6.     9/28/09 - 5:51 PM
ima - jerusalem

I'm so sorry for your loss and what you are going through. Kol hakavod to you for your bravery and honesty. I hope these thoughts can help in any way. My exact circumstances are different than yours, but I also found myself approaching aseres yemei teshuva from a place of being very much involved with what was going on inside myself, my life, and my relationship with Hashem. Trying to figure out where I acted wrongly was - is - hard enough, never mind trying to figure out where to go from there. I didn't, and still really don't, know exactly what Hashem expected from me, but I think that the most real teshuva that can be done from a place like this is exactly what Rabbi Horowitz said; deal with what you are thinking and feeling in an honest way, and go through the process of figuring out how you got there, step by step. Once you've done that, the way back to Hashem is easier to find, and can be travelled with menuchas hanefesh and yishuv hadaas. We are asking Hashem to remove "orlas libeinu" - what surrounds our hearts and keeps of from becoming close to Him. That can be the layers that sins leave on our neshamos, but it can be all the "stuff" that keeps us from being honest, from really letting ourselves be without being afraid of what that will bring. When we aren't being real, there's no way that the rest of teshuva can happen. I hope your efforts are repaid "l'fum tzaara agra", and that what you are struggling with ultimately brings you to a deep relationship with Hakadosh Baruch Hu that many can only wish to have. Much hatzlacha, strength, and continued courage.


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7. me too ;-)     9/28/09 - 10:06 PM
anonymousfornow

Different details of course, but this reminds me of the difficulty I had saying tehillim for years after my mother died. (I was 17 at the time*) I can't believe I hadn't heard the following until a good 15 years later, maybe I only internalized it then. What I heard was that no tefilla goes wasted, if we don't see the person getting the yeshua we daven for we have no idea how the zechuyos of the tefilla is still impacting the person l'tova.

I found last week's Yated chinuch column, the R"H issue, really good. I wonder if my younger brother read it, as he went through it at your age.

And to #1: believe me, I feel for you. You are NOT alone. I was lucky in having a place to go for yom tov, and after I had my first baby, because my father had married a lovely woman in the years between my being 17 and getting married a few years later. Not easy to accept at the time but a tremendous bracha as the years have gone by.

* to Rabbi Horowitz: there's a fascinating chazal, and I would love some real life hadracha. It's concerning being on alert, or doing a cheshbon hanefesh, or something as one is in the age range of 5 years before and after the parent's petira. I'm well within the 5 years, and have been very curious about the implications l'maaseh.


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8.     9/28/09 - 10:28 PM
Cherie - Block - Cherie8899@aol.com

I can relate to this young man, but my problem was quite different -- almost the opposite from his. I was brought up in a family in which there was no love; rather my home was filled with strife, hatred, deceit and physical, emotional and spiritual abuse. There was no G-d in our home, as my parents were both atheists.

Obviously my childhood was tortuous. I was, naturally, miserable and pathalogically shy. I was depressed all of the time and cried a lot. What is really so sad about this is that I literally cannot think of any happy times I had in my life with my parents (although I adored my grandparents and did enjoy some time spent with some aunts and cousins).

No one I knew was religious or even mentioned anything about G-d. But when I was around 20 years old, I met someone who talked to me about G-d enough to raise my interest (although at that time I, like my parents, was an atheist). To make a long story short, I began to search for G-d and it was a long, arduous journey (about 10-15 years) but in the end I did find G-d and my life began to center around Him -- but this was a solo act, as even til then the only 'religious' people I knew were not Jewish. (It was only when I was close to 50 that I discovered Aish HaTorah and, thru them, a community of religious Jews.)

All that is background. What I want to convey to this young man is that the main lesson I had to learn in order to come to terms with my past is that God 'allowed' all of this to happen for my benefit. It may seem like an almost impossible concept to believe, but Everything G-d does is for our benefit. In my particular case I believe the benefit was that if it hadn't been for such a tragic childhood, I may never have come to G-d.

Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai, remarks that three precious gifts were given by God to Israel and they were only given through sufferings. The three precious gifts are: the Torah, the land of Israel, and the World to Come.

Exodus 20: 23 comments: “Do not behave towards Me as heathens behave to their gods. When happiness come to them, they sing praises to their gods, but when retribution comes upon them they curse their gods. If I bring happiness upon you give thanks, and when I bring sufferings give thanks also.”

Of all of the lessons and teachings that I read, studied or learned, the story of Rabbi Akiva is the most profound:

The Talmud tells us that once, while Rabbi Akiva was on a journey, he needed a place to spend the night. He knocked on the door of one of the homes in the town he was passing through, but the owner did not invite him in. He was not upset, for he realized, "Everything G-d does is for the good."

He knocked on another door, but again he was not offered hospitality. His reaction remained the same, "Everything G-d does is for the good." Even after he had gone from door to door and realized that no one in the town was going to accept him as a guest, he still said, "Everything G-d does is for the good."

He had no choice but to camp in a forest lying at the outskirts of the town. He was traveling with a donkey to carry his packages, a rooster to wake him up early, and a lamp with which he could study at night. Shortly after he encamped, a lion devoured his donkey, his rooster was killed by another predator, and a strong wind blew out his fire. After each of these events, Rabbi Akiva said, "Everything that happens is for the good." And the Talmud continues, telling us that he was right.

On the following morning, he discovered that during the night, a Roman legion had attacked this village and taken its people as captives. Had he been accepted as a guest in one of these homes, he too, would have been taken captive.

And if his donkey or rooster had been alive, their braying and crowing would have attracted the legionnaires' attention. Had his candle remained burning, they would have been able to see him in the forest. "Everything that happened was for the good."

Thank you for letting me share my story with you, and I pray that, in my telling it, it has lightened your heart, made sense of your suffering and that it brings you to a place of, if not joy, then solace.


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9. thank you     9/29/09 - 8:05 AM
Anonymous

Thank you ima for your kind words


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10.     9/29/09 - 8:57 AM
Benzion Twerski

For as many readers as there are, there are probably that many messages and issues between the lines. I read a different issue altogether.

During the tefillos on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, many of us concentrate and “get into” the tefillos enough to shed tears, even cry bitterly. For those who have experienced a loss CH”V, we also cried, shedding copious tears. These tears are probably chemically different, as research has proven with tears of joy. Lacking the scientific data, I would believe that there are two completely separate emotions occurring, and I propose that there be examination to determine which ones are at work. Perhaps there is a place for sadness and loss in the tefillos of Yemai Hadin, but I tend to believe that this is quite secondary. I would expect tears of sincerity, even joy to dominate.

Some years ago, during shacharis on Rosh Hashanah (first day was Shabbos like this year), there was a small child in the ezras noshim who was crying loudly for his father. This commotion disturbed the davening, and there were plenty of men shushing and attempting to bring about the appropriate silence. Before mussaf, my father, shlit”a, rose to speak a few words (he did this often, never taking more than 120 seconds to make his point and letting davening continue). All he said was that this child personified what we are doing there, crying out “Tatty”. In reality, the composition of the tefillos, whether by the Anshei Knesses Hagedola or the Paytonim, have the simple goal of assisting us in calling out “Tatty”. Avinu Malkeinu does this directly, repeating the most important message of all, “Avinu Malkeinu”.

Last week, I was preoccupied with the need for the tefillo of “Shema Koleinu” in every weekday Shemona Esrai and at the end of every selichos. Someone showed me the words of the “Sidduro Shel Shabbos”, where he refers to a child who begins to speak, as well as the child who takes ill and gradually loses much of his powers of speech. The last word to leave, as well as the first word to develop is “Tatty”, and this does well even when other words are unable to be spoken. He draws the parallel to our golus, that strips us of the powers of expression and leaves us with only that which we adopt first and never relinquish – Shema Yisroel Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echod”. This is expressed in the nusach, Shema Koleinu, “Hashem Elokeinu”, hear us when we call out what is so intrinsic to our very existence, the posuk of Shema Yisroel.

Losing a parent is a painful loss. It gets easier to bear with time, but that loss is always there. Saying Yizkor is also a reminder of the sadness. Perhaps we can take some comfort in finding the connection to “Tatty”, as in “Avinu Malkeinu”. I write this from experience, and this is my path to consolation.


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11. To #2     9/29/09 - 10:29 AM
Anonymous

I was also bothered with doubts because of what I experienced. Your words were so positive. I never looked at Hashem as loving and caring until I read that. You are so lucky to have a rabbi who can relate to you.


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12. Tehillim 146     9/29/09 - 4:48 PM
anonymousfornow

Phew, I was worried that my earlier post hadn't been approved, and my apologies if the smiley offended anyone. It has been a long time in my case, nearly 30 years, and I'm a (40 something) bubby at this point so I tend to be matter of fact.

I'm well past the point where I miss the mothering - going to after babies, etc. - but I would LOVE to have a good shmooze with her, talk books, politics, who knows what. I have had my share of anger and bitterness. I wish I would have had her hadracha. I would have made better decisions. Other family members would have too, in ways that might have impacted me.

Something I find comforting is the perek after Ashrei, which I added in as my kids got older and my davening was less Readers-Digest-abridged. That perek specifically refers to Hashem as encouraging [widows and] orphans. He's there to be our booster and cheerleader. Halevi we should all feel it in an immediate, comforting way.

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This site is managed by The Center for Jewish Family Life, Inc., 56 Briarcliff Drive, Monsey, NY 10952
Project Y.E.S. was founded by Agudath Israel of America
The Center for Jewish Family Life/Project YES - 56 Briarcliff Drive, Monsey, NY 10952 (845) 352-7100 ext. 114 Fax: (845) 352-9593
email: email@kosherjewishparenting.com


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