With the analogy of Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk for the End of Days describing such trials that it feels like hanging on to a rope being shaken, jerked, and yanked around as hard as possible—to the point that only the most determined grippers will manage to hold on—we learn that our very emunah will be shaken to the core.
And the only way that can happen is to challenge our foundations of emunah.
Basically, there are 2 categories of challenge to emunah:
How do these emunah-shaking challenges play out?
Getting the Intellectual Challenges Out of the Way
With your own study, inner work, and talking to the right people, you can overcome that particular challenge.
Want a short-cut route to overcoming that challenge?
Here it is:
Simply note how many times a scientist uses blatantly unscientific weasel words such as:
- "could be"
- "computer models suggest that..."
- bases his (or her!) oh-so objective conclusions on emotions ("We felt it would be silly/presumptuous/arrogant to believe that...")
All the above indicate lack of proof, yet scientists use the above terms to present their theories as backed by solid evidence—a dishonest, unobjective, & unscientific approach to science.
And please note: All the above occurs in the most prestigious magazines in peer-reviewed articles, plus books written by the popular hotshots of science.
In other words: Simply whittle down any scientific paper to what they actually know or have proven.
You'll see their actual knowledge or proof is much less than they describe
For example, I've undergone C-sections and the surgeon did not "imagine" or "guess" the location of my womb—the surgeon knew. That's actual science.
The surgeon did not "believe" that using a scalpel rather than a power drill "could possibly be" the best way to go—the surgeon knew.
Again, that's genuine science at work.
Likewise, we don't "believe" in viruses or bacteria; we see them under a microscope.
Ultimately, the real challenge for emunah is the spiritual & religious stuff. That's what hits even the best people right in the jugular.
Let's be Blunt for a Moment
For example, carrying out the following are supposed to either grant you what you request from Hashem or grant you relief from your troubles:
- Saying the entire Sefer Tehillim (Book of Psalms) at one sitting.
- Saying Perek Shirah for 40 days.
- Going to the Kotel for 40 days.
- Remaining silent in the face of an insult.
- Thanking Hashem for your troubles.
- Doing teshuvah.
- Asking Hashem for spiritual things (like emunah, daat, the koach to continue)
- Getting rid of your unkosher cell phone.
- Getting rid of your Internet.
- Copious heartfelt prayer with tears.
- Making requests at Shabbat candle-lighting.
Others come with "promises" of specific results:
- Keeping taharat hamishpacha will produce good children & a good marriage.
- Dressing tsniyusly (with modesty & dignity) will bring protection & blessing.
- Taking your son to the gravesite of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov in Uman before the boy turns 7 will ensure that he'll arrive at his chuppah with "a clean shirt" (pure & innocent).
- Remaining silent in the face of an insult grants you the power to bless & have your blessing fulfilled.
- Following a Gadol's advice will work out as the Gadol says.
- Giving 20% (or making sure to tithe the halachic minimum of 10%) of your earnings to tzedakah will bring you wealth.
Now, I'm sure you noticed that doing the above often DOES bring about desired results—or at least improvement in the desired direction.
For example, haven't we had our prayers answered many, many times?
Doesn't Hashem usually grant us daat or koach when we ask for them?
Doesn't following the advice of a Gadol usually work out nicely?
Haven't we seen bracha in our livelihood from giving tzedakah?
The problem is that upon drowning an intolerable situation, the pain of finding no relief often overwhelms us.
It feels like Hashem doesn't care or isn't really there.
That's why it's important to focus on what He DOES give us and how often He DID answer our prayers in the way we wanted.
For example, I've said Perek Shirah for 40 days for a specific issue & experienced relief.
Conversely, I've also said Perek Shirah for 40 days for a specific issue & either saw no change or...things got even worse.
Furthermore, I've said Sefer Tehillim at one go (takes me well over 4 hours—not easy) and seen nothing from it (though I felt very good—and still do—about having done it).
In fact, one time I did it for a specific situation and the situation got worse. And then worse (although, paradoxically, with some relief at the same time). Nonetheless, the situation is still a problem.
On the other hand, I've experienced wonderful results from thanking Hashem copiously—yet am still waiting for improvement in other areas for which I also thanked Hashem.
And no, I wasn't asking for material or frivolous things, like an indoor swimming pool or the disappearance of wrinkles.
I was asking for things that, according to Chazal, Hashem wants too.
Now, with reciting prayers, it's easier to give Hashem the benefit of the doubt (so to speak) because, after all, do you really think I was able to keep up any kind of decent kavanah for over 4 hours while saying the entire Book of Tehillim?
No, of course not.
So I reassure myself that Tehillim or Perek Shirah didn't "work" because I didn't say them with proper kavanah.
With regard to ensuring your son a "clean shirt" by age 7, it seems that Rebbe Nachman originally said this while he was still alive, and others took this to include his kever too.
I could definitely believe that taking your young son to Rebbe Nachman himself, when Rebbe Nachman could personally bless the child, would ensure a "clean shirt."
But now it clearly does not always guarantee this.
It's not useless—of course not! But we all know boys taken to the kever before age 7 who've ended up with a pretty schmutzy "shirt."
In other words, the implied promise of any good deed is fulfilled for some, but not for others.
Upon finding myself facing a particularly hurtful insult, it took enormous self-restraint to remain silent in response. In my head, I said I am only holding my tongue for the merit of a certain person to recover from illness. Later, I verbally expressed to Hashem that I dedicate my silence in the face of this pain to this person.
The person died a few days later.
Likewise, we all know people who keep taharat hamishpacha, don't use non-kosher phones, live in a frum neighborhood, send their children to frum schools, and who not only reject Internet but don't even have a computer at home—yet they have at least one child flying off the derech.
The list goes on.
What's going on?
It's all about the emunah-rope.
Always Start with Some Compassionate Self-Scrutiny
Maybe a person thinks he or she did a holy act correctly, but actually did not.
Or maybe the person simply isn't seeing the whole picture.
For example, maybe saying the entire Sefer Tehillim didn't "work" because of lack of kavanah.
Or maybe, despite my perception that it either didn't "work" or that things got worse, maybe things were supposed to become unbearably horrible—and saying the Sefer Tehillim prevented that. Only I'll never know because, baruch Hashem, the unbearably horrible stuff never materialized.
Regardless, the Sefer Tehillim still went into the global collective merits & into my own personal account in Shamayim. I don't perceive the benefit, but it's definitely there.
As another example: Let's say someone keeps Shabbos, but does so in the most profane way possible.
Maybe he leaves his TV timed to go on so he can watch his favorite shows throughout Shabbat. Maybe all his non-Jewish & secular friends come over to drink beer & listen to heavy metal with him until 2 AM on Shabbat. Maybe he reads secular books & studies for his philosophy exam.
If he then complains that Shabbat isn't doing much for him, a simple self-introspection will show that in trying to make his Shabbat as non-Shabbat as possible, he is repressing a lot of the bracha Shabbat naturally brings.
In other cases, a person asks a Gadol in an obtuse or misleading way (whether intentionally or not), or misinterprets what the Gadol answered.
In the Shabbat magazine Mishkan Shilo, Rav Yitzchak Batzri wrote that the segulah of achieving wealth by donating the required 10% (or more) of your earnings only works for a person whose deeds are decent & proper; he states that this segulah does not work for a person who is "a sinner & transgressor."
(You should give tzedakah no matter what; it's always beneficial. But he means that you shouldn't expect to get rich from it if you don't behave with halachically defined decency.)
Likewise, I knew someone who davened for good health & gave tzedakah & performed chessed, but spoke every form of lashon hara (true, not true, told others what someone else supposedly said about them, etc.), complained incessantly, and incited people against each other. For example, this person's daughter refused to speak to her husband for 2 weeks because of some perceived insensitivity toward this person; siblings refused to speak to other siblings, a son raged at his wife due to this person's interference, and so on.
So it's beneficial & logical to take a step back to compassionately examine whether maybe I'm my own obstacle in some way.
But what if you really did "follow the rules"?
How Spiritual Physics Work regarding the Shaking Rope of Emunah
For example, if a rabbi's or rebbetzin's advice always works perfectly, then where is the challenge to emunah?
If heartfelt davening, saying Perek Shirah for 40 days, doing teshuvah, asking Hashem for daat, koach, & simcha ALWAYS achieve the desired result, then where is the challenge to emunah?
On the contrary, achieving the desired result only CONFIRMS your emunah.
In that case, not only is the rope not shaking, it's wrapped around you in a comforting little nest.
The challenge of emunah comes from being attacked where your emunah is most vulnerable: your religious & spiritual beliefs.
Now You See It, Now You Don't
I personally know someone who suddenly felt inspired to write down 1000 things for which she was grateful to Hashem, both pleasant & unpleasant things.
It took her over an hour.
She said she didn't have any particular reason for doing it; she just did it.
A few days later, her parents notified her they received particularly generous tax returns and they were gifting her $1000.
Totally unexpected, but the connection is clear: 1000 thank-Yous=$1000.
(It's like those matched-donation drives: Hashem matched a dollar for each gratitude she expressed.)
Furthermore, her gratitude not only benefitted her, but also her parents, who received generous returns on their taxes.
Yet other times she has said gam zu l'tovah in painful situations, thanked Hashem a lot, wrote down gratitudes & positives—and found no relief.
So we need to realize that sometimes Hashem says no; He has His reasons for your benefit (though you may not perceive any benefit).
But He also says "Yes!" much more than we realize.
And we must acknowledge that happy fact in order to resist turning into bitter secular cynics.
Furthermore, as stated above, you never know what your positive acts prevented because the truly awful thing never happened.
And oftentimes, our efforts improve other aspects in life—but just not the specific aspect we desire most.
Regardless, your positive efforts reap global benefits & also await you as reward in the World to Come.
Find Comfort as Best You Can in Tehillim
It also discusses seemingly insurmountable enemies (whether from within or without).
You see it in Psalm 13 and at the end of Psalm 42 and more.
That emotional experience is very real!
(Also, the commentators explain that David Hamelech wrote Psalm 13 more for the 4 Exiles than for himself. So it definitely applies to us now! It's written FOR us in our present situation.)
Paradoxically, however, Hashem NEVER FORGETS ANYTHING.
He is Perfect. Completely & unlimitedly Omniscient & Omnipresent.
Even more, Hashem davka hones in on the person who seeks Him.
(Rav Miller explains this based on Tehillim.)
So that feeling is normal. That experience is real.
But the actual reality is the opposite.
Both Psalms 13 & 42 follow those expressions of despair with affirmations of Hashem's Loving Attention, His Loving-Kindness & His Salvation.
If You Cannot Do Anything Else, Just HOLD ON TO THE ROPE
It's not Divine rejection. God doesn't hate you. You're not a hopeless failure. It's not a sign of atheism or Torah not being True, chas v'shalom.
It's not any of that.
It's the rope being shaken as hard as possible in preparation for the Geula.
So yes, definitely continue to encourage yourself, to thank Hashem, to speak with Him, to daven to Him, and work on your middot, do teshuvah, do chessed, give tzedakah, and all that other really wonderful stuff.
But know also that even when your spiritual efforts don't seem to "work," they actually ARE working.
That's you holding on to the violently spastic rope of emunah.
And even when you get really down about everything, at least intellectually know what's actually going on.
In the much larger picture, things are very different than how they seem.
So just hold on as best you can.
And that really is very, very good. In fact, it's amazing.