Dealing with Impossible Problems
"Impossible" meaning that there didn’t seem to be any solution that worked for more than two weeks (if that), no matter who I consulted, what book I read, what course I took, what lecture I attended, or what method I tried.
Because many frum people, even if they seem chashuv, unknowingly haven’t really internalized the fact that Hashem is running things down to the most minuscule aspects of life, I was given the impression that either I was not following the method properly or not trying hard enough – no matter how much I was twisting myself into an excruciating pretzel.
Or I was just looked at as if there was something seriously wrong with me. Or I was playfully made fun of for trying so hard.
It was very painful and I felt like no matter what I did or would do, it was all wrong.
(All the following situations are also culled from other people, not just me. As just two of several examples, I never hated the frum community nor was I single for a long time, and so on.)
But what I ultimately learned is that if you’re not plugged in properly, being in an impossible situation usually leads to the following responses:
- There is this mysterious entity called Everyone Else to which your rav/rebbetzin/spouse/in-law/parent/teacher/child/“friend” keeps comparing you unfavorably. Whatever advice or method the above people recommend always works for Everyone Else - so if it doesn't work for you, then that means you are REALLY defective.
- There is something profoundly wrong with you. After all, [fill in the blank] always works for Everyone Else – except you.
- Demoralizing thoughts like: Maybe Hashem doesn’t like me after all. Maybe He actually didn’t want me to become frum/doesn’t want me to be frum and this is all a big mistake. I mean, I know that He loves everybody and even the worst murderer in the history of Mankind can do teshuvah and have it accepted by Him, and heck, Hashem even accepted Nero’s teshuvah and also that of the Jew who led the Romans into Kodesh Kadoshim, and yes, He accepted those guys just fine, but for some reason, He just can’t seem to tolerate me.
- I hate rabbis and rebbetzins. They are such hypocrites.
- I hate frum people. They are so judgmental. (However, if I’m being honest and remember why I left the secular world in the first place, the non-Jewish world is actually even MORE judgmental, hypocritical, and nasty UNLESS you live and think exactly how they decide you should. Which I don’t want to do because it’s all so immoral and repulsive. Which is why I left in the first place. So I’m stuck in a no-win situation between a rock and a hard place.)
- I hate people. They are so difficult and untrustworthy.
- I hate Everyone Else. Enough said.
- If I indulge in _____ , I won’t need to feel so bad. And anyway, I’m not really addicted to _____, I’m merely giving myself a well-deserved treat in the middle of an extremely stressful, impossible life.
- If I take medication, I won’t be able to feel so bad.
And so on.
The Harshest Enemy is the One from Within
Sometimes, kind people would comfort me by reminding me of what Chazal predicted in times of Mashiach: financial problems, chinuch problems, shalom bayit problems, middot problems, political problems, and the like regardless of how wise and wonderful you are (or aren’t).
It was reassuring to hear that stuff wasn’t necessarily all my fault and that I wasn’t so horrible.
But I wondered why Hashem would do all that.
Why would the End of Days produce impossible situations with no solutions? Isn’t that mean?
Well, it took me a while, but eventually, I realized a few things:
Impossible situations force you to turn to Hashem.
There is NO other solution to certain situations, no matter how much you whack your head against a wall, twist yourself into a pretzel, or race around like a headless chicken.
As we know, Chazal said that in the times of Mashiach, people’s emuna will be severely challenged. Like a rope being violently shaken, only those with the strongest grasp on their emuna will be able to hang on.
One of the harshest tests of emuna is when the enemy comes from within:
- Your parents are pillars of the community and ostensibly the accurate transmitters of halacha and you have a powerful Torah obligation to honor them – yet they often act in ways that you can’t tolerate.
- Everything you read and hear stresses the importance of emunas chachamim, but your highly esteemed rav doesn’t seem to care about the effect of his advice (which is often harmful or useless) on your life and seems disdainful of you. Or he cheats you out of money you don’t have to spare. Or worse.
- You are exhorted to love, honor, and trust your spouse; people may even tell you what a talmid chacham/baalas chessed your spouse is, but your spouse consistently behaves in ways that you can’t tolerate.
- Your child often behaves in ways that you can’t tolerate and you are always the only one blamed for all the child’s problems, while other factors like a problematic spouse (who engages in problematic parenting), problematic in-laws, problematic parents, or the child’s problematic teacher are considered superfluous.
- Your highly esteemed chashuveh rebbetzin that all the other ladies gush over exhorts you to be more like her because she either never had the problems you have (because she has her act so together and always made such wonderful decisions and maintains such a wonderful attitude – unlike pathetic, stupid you) or she also had your problems but handled them SOOOOOO much better than pathetic, stupid you. (Not that she ever says you are stupid or pathetic – that wouldn’t be derech eretz – but that is how you feel every time you interact with her.)
- Most of your classmates are married and you still aren’t, for which you are completely blamed no matter what you wear, how much you weigh, whether you act introverted or extroverted on a date, whether you have a degree or are looking to be a stay-at-home mommy, and so on ad infinitum. It gets to the point that even if you say, "The only thing I'm looking for in man is that he brushes his teeth once a day," you will be told that you are being "too picky."
- Your community or school rejects you for non-middot stuff, like not dressing according to whatever the community norm is, doing things that are halachically permissible and spiritually beneficial but not the community norm (like a single woman building her own sukkah or a married woman wearing a non-shaitel hair-covering), and so on.
And all of the above blamers will claim to be following the authentic Torah way and conveying the actual Will of Hashem. And to judge them favorably, the vast majority of them honestly believe they are doing the right thing.
Yes, they really do.
The enemy from within is the hardest to deal with and come to terms with.
See, you’re allowed, both halachically and culturally, to hate antisemites. Do you want to curse the Nazis? Feel free! Do you want to rant about the criminal goyim in your area? Go right ahead! And what about those rabid peasants of yore? Fair game!
But culturally, you aren’t allowed to even feel anything remotely negative toward the above-mentioned frum people. And halachically, it is problematic to talk about them. As you know, it depends why and how you do it, halachically speaking.
If you’re lucky, you’ll find someone who is already on the emuna path or you’ll read Garden of Emuna or take this course to rev up your God Juice (and in case you’re curious, she has absolutely no idea I am linking to this course that I personally found very helpful) and realize that connecting to Hashem is the only way to deal with the problems.
And that Hashem actually loves you very much and has been totally on your side the entire time.
How You Can Actually Benefit from All the Horribleness
So for me, I actually became grateful for all the rejection and all the times the conventional advice blew up in my face.
(But because I am obviously far from perfect, resentment and anger from those times still creeps up on me sometimes – which is just Hashem’s way of saying that He wants me to deal with it on progressively deepening levels until I clean out every spiritual nook and cranny.)
At one point, I looked around and saw that the people (many, but not all of them) for whom everything was working fine, their spirituality remained fairly superficial.
And rather than being grateful to Hashem for the big blessing of everything going according to frum clockwork, they seemed to feel that they were simply Doing Everything Right and that people like me simply weren’t.
In short, they were big on gaava and low on compassion – which is a huge spiritual flaw.
At least I knew my nisayons were nisayons and I knew I was doing something wrong (although it wasn’t what they thought I was doing wrong).
These people didn’t even realize that when things go according to plan and work out well, that is actually a huge nisayon.
If things had gone well for me, I never would have developed the relationship I have today with Hashem. Never. I would be very judgmental of all those people suffering, just like some people were to me.
That doesn’t make me look good, but it’s the truth.
In the other camp, people’s middot started deteriorating.
If you feel bad, you’ll eventually start acting bad – even if you’re not actually bad. I was watching people become progressively verbally and emotionally problematic toward their friends, spouses, and children. And the nicer and more accommodating their friends, spouses, and children were, the worse these people were behaving.
A lot of my relationships soured during this process and situations forced me to put some distance between myself and several others, but my list of people to daven for grew, which is a very good thing.
Many people have never been truly davened for – even if they're frum from birth. Real davening goes something like this post: How Davening for Others Can Work.
So if you find yourself in an impossible situation, I have two things to tell you:
- I totally empathize with you and my heart really goes out to you. I know it’s painful because I went through it and still go through it. And I genuinely wish you the best and that your tikkun should be completed in a much sweeter and more pleasant way.
- Hashem is saying, “You have amazing potential and I’ve got big plans for you. I love you so much that I want you all to Myself. So please come much closer and pour everything out to Me.”