For example, expressing gratitude for all sorts of troubles & suffering can certainly alleviate or even completely erase those troubles & suffering.
Some people even experience a complete revolution of circumstances in a riches-to-rags-to-even-greater-riches dynamic.
Gratitude sweetens din (spiritual consequences). This is written in the Gemara Ta'anit 8a: "All who rejoice in afflictions bring salvation to the world."
It doesn't ALWAYS work that way.
Likewise, copious prayer can overturn even the worst decree.
But it doesn't ALWAYS do that.
Yet we still see how gratitude & prayer DO work so much of the time.
In fact, we can forget to both notice & acknowledge what Hashem does for us.
Nonetheless, I bet many of us have offered copious prayer & gratitude for extremely painful situations that simply do not change, or improve only marginally, improve only marginally over a looooong stretch of time...or, paradoxically, even get worse.
And the devastatingly perplexing quandary:
Did you ever ask for something spiritual, like the inner emotional fortitude (koach) to deal with a situation, or to face a nisayon with joy?
Did you ask for lovely spiritual things like menuchat hanefesh (inner serenity) or yishuv hadaat (a settled mind)—or even just plain daat?
Torah Sages throughout the ages reassure us that if we ask for the spiritual keilim (tools) to deal with difficulties, we DEFINITELY receive that.
Have you ever done exactly that and NOT received it?
(I have. And I personally know others who endured this too.)
Or not only didn't receive it, but even experienced a total breakdown (at least temporarily) and a major backslide?
Even more frustratingly, when confiding our lack of improvement to others, we often receive rebuke or condemnation in response (and gentle or cheerful rebuke or condemnation is still rebuke & condemnation).
In other words, we are blamed for our circumstances despite our emotionally exhausting spiritual & practical efforts.
How do we deal with all that? And what the heck is REALLY going on behind it?
The Exhausting Reality of Chevlei Mashiach
Chevelim are cords or ropes. What are these cords or ropes of Mashiach?
Rebbe Elimelech explains we will feel like we are grasping onto a rope that jerks & yanks so hard, we feel like we might fly off any second—unless we hold on VERY tightly.
Also, a shaking & jerking rope is very difficult to keep hold of. Gravity & your own body weight work hard against you.
(Yes. The natural world & your own self davka work AGAINST your own benefit & lofty goal. Think about that for a minute.)
Yet Who grasps the other end of this rope? Who is shaking it so hard?
Grueling Tests of Emunah
Meaning, a very bitter & crushing test of emunah?
What shakes that emunah rope so hard, you can barely hang on?
Is it when Hashem doesn't answer whatever you quickly mumble at the end of Shemoneh Esrei?
Is it when you give the obligatory 10% of tzedakah, yet remain middle or lower middle class & can't afford luxuries?
Is it when you daven for a great spouse and "only" receive a good spouse (but still need to work on your marriage more than you expected)?
These are challenges, but not devastating ones.
Devastating challenges are when...
- ...a woman cries in prayer at Shabbos candle-lighting...and the answer is still no. And the answer continues to be "no" for YEARS.
- ...a person in an unbearably painful situation alternately begs & thanks Hashem for weeks, months, or years, and still sees no light at the end of the tunnel. (Or sees a light, which then disappears.)
- ...a person receives advice from a rav (including a real Gadol, not just a local rabbi or even a particular leader—not all perceived leaders are actual Gadolim), and the advice either does not work or the opposite result occurs. (And yes, the person DID follow EXACTLY what the Gadol said, even double-checking with the Gadol himself to make sure the advice was properly understood.)
- ...a person begs Hashem for the emotional fortitude to withstand a nisayon, or for spiritual attributes (like emunah, daat, joy, etc.) and does NOT receive them (even though very holy books like Rav Dessler's Strive for Truth promise exactly that).
- ...a person carefully & joyfully keeps a particular mitzvah (like a mitzvah promoted with all sorts of "guarantees"), and not only do those spiritual "guarantees" not pan out, but the opposite even happens. (For example, I know women who kept taharat hamishpacha with heartfelt devotion, and their marriages were disasters and their kids mostly went off the derech too. And yes, they also exerted practical efforts to work on their shalom bayit. Didn't help.)
Experiencing the above can discombobulate a person's mind, making him or her doubt the truth of Torah, chas v'shalom.
The above can yank the emunah rope out of your grasp before you even realize what happened.
Also, I couldn't help noticing that unhelpful responses are part of any nisayon.
People WILL say the wrong thing. Not everyone, but some people will.
Sometimes, it's out of lack of sensitivity or empathy.
Sometimes, sensitive or caring people say the wrong thing because they simply don't know how to respond, got overwhelmed, it touched on a vulnerable spot with which they haven't yet dealt within themselves, etc.
But hearing exactly the wrong thing or feeling like nobody understands you...both seem to be part of the whole emunah-shaker.
That's why no matter how many articles are written about what to say & how to empathize, no matter how many distressing stories people hear of insensitive responses to sensitive situations...insensitivity still occurs.
It's part of the whole nisayon.
(Obviously, we should all learn how to respond to others with the sensitivity each individual needs. However, full sensitivity cannot be achieved because that's part of the nisayon itself. Best pray that at least Hashem doesn't designate you as the straw that breaks the camel's back, if you know what I mean. But you can't prevent it in others.)
Just as a personal example:
For years, I davened for a family member to do teshuvah. But ultimately, he was found dead one Shabbat night, slumped over his work desk near his computer, still married to his non-Jewish wife.
So much for that.
Now, maybe I could've done more davening for that person, or given more tzedakah on his behalf, etc. And maybe the person did complete teshuvah in his last moments.
But the point is that I regularly davened for this person...and death with no apparent teshuvah was the result.
And doesn't Hashem WANT all Jews to be frum? Isn't this a wonderfully spiritual request?
Yet how many people suffer the pain of parents, a spouse, siblings, or children who are not frum, and they daven for their salvation, and the answer continues to be NO?
Like, YEARS of NO—and sometimes, the person for whom you're davening behaves even worse?
I found myself trapped in a very excruciating ongoing nisayon.
With some intense cheshbon hanefesh & some past-life work (on my own without regression hypnosis, etc.), I came to see pretty clearly why I was suffering that way, why this was exactly the tikkun I needed for my soul, and so on.
Baruch Hashem, it was all very clear.
And I did feel happy for a while, but pretty quickly, the sheer emotional pain of the nisayon overwhelmed me.
I spoke with Hashem about this and explained how genuinely grateful I was for the nisayon, and even stated with complete sincerity that I did NOT want the nisayon changed (because its benefit & justice were so clear)...but could I please at least feel some simcha?
Could I please at least face the nisayon with simcha?
I begged for this.
The answer was NO.
Intellectually, I was fine. Emotionally, I felt completely miserable.
Feeling miserable is the death knell for me because I'm not good at being miserable.
Some people are. Meaning, they can keep plodding forward in a miserable, unhappy situation as long as they know their path is meaningful.
But I need enjoyment too or I just disintegrate.
(Side note: Because of this, I used to think something was very wrong with me until I read Rav Itamar Schwartz's analysis of the psyche's 4 Elements. Sure enough, people with a strong Water component need enjoyment in a task. Fire needs to feel like it's making progress. Earth needs to feel secure. So Fire or Earth types may not enjoy themselves, but as long as they feel like they're making progress or feel secure in doing the right thing, they can keep on going. But Water types drown without pleasure.)
So that was very depressing.
How on earth is it possible get out of that particular tunnel?
From Where Comes My Rescue?
He had me wake me up one miserable morning with the idea of saying Tehillim 13.
So I did. (Reluctantly & hopelessly at first, but I did it.)
And it described my situation perfectly.
(Tehillim 13 is perfect for misery & despair. It's also very short, which is perfect for people at the end of their rope who can't handle a whole long soliloquy.)
As David Hamelech wrote: "Until when, Hashem, will You forget me forever?"
Yep! That's exactly how it feels.
Ignored. Rejected. Forgotten.
It's not like Hashem is even angry with you when, as we know, Hashem's Chastisement is a form of caring, a form of belief in your potential to be wonderful.
But this feels worse because it feels like He doesn't even care.
Like, "Who...you? Meh."
This really feels like you're not even worth a prod in the right direction.
The Tehillim goes on to ask Hashem how long He'll hide His face.
And: "Until when must I devise aitzot in my soul every day?"
Yes! Isn't that how we feel in such situations?
Depending on our situation, don't we feel fed up with trying this method & that method, this practical solution & that spiritual remedy?
Work on middot, search our deeds, confess, apologize, change the script, change behavior, take medication or herbs or vitamins, use aromatherapy or acupuncture, consult with yet another "expert," write out 20 thank-Yous to Hashem, say Tehillim, and so on and so on...so many different aitzot (recommendations, plans, advice)!
And nothing seems to work. (Or else it works, but not for long.)
As David Hamelech implies, it's totally depleting.
The seemingly victorious enemies & tormentors mentioned in the Psalm can either be your own yetzer hara or external enemies, whether they be personal enemies, disease, natural disasters, etc.
Yet the Psalm ends with the affirmation of Hashem's Loving-Kindness & the certainty that Hashem will save the tormented soul in the end & the absolute trust that despite how everything seems, Hashem is indeed dealing kindly with the sufferer.
To my surprise, as I boo-hooed my way through this Tehillim, I felt comforted.
After saying it a couple more times, I really felt much better & stronger—again, very much to my surprise.
In other words, it enabled me to hang on to the jerking, shaking rope.
And I had a surprisingly good day...until I crashed the next time 😉.
Seeing the Light
You discover that the light you thought you saw hinting at the end of the tunnel is actually just the reflection of your own light on the dark, damp walls.
And in a way of thinking, YOU are the light at the end of your own tunnel.
You just haven't gotten to the end yet.
But you will.
Recognizing the Spastic Rope of Emunah
- What is the Only Way to Hold on Tight When the Rope Starts Shaking?
- The Cleansing Compassion of Accepting Troubles with Love
- The One Thing to Say in Times of Great Stress
- How a Deeply Flawed Person from a Deeply Flawed Background Can Be The Greatest of All
- Seeing Ourselves through Hashem's Eyes by Using a Measuring Scale of 0-10