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Angels in Our Lives

May 9, 2009 | by Rebbetzin Feige Twerski

Why should the most special person in my life have to suffer so deeply?

Dear Rebbetzin,

I know that God loves me and He wants what's best for us all. I know it in my head, but sometimes I don't understand and my heart doesn't want to accept it. I will give you an example:

I come from a severely dysfunctional home. My teachers were basically good, but many of them were very young and inexperienced, and nobody was good enough to fulfill my intense lack of a role model. I was confused and every day at home was filled with suffering. I do not want to trouble you with the exact details of the problems I had to cope with in my childhood. At school I was very quiet, and was usually given a seat in the back corner of the classroom. Although I was happy that I was never reprimanded, I was hardly ever noticed either. School didn't give me the love, attention, and recognition I so desperately craved.

That all changed when I attended seminary where there was one wonderful, loving morah (teacher) that cared enough to make a difference. Through Divine Providence, she heard a little bit about my family situation before the school year started. She was determined to reach me from day one, and slowly, day by day, she did. She made sure to give me lots of attention in class. She would call on me often to teach something to the class, (thank God I am very bright), or she would just say a kind word or compliment to me, quietly, before starting her lesson. Anytime she needed a student to do her a favor or to help her with anything, she assigned me the task, and made me feel so appreciated. She would also make sure to stay in the classroom during lunch, shmooze with us, and let us know that we can ask her any question we want. She would also prepare certain lessons, especially for me, with thoughts she knew would be comforting for me to think about, and insights that would help me cope with whatever challenges I may be struggling with.

Finally, I called her at home, and explained to her everything that was going on in my life. I started speaking to her on the phone very often, and I visited her many times. She and her husband made me feel so at home there, I felt like part of their family.

A few months ago, my beloved morah, the mother I never had, became sick with cancer. I can't begin to describe how much it hurts me to watch my morah suffer. How much it hurts me to see her so weak, in so much pain, so helpless. I am getting married in six weeks and it hurts me that she may not be able to attend my wedding. My family situation makes me equivalent to an orphan (or worse), and I feel like I am now being orphaned for the second time.

My teacher is a tzadekes, a holy woman, like I have never before in my life met. I also know that there are very many evil people on this Earth. I just don't understand. Why should the nicest lady I know have to suffer so deeply? I hope you can give me some insight, as I am finding it very hard to understand.
Thank you for your help.
In pain and trying to understand.

My dear reader,

As I read your account of heartbreaking events, I am reminded of a story of a little child who didn't come home from school at the usual time. His mother, beside herself with worry, kept looking anxiously down the street for a sign that he was on his way. Finally, he arrived and explained that his delay was due to the fact that he had met another little boy along the road who was crying inconsolably because his bicycle had broken down.

"But you don't know anything about fixing bicycles. How could you have possibly helped him?" his mother asked.

"You're right, Mommy, I couldn't fix his bike. But I sat down next to him and cried along with him, and that did help."

Allow me, first and foremost, to sit down next to you and cry with you. The events you describe are truly tragic and excruciatingly painful.

While many intellectual approaches have been suggested, cogent as they might be, none would assuage your pain.

There are times in life, when even as the grief washes over us and we desperately grope for the answer to our "why" questions, we begin to realize the futility of walking down a path that leads only to more pain and frustration. The greatest of philosophers before us -- Moses, our great teacher among them -- grappled with the questions, unanswerable in our lifetime, of why the righteous suffer and wicked prosper. While many intellectual approaches have been suggested, cogent as they might be, none would assuage your pain. The bottom line is best expressed by the discussion between Sir Bertrand Russell and a cleric. Russell, a philosopher and avowed agnostic, commented that he could not believe in a God in whose world a child cried out in pain. The cleric responded that he could not live in nor believe in a world in which a child cried out in pain and there was no God to justify it.

Clearly, we cannot fully understand the tragedies that confront us, but at the core we are comforted by the intuitive certainty that God does know, that He has a master plan -- that there is purpose and meaning. And that at some future time (hopefully soon in our days) He will choose to shine His light upon our lives and in that illumination all will become clear. In the interim, we have to address the only relevant question there is, namely: How does this speak to me? What does my personal response need to be to this situation?

You write, my dear reader, that you know that God loves you. In light of that realization, I'm sure you can glean that in His great love for you, the Master of the World has dispatched your "morah," your teacher, as an "angel" into your life to be God's personal emissary to embrace you, to let you know that your difficult life is in no way a punishment or a commentary on your worthiness as a human being. Quite the contrary, the message expressed by her appearance in your life is an unmistakable vote of confidence -- a voice from on High to give you strength and tell you that you are beloved, cared for in an ultimate way, and indeed, that there is beauty and goodness in life.

Consider the Torah account of the brothers selling Joseph into bondage, a tragic episode in Jewish history. The narrative informs us that the caravan into which he was sold carried aromatic spices. The commentaries explore the necessity for the Torah sharing what appears to be such trivia in the context of such a horrific event. Could or should Joseph care about what the caravan smelled like when he was experiencing the agony of ultimate betrayal?

Our sages explain that even in our darkest moments, there is evidence of God's love and caring. The conventional foul smelling loads that caravans typically carried at that time were deliberately, through Divine orchestration, replaced with fragrant spices as an indication to Joseph of God's abiding love for him, articulated even in the midst of his darkest hour of rejection and abandonment.

No events in our lives are arbitrary or capricious. They are exquisitely custom tailored and crafted for our mission in life. While it is impossible to wrap our minds around the concept, each of our lives, at any given moment, is "perfect," as it needs to be in the Divine plan and for the destiny that awaits us. Human vision is confined to a very small slice in time. The narrow view that consists of the present alone, without the benefit of the broader scope that would include the past and future, circumscribes our grasp of true reality.

Only God's vantage point, unlimited by constraints of time and space -- and encompassing the needs of both body and spirit -- can render judgments that are consistent with now and all of eternity. In the context of the state of the human condition, we are like the primitive inexperienced individual who is aghast when he observes a person in white wielding a knife, about to remove a limb from the hapless victim lying on a table. More history, information and sophistication are required to understand that with this amputation, the surgeon will in fact save the individual's life.

By reaching out, affirming and validating you, she has renewed your faith in the possibility for goodness in life.

At the end of the day, humility, born of our finite capacity as human beings to encompass the entirety of existence, coupled with the faith that our "doctor" is a loving, devoted and benevolent healer, will enable us to navigate the often trying moments of our life.

We look forward to the time when, as the pieces fall into place, the "perfect" will also be the "ideal." Only in that millennium, with the advent of the messianic era, will the "perfect" and the "ideal" be reconciled. Until that time arrives, we must struggle to look for the lessons and interpretations of what the Master of the Universe might be trying to tell us.

In your case, while in a both "perfect" and "ideal" world, we might have hoped that your teacher would live and be well, she nonetheless leaves you a magnificent and instructive legacy that you dare not ignore. She has been a glowing, shining and heartwarming example of what a difference a person can make in another's life. By reaching out, affirming and validating you, she has renewed your faith in the possibility for goodness in life. Undoubtedly, the energy she has given you will always bear her name. Her imprint on your life is indelible. Her life and the impact she has had on yours is a lesson for you and for all of us as to what really matters.

Indeed, we must all keep our eyes open, ever vigilant, for the opportunity to be God's messenger, His "angel." As an eager student of life, remember my dear reader, that among the unanswerable questions, there are many accessible, beautiful lessons to be gleaned. May God grant you wisdom and insight and bless you with a good and joyful life.

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