My daughter is a great girl, who has been sitting at home for several years, waiting for her shidduch. As time goes on, she is getting more broken. What should I tell my daughter when she asks: “Why is Hashem doing this to me?”
In a very real sense, this is the most trying inquiry to address, because nobody possesses the answer. It is truly the unanswerable question. Whether it is a matter of shidduchim, parnassah, children, health, or any other struggle to achieve or receive, it is impossible to fathom the ways of G-d.
So perplexing, in fact, is this question, that at the time when Moshe Rabeinu drew closer to HaKadosh Baruch Hu than any mortal being ever had, or has since, the one question he chose to ask was, “Please show me your magnificence.” And as the S’forno explains, at this unparalleled eis ratzon, Moshe Rabeinu sought to fully understand the nature of the universe and how it is that all which is experienced in the world emanates from Hashem. To which Hashem replied, “This you cannot see.” And the S’forno continues, the request was not repudiated because Hashem was abstaining from further generosity towards Moshe Rabeinu, but simply due to the reality that such specific knowledge is beyond the scope of earthly comprehension.
Consequently, on the one hand, to say that what one endures is not of heavenly decree – regardless of the measure of hishtadlus that has been exerted – is to be kofer in the hashgacha of the Borei Oilam. And on the other hand, to suppose that we have even but a tiny inkling of a notion as to why what is happening is, indeed, happening, is outright fictitious.
We may believe that we have connected all the countless dots, and it may seem that a certain deed is concomitant with a given result, but we do not really know. The Torah is our guide, and we must follow it unwaveringly, as prescribed by Chazal, but in the end, we do not know how our dutiful fulfillments, or inevitable transgressions, are linked to our outcomes.
Nonetheless, what we can do, is daven and offer empathy.
With respect to tefilah, as Rashi explicates from the pasuk, “V’chanosi es asher achon, v’richamti es asher aracheim,” there will be times when Hashem answers us and bestows upon us His favor, and times when He does not, and yet, at the same time, we are assured that our tefilos are never for naught. We do not know how and when the power of our tefilos will materialize, but we do know that they will. That is the havtacha from Hashem; to be faithfully aware that He hears us at all times.
Regarding empathy, expounding on general concepts presented by Dr. Brene Brown, I would like to suggest a prospective framework to follow, as the charge is not always quite as straightforward or easy as it first seems.
1. Respecting and honoring the perspective of another person. Building the ability to concede to their perspective of the challenge they are facing, as opposed to trying to insert our own view of the problem as the only reliable vantage point.
2. Remaining non-judgmental. Refraining from the desire to inform those who are suffering that they just-so-happen to be the cause of their own problems, because of something they are either doing or failing to do.
3. Recognizing emotion in another person. This requires a willingness to go beyond the nuts and bolts of the presenting problem, and really identify with the heavy emotions at play, emotions which we might prefer not to have to encounter. Furthermore, it entails perceptive discernment between emotions, as the feelings beneath the surface are not always quite so plainly evident. Harder emotions like anger, frustration, and resentment may actually be masking softer emotions, such as fear, sadness, and apprehension.
4. Communicating and reflecting back the emotions that have been recognized. Letting that person know that we have grasped the depth of the sorrow they have expressed, validating them, and acknowledging the burden of their hardship.
5. Staying away from the compulsion to proffer “at least” statements. Reminding someone that at least they have “X” nice things going on right now, or that at least they don’t have it as bad as that other person, rarely leaves a positive impression. Notifying someone that their life is not 100% misery, or that others have it even worse, does little, if anything at all, to allay their tender emotions, and can quickly vitiate any ground that has previously been covered in attempts to restore their spirits.
6. Holding back from the impulse to extend logical recommendations and make it better. When one who is forlorn begins to share what they are feeling, they are not typically hoping for a litany of “how to” directives to have their problems fixed, and more often than not, they are both aware of, and have implemented, the novel remedy that is being proposed. Essentially, this means having the courage to immerse in another’s grief, and to be wholly nosei b’ol im chaveiro. So much so, that we may absorb some of their pain.
Empathy is feeling with people, not for people. It is creating and cultivating a meaningful relationship and bond with another person. Because doing so is usually far more impactful than any response we can volunteer. Especially when tasked with countering a woe where the antidote lies outside the realm of human healing.
Ana Hashem hoshia na. Ana Hashem hatzlicha na.