June 21, 2024
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Expressing Our Faith

The mizmor of Tehillim we recite each Shabbat declares the “goodness” of singing Hashem’s praises: “Tov lehodot laShem u’lezamer leshimcha elyon,” (Tehillim 92:2-3). The mizmor continues with the famous pasuk: “Lehagid baboker chasdecha, ve’emunatcha baleylot.” This second pasuk encourages speaking about Hashem’s kindness in the “boker” and His faithfulness in the “leylot.”

Though erev (evening) is the time parallel to boker (morning), the pasuk uses the term, “leylot” (nights) instead. The mizmor refers not to physical night but, rather, to times of darkness. Just as we thank Hashem for his kindness during the “mornings,” when His hand is clear, so we need to express our belief in His faithfulness at “night”—at times when His hand is hidden (see Be’er Haparsha, Vayechi 5782).

During the “dark nights,” when people are suffering, we need to not only believe that things are for the good but also express this belief. This is why Rabbi Akiva used to emphasize the importance of saying that everything Hashem does is for the good (Brachot 60b). We need to verbalize our faith that things will turn out well. This is part of what causes things to work out that way (see Ben Yehoyada, Masechet Brachot 60b).

This is how Rav Shlomo Kluger (Yeriot Shlomo commentary on the siddur) explains the pasuk in Hallel: “Hodu laShem ki tov, ki leolam chasdo—Thank Hashem because things are good; His kindness is forever,” (Tehillim 118). Rav Kluger explains that the phrase, “ … ki leolam chasdo” includes times when Hashem’s kindness is hidden. At these times (as well), we must “hodu laShem ki tov.” Like “ve’emunatcha baleylot,” this pasuk also teaches the importance of expressing our emunah (faith) and confidence at difficult times.

 

Reflecting and Changing

Difficult times should inspire reflection and improvement. This is why the word we use to describe life lessons—mussar—shares a root with the word yisurin (suffering). Yisurin should inspire us to learn and internalize mussar lessons.

The Gemara (Brachot 5a) encourages those experiencing yisurin to “search through” their deeds to find the sin causing the suffering. Parshat Nitzavim (Devarim 30:1-2) describes this process. It explains that after we experience the kelalot (curses) depicted in the tochacha (section of curses), we should return to ourselves—and then to Hashem. Suffering should inspire reflection and teshuvah (see Sefat Emet, Likutim, Shabbat Shuvah).

The tochacha in parshat Bechukotai (Vayikra 26:1-27) describes a scenario where people fail to react this way. Hashem responds by intensifying their suffering. Interestingly, the tochacha (repeatedly) describes such people as following Hashem “bekeri.” The Rambam explains that the word connotes the attribution of suffering to chance, the natural “way of the world.” This kind of response causes Hashem to “raise the volume” of the suffering until people recognize His Hand and respond accordingly.

The Rambam (Mishna Torah, Hilchot Taanit 1:1-3) explains that this is why we respond to suffering by blowing the chatzotzrot (trumpets) and fasting. We stop our regular routine, pray to Hashem (with the chatzotzrot) and reflect on the message He is sending us.

The aforementioned Gemara continues that one who cannot find any wrongful deeds should view his suffering as “yisurin shel ahavah—suffering expressive of (pure) love.”

If we have not sinned, why does Hashem cause us pain? The Ran (Derashot HaRan, Derush 10. See also Maharal, Netivot Olam and Netiv Hayesurin) explains that this kind of suffering aims to get us to change our life’s direction. Suffering is not always a punishment for wrongdoing; it can also be a warning sign.

Elihu made this point to Iyov, who saw his suffering as unwarranted. No sin of his could justify the terrible suffering he was experiencing. Elihu explained that Hashem often uses suffering to communicate with man, to get him to stop and reflect more carefully upon his life’s path. He may not have done anything wrong yet, but he is heading in the wrong direction (Iyov 33:19-22).

 

A Time for Hoda’ah

In addition to expressing faith and reflecting upon our lives, suffering should also inspire thanks to Hashem. This may seem surprising, but it is how the mishna (Brachot 54a) explains the meaning of the Torah mandate (Devarim 6:5) to love Hashem “bechol meodecha.” The pasuk teaches us to thank Hashem in all situations—irrespective of the way “He treats us.”

What should we thank Hashem for at times of suffering? The Alshich (7:11-16) encourages thanking Hashem for all the good we (often) take for granted. In actuality, we should all (even those who are healthy, safe and secure) constantly thank Hashem for sustaining and assisting us. We should recognize Hashem’s role in keeping us healthy and protecting us from danger. As we often do not realize that He is helping us and (thus) do not express enough appreciation, Hashem places us in dangerous situations and vulnerable positions to remind us of His role in our lives. In such circumstances, we must remind ourselves of and express our appreciation for His constant assistance.

We can appreciate this point by recalling the story of the chasid who came home one night to an empty dinner table. He waited and waited, but his wife did not serve dinner. The next night, he returned home, and besides no dinner, the house was a mess. The third night, he found no dinner, a messy house and his children unattended and running wild.

The chasid went to his rebbe to ask what to do. The rebbe smiled and inquired when the chasid had last thanked his wife for serving dinner, keeping a clean home and caring for the children. Sometimes, we appreciate things only once we no longer have them (see Talmud Bavli, Bava Metzia 86a for an example of how this idea appears (in a different, but similar way) in the Gemara). We too, sometimes, need to be reminded to thank Hashem for the miracles He does for us, “every day … all the time, evening, morning and afternoon,” (Siddur Ashkenaz, Seder Amidah: Modim).

Rabbeinu Yonah goes further and encourages thanking Hashem for the suffering itself. As suffering teaches us important lessons and, ultimately, yields a positive result, we should thank Hashem for it as well. Rabbeinu Yonah explains that sefer Tehillim teaches us to say to Hashem, “I thank You for Your mussar, which I accept with love.”

Along these lines, the Bnei Yissaschar (Kislev 4:139) explains that one’s davening at difficult times should focus on shevach (praise), not bakashah (request). We are meant to respond to our suffering by showing greater appreciation of Hashem; our tefillah should reflect this.

Based on Hallel, which includes six pesukim of thanks (“Hodu laShem ki tov”) and four of bakashah (“Anah Hashem … ”), the Beis Yisrael taught that one’s tefillah at difficult times should consist of 60% praise and 40% bakashah. Times of need are opportunities to focus on and express our appreciation for Hashem’s attendance to our needs each day and all year round.

 

Bringing a Yeshua

Rabbeinu Yonah concludes that it is this thanks that, ultimately, brings salvation. When we show appreciation for Hashem’s kindness, He shows us more (Shu”t Rabbi Akiva Eiger Hachadashot).

In addition to expressing thanks at difficult times, the Kaf Hachayim (281:8, quotes this in the name of the Chesed L’Avraham) recommends committing to recite Nishmat publicly after the difficulty is resolved. Our intention to praise Hashem merits His salvation.

Recognizing and appreciating Hashem’s kindness is a central part of our mission in life. Difficult times are meant to remind us of this, and inspire us to express appreciation for Hashem’s past and current kindness and reinforce our commitment to doing so in the future.

*Written by Rafi Davis


Rav Reuven Taragin is the dean of overseas students at Yeshivat Hakotel and the educational director of World Mizrachi.

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