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I talk to Him rarely. I rarely even pray for my recovery. I take all this for granted.

From Under The Covers

From Under The Covers

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During this time of my illness, I have sought to connect what is happening in my life within the context of my religious observance and my personal relationship with G‑d. From the intensity of my current condition, I find myself in a surprisingly intimate and direct alliance with the Almighty, though in a way I would not have predicted.

It is a peaceful relationship in which I assume His presence in a non-conditional way, the way parents in an ideal world would be with their children. I have projected my trust in His compassion and feel that He wouldn't dare abandon me at a time like this. Since He loves me, I trust that all that is before me is done for my good. I can imagine situations in which I might not feel this way. But for now, I have a very dispassionate relationship with Him, and experience Him in the background, just as His name is hidden in the Megillah, yet He is behind every step of Esther's and Mordechai's intrigues.

I talk to Him rarely. I rarely even pray for my recovery. I take all this for granted. When I do talk to Him, it is mainly for the sake of my children — and sometimes I pray for strength and wisdom and for patience and peace of heart. Many times I simply pray that He allow me to keep my negative emotions to myself and suffer without taking it out on others, especially my wife.

I don't think I've had a moment of blame or anger at G‑d since the beginning of this ordeal. Though certainly I am curious about what He has up His sleeve. And many times I am frightened about how far this test will go. "Enough already," I sometimes say. But then I wonder, "Is it enough? Is this as far as I need to go?" And at the end of these ruminations and piecemeal G‑dly dialogues, I throw up my hands and say, "This is not for me to know." And I breathe and go on to the next moment as my awareness of G‑d dims in comparison to what is happening in front or inside of me.

I'm surprised at the lack of intensity, really. I'm not rushing to say tehillim (Psalms). And I take more respite from playing the flute than contemplating the higher realms.

But right beneath it all, there is this quiet awareness of G‑d, there is the foundation of His presence, there is a silent recognition that I can always call Home when I need to and that Someone will show up if it's raining too hard and I've forgotten my umbrella.

Do I have faith in G‑d's plan? Certainly, though I spend little time trying to figure out what that plan is, whether for myself or others. Maybe I should spend more time at it, but I don't.

What I have more faith in is G‑d's ever-present existence. And that I find everywhere. All the time. Whenever I want to place this awareness before me.

I take it for granted. Just like I take miracles for granted. Just like I take my eventual recovery for granted. Just as my children take my love for them for granted. Just as I take Sharon's love for me for granted. That's how I take G‑d's love for me — for granted. It just is. It's the way it's supposed to be. It is the unconditional love that requires no response from me, but which appreciates any response I make.

And this is where religion comes in. I don't need to be religious in order to receive G‑d's love. But religion helps me to express my love back to Him. I don't need religion to connect to G‑d (in fact, the structure is often a hindrance rather than catalyst); because G‑d, I believe, is always there, eager to connect with me. But religion, I hope, is G‑d's way of telling me what I can do for Him. It constrains my emotion into prescribed actions — actions that, G‑d tells us, have meaning to Him.

Do I think that G‑d loves me more or less whether I do or don't do these actions? Not at all. I never have thought this and I can't imagine ever thinking this about me or anyone else. But I do enjoy the fact that G‑d has gone out of His way to tell me how I can express back to Him my appreciation, my love, and delight in His caring for me. And when I look at all the blessings He's given me, all the wonderful, abundant blessings, it seems almost miniscule that all He asks that I do to show him my love is to keep kosher or delight in the Shabbat or spend some time learning His Torah.

I guess that I've come to the conclusion that feeling love is not enough unless it is connected to action, and specifically action that physically takes a little out of me and puts a little into the one I love. This is not to say that at the end of the day I haven't gotten more than I've given out of the deal. But still, the action at the time involves my effort, my thought, my involvement — the expression of my love in action.

I think that knowing this — having created us in this manner — G‑d then had to provide us a way to express our love for Him in action, and this way had to include an assurance that it would be meaningful to Him. How unfair it would have been for G‑d to set up a system in which there was no way to give back! It would have kept us as children and not allowed us to mature sufficiently to realize that since G‑d is all things, even He must be lonely and in need of love. He must have allowed Himself to be lonely out of kindness for us so that we could alleviate His loneliness not only by feeling our love for Him, but also through our physical expression of that love.

I envision the possibility that every moment of life could become an expression of love to G‑d. And I think it simply boils down to a constant acknowledgment that what I do, all that I do, I do for Him. If one could express that acknowledgment all the time, then all of life would be a mitzvah, and one would find the 613 mitzvot around every corner and under every rock. Such a person could then call him/herself religious. Something I am not, yet maintain a fanciful longing to be.

I think that this is what I like about my current condition and the hope it provides. The intensity — the literal life and death of it — forces me to confront my relationship to the ever-present G‑dliness in the world. It forces me to deal with the moment and thrusts my faith in front of me. The G‑d I now confront, the G‑d disguised in the Megillah, is the One imbedded in every action, every detail of life. A modest G‑d who does not insist on taking credit for everything, who is capable of putting on a big show like He did in Egypt or at Sinai, but is more often found in every moment, every situation that occurs in one's life. This is the G‑d with whom I am present, and as I write this I feel excited like I do whenever I feel the gap between He and me close ever so slightly.

The G‑d with whom I am present is the One who asks me to embrace not only the fact of my illness, but every ugly moment of it. It is the G‑d that asks me to find Him as the needle is placed in my arm to deliver my four-hour dose of chemo. It is the G‑d that asks me not to forget Him when I have become so weak that I can no longer fight against my fear of death and abandoning my children too soon. It is the G‑d that asks me to open my heart in love to every thing around me, even though I may face losing it all earlier than I thought.

G‑d is not asking me to place Him out there somewhere and talk to Him, pray and meditate on His Glory and his Kingdom. Instead, during this time, He has come with the incredible opportunity to find Him in every detail of the daily challenge before me. The stakes are too high for spiritual conversation and speculation; its way past that. These are the times that try mens souls. When the years of training find their test on the battlefield. When I get to see who I am, and then hope that G‑d loves me anyway.

You see, this is what I'm after. I'm very greedy and while I assume my eventual health, I am very concerned about the growth of my soul during these times. Yes, I want to physically heal; but I want also to allow the expansion of my soul to where there is no longer fear of the future, no dissection of life into this or that, where I am so in touch with G‑d and His omniscient presence that I can encounter each dimension of life with grace and a full, easy breath.

Perhaps during the intensity of this illness, I am just too busy being with G‑d to have much time left over to talk to Him about what's going on. When one is intensely occupied in an activity, there is no separation between doer and deed, they merge into a timeless oneness the delight of which begs not to be disrupted. In dialogue there is the speaker and listener, there is duality. But in union, how does one have a di-alogue, a discussion of one to the other.

Maybe this is the gift of the three prescribed daily periods of time that G‑d has given us to take time out and talk to Him. From one perspective He is saying, "Take time out from your busy schedule to remember Me and talk to Me"; but from another perspective He may be saying, "Take time out from being with Me, in order to sufficiently separate from Me to talk to Me." It is similar to the way parents make a special time to talk to their children, to take a break from the daily routine of being with them, to reflect and discuss on the process and quality of their relationship.

These are lofty, arrogant goals, I know. But they are now part of my reality, a reality that is too intense, too critical to even consider that G‑d has separated from me and requires that I call out for His help. Imagine the insecurity of a child who must wonder if his mother will come when he cries out at night after seeing the formless threat that exists in the dark. No, G‑d has not left me in the dark. He sits in a chair at bedside watching over me. And rather than needing to call out in my moments of fear, I simply need to slip my hand from under the covers to reach out and take His hand in mine for only the moment it takes to reassure me of His presence.

Jay Litvin was born in Chicago in 1944. He moved to Israel in 1993 to serve as medical liaison for Chabad’s Children of Chernobyl program, and took a leading role in airlifting children from the areas contaminated by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster; he also founded and directed Chabad’s Terror Victims program in Israel. Jay passed away in April of 2004 after a valiant four-year battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and is survived by his wife, Sharon, and their seven children. He was a frequent contributor to the Jewish website Chabad.org.
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Anonymous July 22, 2011

wow He has such belief. I wish I had that. I need it. Reply

Anonymous Fairfield/CA, USA April 3, 2010

What I needed to read today Reply

Anonymous July 7, 2007

Jay has written here from the depths of his illness. It is one thing to read a beautiful article about being a Spiritual Warrior, but when confronted with suffering and mortality we are brought right into the battlefield. Nowhere is the message of a warrior’s life more evident than here.
Why would a person who hears, sees and translates such beautiful voices, be made to suffer so; and be cut down with so much still to live for?
I dwell on the understanding that none of us can come so close to G-d that we do not shed our mortal coil.
The ultimate challenge for all warriors is to confront the battle from under the covers. And when we are finally willing to give all, we receive all.
Rather than begging the question of why it had to be this way, we should re-read Jay’s words that bring these voices to us. How beautiful they are, and how nobly inspiring. Thankyou G-d, thankyou Chabad.org, thankyou Jay. May we all be warriors, and Peace be with us. Reply

Boris Roytman Los Angeles , CA via chabadmtolympus.com April 21, 2006

I thought that ..... Before I read your thoughts, I thought that I am the only one who feels like that.
This is the freedom that we missing today. This is the slavery to our everyday live that consumes us. We know that G-d is always there for us and what most of us do? I fill ashamed that I put G-d on hold and then come back whenever. Reply

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