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When Do We Stop Believing?

When Do We Stop Believing?

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She's only seven years old, and the doctors say there is no hope.

They say she has lost her battle with cystic fibrosis, that she will live only a few more weeks, perhaps a month. But for some reason, nobody has stopped praying.

Naturally, these prayers are different than the ones we offered a year ago; those were strong and full of hope. Then, we still believed in miracles.

Today we're praying because there's nothing left to do. Because it's too frightening to give up on G‑d.

I recall reading, as a child, a very poignant statement made by Rabbi Aryeh Leib, the "Grandfather of Shpoli."

He said to the Almighty: "Master of the Universe! The sages of the Talmud pleaded before You to bring Moshiach. You chose not to do so. The holy Ari begged You to bring Moshiach - again You were unwilling. We have reached the point where it is left to someone of my ilk to ask for the Redeemer. Still You are holding out.

"Mark my words. There will come a generation who will have no interest in You or Your Moshiach. Then You will have no choice but to bring Him...."

The intensity of the Shpoler Zeide's words and the sincerity in his cry had a profound effect on me. I remember wondering why we didn't all simply give up, thereby fulfilling this tzadik's prediction wherein G‑d would be forced to bring Moshiach. Wouldn't it be easier to hasten the redemption that way, as opposed to us attempting to spread the word of G‑d all over the globe?

In the same vein, I sometimes wonder if we would achieve more if we stopped being so submissive, and decided to put an end to all our efforts. Perhaps a quicker way of getting G‑d to cure the sick and feed the poor would be to close our prayer books and walk away for a day. What would He do then? Wouldn't He have no choice but to make His presence obvious to us?

I'm in a quandary. I want G‑d to hear my prayers, but I also want Him to know that I'm not going to stand there and pray forever.

And yet, I'm so afraid to give up, because I'm struck by a thought that is both awesome and frightening:

Could it be that we stop believing in miracles because we always give up just before they're about to happen?

Could it be that when G‑d challenges our faith, the crux of the test is at that point when the human would naturally resign, but if we held on for just one more moment, we would see the light?

This is, perhaps, one of the greatest struggles in life. Knowing how to hold on long after reality tells us not to; trusting that there is a reason not to give up even though all the odds are stacked against us; learning the art of endurance, of tenacity, and understanding what it really means to live each day with genuine faith.

But almost as soon as I have made peace with a life of patient prayer and hope, I feel the aggression kicking in again. I recall the Torah's account of the meraglim (lit: spies; those who were sent to scout out the Land of Israel) and the Jews' subsequent reaction to their negative reports about the Land of Israel. G‑d is angered at the Jews' lack of faith in Him and threatens to kill them in the desert, but Moshe pleads:

"...if You kill this nation...the nations who have heard of Your reputation will say as follows: 'Since the Lord lacked the ability to bring this nation to the Land which He swore to them, He slaughtered them in the desert.' "

In effect, Moshe is threatening G‑d with His reputation. I latch on to this; I have found comfort in Moshe's approach. "It's true, G‑d," I think to myself. "If You don't show Your mercy, they're not going to say nice things about You."

Perhaps my use of this tactic is really a subconscious way of copping out of my own responsibility. I think of Nachshon son of Aminadav, standing on the shores of the Red Sea; purposeful, focused, determined. He saw no barriers, no ocean; no obstacles in the way of his desire. He saw Mount Sinai in the distance, and he saw the future of a nation, spread before him like the dazzling night lights of a beautiful city. He plunged into the sea, not expecting a miracle per se, but still knowing, with certainty, that he would get to where he had to be. He simply wasn't going to have it any other way. And then, G‑d split the sea.

Nachshon represented the perfect combination of faith, hope, and trust. He didn't bind G‑d to grant him any specific type of assistance, but at the same time he was staunch in the belief that his desires would be fulfilled.

G‑d will never question the little girl and her family; giving up, holding on, and believing in miracles have taken on a whole new meaning in their lives. But who are we, as friends, to dare let our prayers wane? How strong is our belief? Are we willing to fight the pain of reality no matter how impossible the likelihood for a miracle may seem? Do we truly trust that G‑d can do anything?

And so, as challenging as it is, we won't stop praying.

At the end of time, I will have many questions for G‑d. But I don't want Him to question me. I never want Him to ask me why I didn't hold on just that little bit longer.

True, the doctors may have it all figured out, and the rest of the world may ask where our G‑d is. But we will pray, because the Jewish soul possesses something infinite. Indeed, she knows all about life and understands nothing; she can not find what is lost, but she still believes in miracles.

Sara Hecht is a freelance writer, composer and singer from Australia. To book Sara for a musical performance, visit sarahecht.com.
Artwork by David Brook. David lives in Sydney, Australia, and has been selling his art since he was in high school. He is currently painting and doing web illustrations.
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Anonymous February 18, 2015

when do we stop believing my cousin was shot in 1984 by her boyfriend and became paralysed from waist down. Since then she has been praying and we have also been praying that she will walk on day! 30years on her health condition deteriorates every day but we still pray, she still prayers.
My sisters and i have been praying for marriages since God knows when! But still to this day , we get rejected by people who tell us that we are the most wonderful people they have ever met but they simply cant be with us.
We still pray! But until when? Until when? why doesn't he answer?
I'm tired of people giving us examples of people with even greater problems just so that we accept our own! How about people with greater blessings, so than i can yearn for that too, or you will say its envy! But is it also not sinful to see your self better than someone else? Reply

Randy H. Farb Flint, MI July 22, 2010

You should study kabbalah According to the transmigration of souls, mentioned throughout the zohar, a person's next life is predicated on fulfilling a mission. Therefore, if a child dies at 7, he or she has fulfilled their purpose, and people should rejoice. Reply

veronika ny, ny July 10, 2010

coment i really like this article about faith cuz it's the truth...
keep praying and believing and miracles will happen, no one can tell you when, it's g-d decision. but if you don't give up he'll heard you. Reply

Howie ca via ocjewish.com April 7, 2009

Yup It is a tough subject. Especially if folk are truthful and realize they have enormously mixed feelings towards G-d, faith, religion, hope etc. in these types of situations. Maybe G-d gives us credit for trying so hard to understand, to hang on and maybe does not blame us when we rage and scream out at the darkness of night that never really answers us...hints maybe...answers...no.
My heart goes out to the suffering...having a child who is helplessly ill is a horror and we who have endured it know the tears and hope, but also the utter violence and hatred we occasionally experience in our hearts. "Why...why...what did this little fellow do?" "what was his sin?" "what kind of justice, love and mercy is this?"

And then we pick up and try to go forward. Reply

sara y August 16, 2008

Sara This is straight to the point of what I alwayes wonder. we don't see ahead of us it was so much easer for Nachshon ben aminadav for he was great. Reply

Corrie Fraiser July 28, 2008

Sara

I have come back to chabad.org to read this article for the fourth time. Every few days I think...let me go and read that beautiful article again...Because its not good enough to think about it..to try and remember 'the way Sara put it' I need to see it..read it..word for word, the way you wrote it. Sara your writing is so painfully powerful.

I have read all your articles and each time I read a new one it blows me away.

I want to say you have an unbelievable gift ...but I know you are an unbelievable person so I will say.. we, have an unbelievable gift!

Thank you for being so special and sharing with all of us.
May you have much blessing and happiness in your life and may the wellsprings of courage, faith and beauty in your soul continue to overflow and shower us with hope and inspiration. Reply

Shira Chava bas Chana Sammamish, WA July 25, 2008

What a powerful message May G-d bless this family during it's time of distress.
I will never forget the 5 year old's funeral I attended in Long Beach right before Purim back in 1995. Our Chabad community embraced and mourned together as this young child was welcomed into G-d’s arms. Her Shabbos candle went out that night when her mother lit it, the day that she passed, as if to say, the light may go out, but her soul lives on!
Be strong, and BELIEVE in Moshiach. It is what gets us through the rough roads we walk, before Moshiach comes. We all have to endure suffering and pain, but G-d hears our prayers and our yearning for Him. Never give up and Never Forget Him!
Be well and have a good Shabbos. You are an amazing and talented woman and writer. Reply

Meg Cullip July 23, 2008

faith when things are good Whereas, I understand were the author is coming from. I wonder if it is much harder to remain faithful when things look and feel good to us? In Duet. 8 G-d talks about how the Israelites were tested in the wilderness to "know your hearts" and to cleave to G-d's daily provision. Israel's faith in the wilderness was one of day to day trust. Then the G-d warns Israel to not lose faith when they come into the land promised by covenant. When they have copper, iron, water, and abundant food. It makes me wonder if faith is really having the heart to thank G-d when we can claim it is by our own "might and power" that we are living the way we live. Reply

Yair D. Haifa, Israel July 23, 2008

A powerful message for those who have suffered Your words reflect the cry of so many. G-d does not want us to sit silently in the face of tragedy. Your passionate prayer on behalf of this child and so many others will surely not go unanswered and we must never stop to demand that G-d end the pain! Reply

Anonymous Melbourne, Australia July 23, 2008

wow sara, that's really nice.
how about coming back to melbourne and sharing your inspiration with us? Reply

shlomo dror jerusalem, israel July 22, 2008

that's not the way I look at things I find this article very discordant for two main reasons:
(1) the load of resentment towards G-d for not fulfilling her personal agenda, and the emphasis on manipulation. Since when do you think of primary relationships in such infantile terms?
(2) the larger problem is the apparent lack of appreciation for all the things that G-d has done, is doing, and will do for her. Serving G-d is immensely rewarding in itself, and there is so much more besides that in all of our lives. Reply

Hindy Gidali NY, NY July 22, 2008

Sara-
Your post is beautifully written. However, is there not a point where we are being foolish for denying reality? In the two examples from the Torah, Gd had given clear instructions as to what was going to take place. The Jews were taken to the coast of the red sea and told that they were to cross it and in the instance of the meraglim the nation had already been told that they were going to subdue the nations and occupy the lands. These situations are quite different than the dying girl in the hospital where there has been no direct statement from Gd that a miracle awaits her. Reply

ora Israel July 22, 2008

Thank you! This is a wonderful article. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and feelings, doubts and frustration included. I would like to say more, but i can't adequately express how much it means to me to read this. So again, thanks! Reply

Eric S. Kingston North Hollywood, CA July 22, 2008

"When her father-in-law, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch, was told of the doctors' verdict, he said: The Talmud specifically derives from the Torah that, "A physician is allowed to heal"; but nowhere has a doctor been given the authority to condemn a human being as incurable... " Reply

Anonymous July 20, 2008

Beautiful! This piece of work was so beautiful and so inspiring! I have never read anything so full of faith and genuinity. Thank you so much for writing this article! I will have it in mind everytime i pray!!!! Reply