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Holy Chutzpah

Holy Chutzpah

Keeping the faith in light of the heavier things


Yesterday, an 11th-grade boy from the high school next door to my kids’ elementary school took his own life in his dorm room. The word “tragic” doesn’t even touch this situation.

As a mother, I see myself as a gatekeeper of my children’s innocence. I do my best to protect them—body, mind and soul. But life has a way of incessantly usurping my control over the content to which they are exposed, and therefore interfering with my plans to raise perfectly adjusted, perpetually hopeful and faith-filled little Jewish people. In my few short years as a parent of actual children, I’ve learned that—try as I might to protect my kids from scary things—scary things find us anyway.

Suicide was something I thought I could protect them from knowing aboutSuicide was something I thought I could protect them from knowing about . . . for a while, at least. The idea that someone could be so racked with pain and sadness, and feel so alone, that he could take his own life—I didn’t want them to know that that was even possible. But now they know, and now we have to deal with what that knowing means for them and for us.

I regularly buy into the illusion that I am in control of the events of my kids’ lives. Regrettably, I am not. What I do have a measure of control over is my reaction to the things that they learn. I can choose to be present for them and to provide open lines of communication when they have questions. And I can be honest enough when asked, “Mommy, why didn’t G‑d send someone into his room and save him?” to say, “Baby, I don’t know.”

I think there is an underlying notion that parents are supposed to intuitively know how to respond to their kids at all times. And that our faith in G‑d and His mercy must appear ironclad lest, G‑d forbid, our children raise questions to which we have no answers (gasp!). Well, folks, I’m here to tell ya’ that my faith does take a hit from time to time, and there’s a lot I don’t and never will know. But in spite of that, I push forward. I choose to trust G‑d anyway.

So many of us, parents and teachers alike, have bought into the ridiculous idea that if we don’t know something, we can’t be effective role models. There is a prevalent tendency to steer away from—or worse, ignore—sensitive subject matter because we simply don’t know what to say. But that’s not an honest way to parent; heck, that’s not an honest way to live. Everybody has questions about G‑d’s will—even our greatest Jewish leaders did.

In Genesis, before the destruction of Sedom, our forefather Abraham challenges G‑d’s will:

“Far be it from You to do a thing such as this, to put to death the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be like the wicked. Far be it from You! Will the Judge of the entire earth not perform justice?" (18:25)

In the book of Exodus, “Moses returned to G‑d and said: ‘My G‑d, why have You done evil to this people? Why have You sent me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done worse to this nation; and You have not saved Your people!’” (5:22–23)

They made their arguments, voiced their complaints and awaited His verdictAbraham and Moses were true believers. And they had something we could all use a bit of . . . holy chutzpah. They understood without question that everything that happens in this world is ordained by G‑d. And they trusted unequivocally that everything that G‑d does is for good. Abraham, Moses, you and me were created as free thinkers with free wills. So when our forefathers questioned G‑d, it was not a crisis of faith. It was not blasphemy. It was a relationship. They were secure enough in G‑d’s supremacy, and in His mercy, that they went head to head with His will. They made their arguments, voiced their complaints and awaited His verdict. They were comfortable enough in their relationship with G‑d that even if He said “no,” they would continue being the men they were intended to be.

I don’t have the benefit of direct dial with G‑d, like our prophets did. But I can defer to my own wireless connection with Him, and confirm that even when I am outraged about some horror that has befallen the world, although I am in pain, I will still say, “Baruch dayan ha-emet—Blessed is the True Judge.” My outrage speaks of my connection with G‑d and my trust in Him. It means that I haven’t given up on Him, even when I don’t understand Him.

That’s a lesson our kids need to hear.

Sarah Zadok is a Jewish educator and lecturer, a childbirth professional and a freelance writer. She lives in the Golan Heights with her husband and five children.
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Anonymous Brooklyn February 24, 2013

brain this does not answer the child's question, but it is very important to know, that some people suffer from their own brains. When someone has a chemical imbalance, or some neurological disorder and it is torture to live within their own brain, they cannot tolerate this situation and this can happen. Just to put some light on why some people do this, r"l. May G-d protect the suffering. We need to understand that some situations are psychological which is a frame of mind, and psychiatric which is a brain chemical issue and much harder to deal with, and can be torturously painful. When one is blessed to have never have had this issue, it is just as hard to understand as it is to teach a language to a person who cannot learn languages and never learned that language. It is just impossible to understand. Reply

David Mark Ft. Lauderdale, FL August 10, 2012

Questions are better than answers I appreciate this young woman's faith, but do not agree. Rather than ask, "Is G' compassionate?" we ask the questioner, "Are you compassionate?" or, "Is G' merciful?" we reply, "Are we merciful?"-- meaning that, in this world, G' works thro' us. While we are waiting for the angel with the golden book (or the fiery sword) to show up, we can help one another, even in the face of unspeakable horror (I write this in the wake of the Aurora moviehouse shooting and the attack on the Sikh temple.). Reply

Anonymous san francisco, CA February 17, 2012

The Real Internets "Wireless connection" with G-d - love it! Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma February 7, 2012

heavier things I am not sure if the question above, directly under my comment was addressed to me.

Life hands us all "situations" and it's true, that notion, "I never promised you a Rose Garden".

And roses too, have thorns. Life is hard. Life has its share of sorrows, of sadness, and violence, and things we never bargained for.

I try to explain this to my children, about the bittersweet. Sadly, as we all know, youth is often wasted on the young. Those who have gone ahead have a lot of wisdom, but it's not easy to impart this.

I think those among us who love our children always walk the balance beam in too much, too little, and what feels just right, in telling, in showing, in being.

The best advice is with love, with compassion, think, and then act as best you can weighting the pros and the cons and putting the rose into your prose, and how you handle situations that are very difficult.

We cannot be perfect. We just do it as best we can. I hope we all learn from our mistakes. We all fall down. Reply

tova aaronson Tsfat February 7, 2012

righteous woman! sara, you rock...always an inspiration. Reply

chani Brooklyn, NY January 31, 2012

final question What DID you tell your kids in such a situation then? Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma January 27, 2012

A Divine Necklace: ring of fire Actually, we all have the benefit of a Direct Dial to G_D. I think much of this is in how we perceive direct dial. And now dial has been replaced, by keys. For keys there is lock. We're all in this together, deeply all ONE. And yet, the paradox lies within our very uniqueness, as it could be said, we each filter the light differently, as facets of a diamond. We're all part of that diamond, and we all do reflect the light, and that light bounces off all facets of the diamond, as we then to approach each other, share, conflict, dialogue. There's the "fire", the Divine Fire. This, the Dance itself, has a Divine choreographer.

As to CHAI itself within Chain, this is a story about a gift, of LIFE itself, and how we are each deeply, connected. Since at least one of us can claim such connect, so can we all. We're all ONE. To divine this is to walk into "eternity", and yes, I can, I can use this word. William Blake had such a beautiful quote about this, about NOW being eternity.
To feel this Reply

Anonymous New York , NY January 25, 2012

Disappointed I frequently check this website for understanding and knowledge into the deepest issues we are faced with as Jews in a modern world. I must say that I am disappointed in the author's tone and the sheltering she seeks for this world. I actually found the article hypocritical in many ways, as you state that Hashem works in ways in which only Hashem understands, yet you strive to hide true life and actual events from your children. The world is not a place we can control, only Hashem; yet you challenge what you are exposed to and wish it went away. The whole reason things like this happen is because of the lack of allowing our society to be open to the actuals problems of the world. If we prepared for them, maybe we'd all learn and understand why these events happen, and why we've been exposed to them. To want to run and hide, is hypocritical.

Support the family, find out why, talk to your kids, see how they feel.

Thanks Reply

drb rpb, fla January 25, 2012

A Parents Truth What an amazingly truthful and honest article! This magnificent piece speaks to all parents and we realize that we are here to parent as best we can...with help from Hashem.
What a difficult piece towrite, but ...sooo necessary to comprehend.These thoughts and words reinforce our jobs as parents and believers. Thank you, for a well written piece about the hardship and strength we face as parents. Reply

Christina Venter Cape Town, South Africa January 25, 2012

Holy Chutzpah Thank you so much for this beautiful insight. I enjoyed reading it. I am sure our Father in Heaven too.

Stay blessed! Reply

yehudis feinstein Tzfat, Israel January 24, 2012

I'm so, so sorry that the young man took his life. How sad to be so alone and bereft of any hope of G-d's warmth and love and acceptance. We parents need to learn from this to show our children that we love Hashem (G-d) and that we trust Him, and that we count on Him. We must make sure to include Hashem in the equation when we discuss anything and everything with our children. They must know that they have a loving Father whom they can always count on and turn to. If not Him, then whom? Only Him. This is our holy work as parents, wherever we can influence our children. When children, and adults as well, feel a palpable love for Hashem, they want to do His bidding and keep His Torah. Hashem should help us all to love Him and stay close to Him. Reply

Karen Iowa City, Iowa January 24, 2012

More complicated than "believe anyway"...? A young person taking his life is a tough thing to explain but the boy's intentionality, his agency, is something approaching an articulable reason for the lack of divine intervention. After all, free will exists within faith. But how to explain to a child the existence of child abuse? "I don't know" seems a far less sufficient response... Reply

Your soul sister in Canada Montreal, Canada January 23, 2012

Super article! Sarah, I love the way you write and ur great play on words ! Your message is a very poignant one. I pray daily that my honesty in not understanding His ways and my unwavering commitment to H' -even when things seem unfair or no good in my human eyes- will carry through to my children. I also try to show them the silver lining and reinforce the notion that all G' does is for the good even if we dont understand/see it right away . As you said we are constantly competing with outside forces that seem to get to our kids before we do.
May they all grow to be G' fearing, Torah loving, adults. With a healthy dose of ahavas Isreal.
And may this boy, z"l, who felt it necessary to take his own life, find his peace and be a light in Gan Eden. BDE Reply

Avigail Gimpel neveh daniel, Israel January 22, 2012

Such good advice for parents who are always looking for answers but now find out we may not always need them. Thanks for giving us direction in a coutry full of tragic questions and few answers. Loved it! Reply

Rebecca Rubinstein the Golan, Israel January 22, 2012

holy chutzpa great article! We don'g have to understand G-d's ways to beleive. Beleif is what we need when we don't understand. I think one of our biggest lessons to learn with humility and convey to our kids and students is that we as finite human beings cannot possibly expect to understand the ways of the Infinite. And with acceptance of that limitation, we can trust that the Master of the Universe knows what He is doing, even though we may not. Reply

SH RBS, Israel January 22, 2012

Beautiful! Reply