A Religion of Tests

How beautiful, I said,
when I noticed the plaque above
two of the synagogue’s bookshelves:

This collection of the Rebbe’s teachings
donated so that the soul of the departed little girl___
daughter of Rabbi___ will merit an elevation.

And I imagined the Rebbe’s thoughts curling upwards
through the minds of young men
who had drawn books from these shelves
on Friday evenings,
as the Sabbath descended,

while, in the upper realms, the little girl
experienced one weightless ascent after another,
traveling ever deeper into the region of secrets,
only a bodiless soul can know.

But then I thought,
God should not let it happen,
and I imagined losing my own eldest daughter,
and a sharp pain found my stomach,
as I pictured her name and mine
carved plainly above the shelves.

God, You have made it clear
that this is a religion of tests,
but in the books of mysticism
You have also whispered that all the while
You hide just behind the wall,
waiting for us to pass.

And in the pages of Chasidus,
You have lectured that even Your concealment
is a paradox.
The soul is exiled from the world
of unity above,
sentenced to life in a heavy and strange body,
only so that, by its own strength,
in the darkness,
the soul might reveal You
in this lower world as well.

Still, as we lift our faces from our books
and walk out the synagogue’s heavy glass doors,
we wonder if you have not hidden
Yourself too well.

And, on more difficult days,
some of us conclude that our tests are not
passable, after all.

Yet, once, at the Sabbath afternoon services,
I saw a man praying.
His hair was combed perfectly,
but his heart was broken.
A month earlier his son had jumped
from the city’s tallest building.

I saw him rocking back and forth in prayer
like a flame.
The synagogue’s lights reflected off his forehead,
and everyone who was there knew
he was very close to God.

From the book G‑d's Optimism by Yehoshua November