Monday, November 19, 2012

Balloons of Hope

I have a lot to learn from my children.

I take the same route home from work every day.  Each day, as I'd turn a certain corner, my children would cheer from their seats, "I wanna see the balloons!" And as we'd pass by the store with the balloons right outside the window, they'd shout out happily, "balloons, balloons!"

Usually, there were balloons outside the store window. But some days, they weren't there. Those days were disappointing to them.

"Maybe tomorrow the balloons will be there," I'd reassure them.

And usually, by the time the next afternoon came around, there they were, swaying in the wind, giving my children such simple, untainted pleasure.

It's been a really long time since we've seen those balloons. I can't even remember the last time I turned the corner and those balloons were flying in the wind. Maybe some time in the summer? Maybe longer?

But my children do not give up. Every day, as we turn that corner, they say, "Maybe today we'll see the balloons!" 

And when we pass the store and the balloons aren't there, they always have something to say, some hope to hold on to.

"Maybe they're blowing up the balloons."
"Maybe we'll see them tomorrow."
"Maybe they needa buy more balloons for us."

But tomorrow comes and the balloons still aren't there.

My children are so disappointed. You could hear it in their voices as I turn the corner and pass the store.

Yet...they still come up with excuses, with reasons...and they are still so very hopeful. Hopeful that the day will come when I will turn the corner and the balloons will be back, back in their familiar place, giving my children the pleasure and enjoyment they used to get from looking at them.

The two second pleasure they would take with them for the rest of the ride home. "We saw the balloons today!"

They're waiting for that day to come. And they aren't giving up. They're holding on to the smallest thread of hope.

I'm learning from them.

No matter what happens, no matter what goes on, there is always  hope.

We are now in the month of Kislev, approaching the yom tov of Chanukah. Perhaps one message we can take from this is the message of hope. That no matter how dark life seems, no matter how dark life is, there is always hope.

The chashmonaim searched through the devastation and rubble, through the destruction and the mess...and at last...they found one jug of oil. They didn't give up. They kept searching until they found what they were looking for.

I look to my past and I see those brave Jews who persevered, never giving up hope.

I look ahead of me, at my precious little children and I see innocence in their eyes. My children never give up hope.

And so...neither will I.


  1. I don't mean to challenge you, and I don't mean this in a bad way. I am asking sincerely because I would like to know. What about those who cling to hope their whole lives and never get whatever it is that they were hoping and praying for? What's the good in hope if sometimes that's all it is - just hope?

  2. It's true, sometimes we don't always get what we want no matter how much we hope for it, because only Hashem knows what's best for us. But sincere tears of tefillah are never in vain, even if they don't get you exactly what you asked for. Perhaps there was a post about this already or will be one in the future.

  3. Anon-I think...a life without hope is not really worth living. It gives you something to hold on to. Something to carry with you so you can go on when things seem hopeless.

    Think of the childless couple waiting, the single girl in shidduchim, the breadwinner struggling with finances, the cancer-stricken patient with a diagnosis for life.

    It's an attitude...the hope that things will change. That relying on Hashem for things to be different is the only way to go on. Without that...what is there?

    It's hope that spurs action for change-going to doctors, shadchanim, job interviews, speaking to someone for advice or turning to the only One who can really change anything...with heartfelt prayer.

    And if He decides that things have to stay the way they are, He must have a good reason. But one needs to continue to that they can cope. And there is a chance that things will be different. Hashem can do anything.

    What's the alternative? What kind of life would it be if you didn't have hope for a better tomorrow? Something to look forward to?

    2nd Anon-Yes, there is always a purpose in sincere tefillah, especially if it changes who you are as a person and strengthens your connection to and belief in Hashem, acknowledging that He is the only One who can change your situation. And there is a purpose in hoping for change...especially if it gets you to do something practical about your situation or pushes you to turn to Hashem on a deeper level.

  4. (2nd Anon speaking here) Sincere tefillah can also annul gezeiros on other members of Klal Yisrael. There's a story about Rav Moshe Feinstein that a newly widowed woman came to him, saying that she had cried bucketfuls of tears for her husband to get better, and she asked where her tears had gone. Rav Moshe replied that Hashem had seen best to use those tears to save Klal Yisrael from other tzaros, and it is impossible to know how many lives her tears had saved. The woman broke out into fresh tears--tears of joy.

    (I think I read this in the ArtScroll book on Rav Moshe, but I'm not sure.)

  5. Anon-I've heard stories like that before and didn't do anything for me. It's hard for me to feel comfort knowing that my suffering and pain is helping the world at large. It's a HUGE thing...maybe I can't imagine being part of something so big...and I don't know why but I never found that thought helpful...for me. I'm still in pain. I'm still hurting. Let someone else be so great and be able to carry the world's tzarros and suffer for them-not me! I'd say, Hashem, choose someone else this time!

    Sorry...that's just how I feel. Someone else may be able to find that comforting but I was never able to take that piece. It just didn't make me feel any better.

    It IS an amazing thing for a person to be able to carry the suffering of Klal Yisroel. I just don't feel that it's something I'm ready to hear.
    I do appreciate your comment though-thank you.

  6. Different anon (sorry..those anons are getting confusing).
    I love your last comment. That's what makes you so real and so easy to relate to. I don't think I usually see that about you on your blog. But your blog seems different lately. So much deeper and more emotional and more real. You're still as inspiring as ever, but more of a human being.

    1. (I think replying to each comment might make these anons a little less confusing for you. They weren't really confusing to me though. :) )

      Wow...thank you so much. All that I wrote in that last comment was always a part of me, it just wasn't anything I shared with anyone over here. I guess I always thought this is a place for me to be giving everyone else the chizuk and the answers. But I'm realizing now how much strength I can get from sharing these thoughts and emotions with others and getting out some of the things inside me...even if it includes some of my own questions and uncertainties.

  7. This is 2nd Anon, you can call me Michal now. Obviously this is easier said than felt, but the fact that Hashem chose you to annul the gezeiros on Klal Yisrael shows how great you must be! Try not to think "Let someone else do it"--try to embrace the fact that Hashem considers you great! That's a pretty special thing from One who has known every single person who ever lived and every person who ever will.

    1. Thanks for giving yourself a name, Michal! It's nice to see a real name once in a while instead of the anonymous comments I find sprinkled throughout the blog. :)

      It's all nice in theory but it's much harder when you are the one facing challenges and you have to deal with that thought head-on. It doesn't really work for me. Hearing that would make me think I'd rather not be on a greater level if it means I'm going to have to go through suffering for a generation of people who are on such a low level that they can't take the suffering and I have to do it instead of them. That's not the kind of life I want to live!

      But when I think about it, I know I want to be better than I am now, I know I want to change, I know I want to grow. So I'll keep doing what I need to do and let Hashem take care of the rest, hoping that He will see fit to give me some bracha in my life along with the painful things He knows I have to go through. It's for my good-all of it. I just don't want to be the one suffering on behalf of so many Jews. I'm not that holy! And that thought doesn't bring me comfort. (Maybe if I heard it from R' Moshe's mouth it would have a different affect on me...who knows?)

  8. Michal...I think that Devorah IS great, but I see some pretty ordinary people suffering plenty too - including myself. How do you explain that?

    1. Thanks for addressing this question to Michal and not to me. :) I got the easy way out!

  9. Anon--good to see your anivus, but Hashem created everyone with the capabilities to meet and grow from their suffering. While this is very hard to internalize in the midst of suffering, clearly if you are suffering to a certain extent, you have the potential to be great to at least that extent. Obviously this only works for oneself--we can never have any idea about the potential of another person. Again, I'm not saying that I always think like this, but I like to think that I try.

  10. Michal-I think the problem here is that you cannot answer an emotional question with logic. When someone is going through something painful, it is hard to give rational reasons for what they're going through and it's even harder to accept those kind of answers.

    We've all been through painful times...sometimes we grew from them and sometimes, yes, sometimes we've fallen. It's part of life. But while we are in it we can try to focus on strengthening ourselves to come out better and stronger. Saying that the depth of our pain and the strength of our challenges show just how great we are may even minimize what we are going through. People don't like to think of themselves as great and holy no matter what level they are on. Most of us are always striving to become better no matter what situation we are in.

    It is true that difficulties have the potential to bring out the best in every person but since that doesn't always happen it's not so safe to "blame" our challenges on our level of spirituality. I see pain in many places and it's not always the holiest of people who are going through difficulties. Sometimes someone can be in a pretty low place and the challenges they go through can serve as a shake up for them to make some major changes in their life. Other times it IS the special people who are tested and come out stronger.

    Bottom line, I don't think we can make such blanket statements without knowing a lot of background. And even then, we still cannot judge...which is part of what you said.

    I'm sorry if this comes across as an attack, I did not mean that at all. I'm just trying to explain my side in all of this.

  11. Thank you Devorah.

  12. (Sorry, as far as I can tell my computer won't let my reply to comments, only post new ones)

    I'm not saying that if I saw someone crying that I would give them logical reasons for their distress. By commenting on this blog I'm just trying to offer what I believe to be the Torah perspective on nisyonos in order to give chizuk, much as any shiur on dealing with distress is not going to be a therapy session rather the information we are told about why Hashem gives nisyonos. Of course information doesn't naturally penetrate emotions but that is our life's avodah, to let Torah influence and ultimately control how we feel.

    As to what you said about "it is not always the holiest of people who are going through difficulties": First of all tzaddik v'ra lo and rasha v'tov lo are questions that have been grappled with for millennia and there have been boatloads of seforim written on this topic. Second of all, as I said, I don't think any of us have the right to judge who "isn't the holiest of people" and who is--it's natural to judge people but really it's completely and absolutely impossible to know.

    As for making "blanket statements," there are no seforim written for one specific person's situation--every halacha or idea could be considered a "blanket statement." Again, I'm not trying to solve anyone's specific problem, rather just what I believe to be the Torah perspective. Torah doesn't make you feel good, that's not what it's meant to do. If you want to feel good you can treat yourself to something or call a friend and that will iy"H give you comfort. But if you want the truth, the truth is hard to swallow. And again, I wouldn't speak Torah to a person I know to be in distress. It is, as you say, "hard to accept those answers." Which is why, if you really want to grow, you have to muster up the strength yourself because no one else can do it for you. I'm just trying to provide food for thought--if you want to hear what I believe to be truth, then read it. If you just want comfort (which is perfectly valid) then I don't see how this is the forum for that. Maybe I shouldn't say that since this is your blog, but you have made the comment section publicly available.

  13. Michal, you're right that we can't judge who "isn't the holiest of people", but I can tell you for a fact that it is NOT always the holiest of people who suffer difficulties. This isn't about judging. I know this from my own experiences. I KNOW I am far from the holiest of people. Far. And I've had plenty of difficulty.

    As far as giving chizuk, I like Devorah's approach. No, the Torah is not here to make us feel good, and the truth might sometimes be hard to accept. But if the purpose is to give chizuk, maybe your approach is not the best one.

  14. We all have difficulty, because Hashem believes in all of us. I never said to have difficulty you have to be super-holy; but I did say and I know from the Ramban on the Akeidah that if you have a nisayon, that means Hashem knows that you have the ability to pass it. I don't think anyone is fully aware of even their own potential.

    In terms of giving chizuk, again, we are strangers on a comment thread, so I'm just trying to express my opinion here. I wouldn't say this to a crying girl who just wants a hug; if you want comfort, there are hopefully a number of people who can comfort you. This is my opinion of the truth, again just as someone giving a shiur would do.

  15. i agree with Michal that if we have nisyonos then Hashem believes in us...and we are all tzaddikim and tzaddikot in our own right. yes, we all struggle, whether we think we're holy or not, but sometimes we must think we're holy maybe if only to cope and sometimes we need to "fake it till we make it" even though it's not faking...we are holy!
    honestly, just by he mere fact that we are responding/reading/writing on this blog means that we are all capable of being spiritual great people and that we have the ability to overcome and learn from our nisyonos.
    Hashem put us in specific situations for a reason...when shlomo Carlebach was sitting with a bunch of people and telling them about the Ishbitzer Rebbe, one of the people said that he (or maybe she) wished he/she could meet the Ishbitzer Rebbe. Shlomo Carlebach asked this Jew what time period he/she would like to live in if given a choice. He/she responded "in Ishbitz, so i could learn form the Ishbitzer Rebbe!" Carlebach remarked back that he would have liked to live right here right now (well, it was a few decades ago)because we are all put here to fulfill a certain goal, and our nisyonos and our suffering help us reach that goal too, not just our successes. maybe this is comforting, maybe not, but it's important.
    i know that i have learned more from my failiures than my successes and Rav Hutner explains the pasuk "sheva yipol tzaddik v'kam lo" as that the greatness of a tzaddik isn't that he got's that he fell, and a lot of the time it's our suffering and failiures that make us better.
    and maybe while we're going through challenges we wont see it and maybe we don't think we're that holy - but we have to believe that we ARE.
    I heard an amazing vort from Rabbi Wallerstein who said that there is a medrash that there are millions of neshamos in shamayim waiting to come down to Olam Hazeh, and there are only a certain number of slots down here...and WE WERE CHOSEN TO BE HERE. and all of those neshamos up there are wondering why we're here. so, by definition, the fact that we're here means that we have a reason to be here and that we are extremely holy and we have potential, each one of us.
    now, what will we do with this knowlege that we are all holy? Hashem believes in us and we should believe in ourselves. Most of the time that is the hardest struggle of all.
    Even if we don't believe in ourselves, and we don't see our potential, we still have to give it all we've got. Listen, Hashem is helping us. In the fisrt Bracha of Shemoneh Esrei, we say Hashem is both a "Moshia" and an "ozer" and when we feel that a struggle is too hard for us, and we think we're "not holy" Hashem is helping us - but we have to be a part of that process. We have to keep internalizing our challenges and fighting our yetzer hara and Hashem will help...but we have to believe we're special enough to even start trying.
    That's where the hope comes in, and it's not just sitting and hoping, it's active hoping. You have to be the initiator in striving to find meaning in the suffering and Hashem will take care of the rest. Sometimes you have to go out and do something, sometimes you have to show Hashem you have bitachon and relinquish your "control" over your circumstances(i put that in quotes becasue we don't have control over situations).
    What we can't do is just give up in the midst of suffering - we have potential so keep fighting! when you fail and fall down the stairs, don't fing yourself down another 16 flights of stairs! keep working because you have potential, even in times when you don't think you're "holy" or you don't think you can deal.

  16. I think the question anonymous originally asked was not specifically about the tzaddik or rasha but more about the "ra lo" aspect. Why do people suffer? Put aside their spiritual status for a minute...(because we cannot judge others-each person knows themselves best and I don't know if anyone here considers themselves a real tzaddik or tzaddekes.) Why is there so much pain in the world?

    And I think the answer to that is that we don't know. We simply do not know why Hashem chose you or me or anybody to go through pain. We do know, as Michal pointed out so beautifully, the Torah perspective on nisyonos. (And I love the way you expressed that. Thank you, Michal.) We know what challenges should do to us-and they CAN bring us up. But they can also pull us down. Sometimes...they do.

    However, when we look back at our lives and see that it did not bring us to better places, we should try not to be consumed by feelings of guilt and not allow ourselves to feel inadequate. We are human beings after all. Instead, we should focus on the here and now and use the challenges we are going through right now to grow and become better.

  17. Thank you, Devorah. It happens to be that NFR and I are close friends and we were discussing this this morning. We decided (NFR, correct me if I'm wrong here) that different things are mechazek to different people, and to the two of us, it's lofty ideals so we can strive for them. For others, and it seems that you and other readers are in this category, the unattainable only brings on despair so they prefer to hear what they can do in the here and now. I apologize if I was insensitive to the second category of people.

    And yes, it is definiitely true that we don't know the answer for specific suffering. My point was only that Chazal did figure out a few possible explanations for the general concept of suffering. I personally found some good ones in Strive for Truth by Rav Dessler, and I'm sure there are others.

    P.S. NFR introduced me to this blog so if I was able to be mechazek anyone please thank her!

  18. Sorry, I didn't mean to say "you and other readers are in this category" I meant "seem to be in this category." I wish we could edit our own comments--maybe I'll email

  19. Michal, I definitely hear how lofty ideals can be a springboard for discussion and debate and I'm happy it works for you as something you feel you can strive for. I just think that when you are discussing it, it's so much easier to feel like ideas work for you. But when you're in it, when you're in a confusing situation, you need to hear things that are more practical and down-to-earth. I definitely agree that different things are mechazek different people-and that's what this blog (including the comments section) is here for. I don't think every single one of my posts speaks to every single reader...but I can try to make the ideas as universal as possible.

    The concept of suffering is a complicated one and it's hard to find one line that will comfort everyone...the best we can do is try. :) Each person comes along with a lot of background and history so different ideas will work for different people. What will inspire one person may be the exact thing the next person doesn't want to hear. It's hard to know what to say when you don't know exactly who you are talking to but thank you for trying and sharing your thoughts!

    I appreciate the discussion that came out of this post and I appreciate that you took the time to come back again and again to comment and clarify. Thank you!

  20. And thank you NFR (whoever you are) for introducing Michal to this blog. Keep spreading the word!

  21. Devorah, thank you for understanding my question. And thank you for that answer. I think that's really the only answer there is.

  22. Thank you to all for helping me to clarify my own thoughts about this topic and broadening my viewpoint--I mean it. Also: Devorah, I absolutely love your last two posts so thank you for those as well. Enjoy the precious remaining days of Chanukah!


You made it to the end of this post! What do you think about it?