Sent: Friday, July 1, 2022 5:01 PM
Dear Rabbi Emanuel,
I appreciate this email with your sharing of your personal journey and challenges with me. I send you blessings for complete healing and recognize the value of hope and faith in God who works in mysterious and miraculous ways.
Rabbi Emanuel, your ability to remain optimistic is remarkable. As someone with a progressing serious disease, I myself have experienced crises of faith, dark nights of the soul, times of anguish and times of joy, experiencing the preciousness and fragility of each moment.
You told me you were given a 2% chance to get into one of those clinical trial that has the curative potential. You laughingly described it as “better than zero.” At the risk of overstepping my bounds and getting too personal with you, I am wondering, is someone helping you spiritually and mentally through this health crisis? Do you have a good counselor and spiritual advisor? Is there someone helping your loved ones? I have found personally that counseling can be extremely helpful to myself and to others in your situation.
You asked me to visit your website and share my truth. I found your website to be beautiful and informative about Judaism and Torah. However, I searched your website for some inspiration regarding health challenges, facing mortality, maintaining faith, but could find nothing. I would advise you to talk to your followers and your congregants about the health crisis that you find yourself in. How do you manage to maintain your faith? What Jewish teachings and figures in history have been most helpful to you? How has your relationship to God changed since experiencing these challenges?
I appreciate our cultural differences and know that you come from the Israeli male perspective which is very different from mine. I deeply and sincerely apologize if I have offended you or crossed your personal boundaries with this email. Unlike most rabbis you are in a unique place to offer deep profound teachings that could be helpful to so many by baring your soul in this way.
With blessings for refuah shlayma – Complete Healing on all levels of body, mind, heart and spirit, and with humility and love, Shabbat shalom, Passion
From: Rabbi Emanuel Ben-David
Sent: Tuesday, July 5, 2022 9:22 PM
Shalom and Good Evening, Dear Passion,
First and foremost, you have nothing to apologize for. I am grateful to you for writing this wonderful email. Coming from the depth of your heart, filled with your own experience makes it so precious.
Barukh HaShem, I am feeling well, physically. No pain, no restrictions on activity. Yet, I know and am prepared for all that will come. It makes it easier to be upbeat and optimistic. I start every day with Modeh Ani – and I am really grateful to HaShem that gives me the gift of life each day, because of His faith in me, and not for any merit of my own.
This acknowledgement turns my day into thinking “what can I do to justify God’s faith in me, and not waste His gift?”. As a result, everything looks different. I am able to practice my Mussar behavior, be there for the other, for those who may need me. And whether I know that I have succeeded or not, I take satisfaction and joy in the possibility that I may help someone, touch someone’s soul in a good way, or uplift another person.
Actually, being there for others and engaging with them is what helps me answer my own questions. I regain clarity on my own views about my situation mentally and spiritually and draw strength from it. I have a friend that struggles with feeling herself walking a really, really, dark “גֵיא צַלְמָוֶת” – the creek of the deepest darkness shadow of death. We both struggled with questions of faith. What is God’s responsibility? How to go about the perceived lack of His responsiveness to prayers? There were, and are, so many other deep questions. We were moving back and forth among the personal, the philosophical and theological spheres.
I found that through our conversation – questioning myself and answering her – I actually answered some of my own doubts and questions. At least, for the time being. It was so profound that I decided, with my friend’s consent, to write up the essence of our conversations and post it on my website.
It would be in the format of “conversations with my imaginary friend”. I’ll start with the doubt, question at hand. Be it my real friend or the imaginary one within me. Then, continue with my answer, the debate, the pushback, the counterargument from a different angle, and so on. Yes, so far, I haven’t yet included such items in the website. Thank you, Passion, for your encouragement to add this kind of conversations. I pray that the ways I grapple with these fundamental issues along with my insights will have value to many.
I recognize the reality that I probably am not going to live too long (for too many years). And I am OK with it. I have this profound faith, actually knowledge, that whatever will be, it will be for good. Rabbi Dov-Yosef Soloveitchik teaches that this kind of knowledge is even a higher level, stronger than faith. According to him, knowledge un-waivers; faith may weaken, strengthen or even disappear altogether.
Unfortunately, my loved one does not share this point of view. She has a really hard time coping with the situation, my mortality, the possibility of her being alone in This World. I appreciate that as my caregiver, travelling this journey by my side, she may have a harder time dealing with my own challenges than I do. This is probably because of the uncertainty and the feeling of helplessness. It can be devastating for a caregiver to have a sense that there is nothing one can do to alleviate the suffering of their loved one.
And now, here I am, in a sense, turning towards the position of the caregiver to her. I try to help alleviate some of her pain, yet I do not know what to do, how to help. During my life, I’ve seen how a caregiver may start the mourning process long before their loved one is actually gone. And of course, it is impossible for the “deceased” to comfort and counsel the mourner. Thus, all I can do is just be. Not even try to fix anything. And that is not an easy task, especially when it comes to your own beloved.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts and struggles, that come from the same family as mine. We have so much more in common – despite the differences arising from the cultures in which we grew. I am open and enthusiastic to continue the conversation with you.
Warm Blessings for Refu’ah Shlema to you too, Refu’at HaNefesh v’Refuat Haguf, (full healing of soul and body), Emanuel
Sent: Mon 7/11/2022 12:38 PM
Dear Rabbi Emanuel,
I totally understand the caregiver issues that you are facing. It is difficult watching your loved one suffer and feeling so helpless, and it is difficult for you, watching your loved one feeling helpless and distressed. As you say, you cannot fix this, it is an internal process, all one can do is to be there with a calm, grounding and loving presence.
How wonderful that your experiences helping a friend have led you to more spiritual and mental clarity. Often the giving IS the gift. Your idea of posting your conversations on your website and opening up a conversation with others whom might benefit from your insights sounds great. I look forward to reading and learning from these conversations myself.
It is so good and I am so glad that you are feeling well and finding the gifts of gratitude in each moment. The truth is that none of us knows how long we will be granted life on this earth, and every single moment is precious.
With much gratitude and prayers for refuah shlaymah to you, Passion.