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I Need Fear No Evil  

        We have a tremendous capacity for resilience to endure difficulties when we believe they are providing purpose to our lives


he response to my most recent Mishpacha column (“Not in Hashem’s Name,” Issue 991) has been nothing short of a tidal wave. The central issue, conceiving of a loving Hashem, clearly strikes people right where they live.

I heard responses like, “If only I had been raised to really experience Hashem this way, my life would be entirely different. It would have saved me decades of therapy.” I also heard, “I am still struggling to unlearn the harsh notion of a wagging finger from On High.”

My email was flooded, people stopped me in the street, and I was invited out of town to lecture on this very subject. I am truly heartened by the fact that people are so engaged in this discussion. Nothing is more consequential than our personal relationship with Hashem. To quote one pithy observer, “Rabbi Sklare’s article elevated the entire level of discourse. At Shabbos tables, shul kiddushin, and sheitelmachers, people are debating how to conceive of Hashem instead of petty politics.”

What especially struck me was the depth of human pain that came through in people’s responses. People suddenly felt motivated to confide in me feelings of rejection from their youth, bullying they experienced, and other stigmas that continue to haunt them. I tried to do more listening than talking. I felt that empathy and humility were the most useful response.

But what I intuited between the lines was the urgent  question, “How can you speak about Hashem’s love when life seems so miserable? We might know intellectually that Hashem loves us, but we don’t seem to feel the love.”

It is actually this issue of suffering that makes understanding a loving Hashem all the more essential. People do not need complete answers to their questions. But what they desperately need, what they thirst for, is meaning — the ability to believe that their lives are ultimately rewarding and beautiful, despite all the pain.

We have a tremendous capacity for resilience to endure difficulties when we believe they are providing purpose to our lives. To me, this is the greatest tragedy of atheism. How can we bear the harshness of life if it is in fact random and devoid of value?

Yiddishkeit believes that we are part of a big picture, helping weave a grand tapestry that is clear to a loving G-d, but not accessible to us because of our present human limitations of consciousness and lifespan. While we don’t understand the purpose of any particular life event — or our place in it — when we believe that it is part of something beautiful and meaningful, it reframes the way we experience it and gives us the courage to move on.

This simple truth offers a perspective for framing the “How dare you?” question. “How dare you insinuate that there is good in the Holocaust or in the massacre of October 7?” This sentiment of righteous indignance holds true with the pieces we have in front of us. But when we loosen our grip on our familiar consciousness and realize that there is so much more to what we are experiencing with our limited perspective, we can begin to fathom that something much larger is at play. Some Divine master plan, a glorious eternity of which we are a part, is at work beyond our earthly understanding.

Intellectually, this all makes sense, but how do I internalize it when I don’t “feel the love”? Indeed, accepting this premise is very difficult for a person who has known primarily negative experiences and who has internalized subliminal messages of rejection. It is so hard to believe in a G-d of chesed when one has not felt love or even felt that one is lovable. Our hope is that a person’s early formative experiences are infused with sufficient nurturing and self-affirming experiences to create a reservoir of faith in the goodness of his or her existence and in the goodness of Hashem Who is behind it all.

We can draw on this reservoir of emunah in the trying moments of life and from its depth courageously stare down the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” This idea becomes resoundingly apparent when we listen with sensitive ears to a most familiar story in the Chumash, the story of Avraham.

We all know how the story begins. Avraham is told to leave his father’s home and birthplace with the directive, “Lech lecha, go for yourself” — meaning, for your own benefit and good. As Hashem elaborates, “I will make you a great nation. I will bless you...”

Superficially, we might see this promise as an incentive to motivate him; after all, it must have been excruciating to kiss his mother goodbye with no hope of ever seeing her again. But on deeper reflection, this understanding is insufficient, and even offensive.

Do we really think that Avraham Avinu, who had already flung himself into a fiery furnace in devotion to Hashem, really needed an incentive in order to obey? It seems to almost cheapen his mitzvah to imply that he needed a carrot dangled before him.

But in truth, Lech lecha, “go for yourself,” was not at all a petty motivational tool. Rather it was a display of Hashem’s true nature and the nature of all He demands of us. He is not here to get, but to give. Even the difficult challenges He throws our way are really for our growth and benefit. For Avraham, this underscores the entire premise of a G-d of chesed, which he had discovered and taught the world.

But wait, there’s more! This showcase of “lecha” in Avraham’s first challenge fortified him to face down the much greater challenges to come. Listen carefully to the imperative words of the Akeidah when Hashem calls upon Avraham to do the seemingly impossible: “Take your beloved son, Yitzchak, and go for yourself to the land of Moriah [Lech lecha el eretz haMoriah].

Once we see these words, we can’t overlook them. They flash in neon colors. Avraham is seemingly told to sacrifice it all — and yet even that is really “for him,” lecha. Although it certainly defied his comprehension as to how it could possibly be for his benefit, he was called upon as the great knight of faith to embrace the immutable truth of a loving G-d. And such was his response.

In the end, he saw that his faith was well warranted. As Rashi explains, in the dramatic moment when Hashem stays Avraham’s hand, He explains, “I really never told you to slaughter him, but rather to elevate him as an offering. And you have done so.”

Initially, Avraham had understood “offering” to mean sacrifice — as in slaughtering his son. And given the limitations of human experience until then, from his vantage point, that assumption was appropriate. He saw his task as simply to plow on through the haze with the confidence that somehow in the end it would become clear that everything was for the good.

Avraham merited to see this validated in his lifetime, and sometimes we do too. But not always. Sometimes the story remains unfinished in this world. The “happily ever after” will dawn when we reach a more elevated consciousness in Olam Haba. But like our father of old, we only internalize the moments of Lech lecha as positive when our personas have been fortified with the love and goodness we wish for every child.

We all were raised the way we were raised, but now as adults we have the choice of how we will live our Yiddishkeit. We can nurture within ourselves that font of love and positivity that is Hashem when we soak in the good moments of life with presence and mindfulness. When things are going well, we can put that positive energy in the bank of our soul. Let’s tell ourselves at such times, “Life is great, my reality is a beautiful one, and I can take on whatever comes my way.” Let’s exude that “I can” attitude in the good times in the entire way we comport ourselves.

Then, when times become challenging, as we know they inevitably will, we will have deep pockets from which to draw. We will be able to say to Hashem and — as importantly — to ourselves, “To be honest, right now, this hurts. But I know that if I were on the other side and could see what You see, I would want it no different.”

We all can do this, and as maaminim, we must foster this awareness, regardless of the baggage we schlep from childhood. Indeed, for our own children, how splendid it would be if we imbued them naturally with the goodness of their reality. Have them drink with their mother’s milk the understanding that they are beautiful and beloved and that their life is good and meaningful. Life is complicated as is; they will need to learn resilience if they are to thrive. How wonderful it would be if we could set them on this path from the beginning.

Hopefully the nurturing and love that should have permeated our experience in our formative years, and that we can provide as adults, will imbue us with the courage and spiritual stamina to draw on that reservoir of love and faith. When I cling to the safe haven of Divine love, I need fear no evil. In the end, it is all for the good. I only need the resilience of positive faith to see it through.

May all of us, no matter our childhood experiences, find a way to tap into that cherished font of love that was bequeathed to all of Avraham’s children.


Rabbi Yonah Sklare is a rosh kollel in Baltimore whose shiurim and creativity have attracted a worldwide following. He lectures at numerous local institutions, including Congregation Shomrei Emunah and Women’s Institute of Torah Seminary, and online for Torah Anytime, OU Torah, and Jewish Podcasts. His book on Yetzias Mitzrayim, The Breathtaking Panorama, was released this past March. Rabbi Sklare received semichah and his PhD in Talmudic law from Ner Yisroel Rabbinical College.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 1003)

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