The following is part of the Hevria series “Truth And Dare”, in which Hevria writers have pushed themselves to write about topics they find uncomfortable to share publicly.
As Passover draws near, I finally understand the Hail, that infamous 7th plague which fell upon the Egyptians. Those balls of fire housed in casings of ice. First it would freeze its victims. And then it would burn.
Individually, ice and fire are harsh and painful. But they can be tolerable. Together, they are anguish.
And today, as winter’s tendrils reach into spring, I am both. I am ice. I am fire.
Today, I am cold.
I pull my sweater a little tighter as I read about the fire caused by the malfunction of a commonly used modern tool meant to make one’s commitment to Shabbat easier. The fire that claimed the lives of 7 children. 7 children who will not grow up to be teachers or businessmen or kids who are ‘figuring things out.’ 7 children who will not grow up to be fathers or mothers.
7 children who will not grow up at all.
No matter how many layers I put on, wool is no match for this chill. This chill which overcomes me. Which stills all movement. Which leaves me silent and begging for strength.
My gut says that I should say psalms. That I should pray. That I should still any thoughts of futility and anguish with a ‘we can’t know G-d’s ways.’ But the once-luscious curves of letters forming G-d’s name seem to wither. The sentences praising G-d’s actions crumble like dried leaves as they suffer winter’s brutality.
Today, the prayer book lies limp in my hands. And as my lips touch its cover with a resigned sigh, they do not feel leather; they feel a layer of frost.
My prayer book has frozen, too.
And, although my religious fervor tries to hush them, that is when the questions come. What kind of G-d would do this? What does He stand to gain? Why these children? Why this home? How is it fathomable that something so destructive could stem from intentions so pure?
How can I continue to believe? Why should I continue to believe?
And, once permitted to trickle, the anger bursts forth. Flashes of events from the past year blind my vision:
Early deaths, my friend’s brother. Unexpected terror, blood soaked prayer shawls. Poverty.
Orphaned children, their eyes. Childless parents, #BringBackOurBoys. War.
And the good and all-powerful G-d that I know and believe in? Why has He not seemed good? Why has He not seemed all-powerful? Why would He let this happen? Why don’t I hear Him?
Why is the sky not dripping with His tears?
I feel that word chiseling away at my painstakingly constructed belief system. A belief system that I had thought was constructed of unshakable faith.
It would be easier if my heart froze from these questions. Froze from this shameful doubt. If it no longer beat to the rhythm of Divine Providence and Hope and Trying to Make Sense of Things. Because then, I wouldn’t have to fight anymore. I could effortlessly roll over and let the ice overpower me. I could fall asleep in this snow and let the cold dull my dreams.
And I get it now. I get that the opposite of Love is not Hate. It is Apathy. After all, it is far simpler to accept random occurrences in a G-dless world than a world like this with G-d in charge.
And that is why today, all I want to do is give up on G-d.
But I can’t. Because today, I am not only cold; I am heat.
As much as I resist, I grow warm with feelings. I sense that fire. As my skin begins to burn as it thaws, the blood rushes to my head, to my fingertips. It urges me to feel. It urges me to think. It urges me to type.
It reminds me that I cannot be cold to my belief in G-d. Because belief is threaded throughout my entire being.
I call to mind the sound of that girl laughing and the vision of those stars. I call to mind the way the body miraculously works to form a functional being from nearly nothing. I call to mind the G-d that I know and believe in. I call to mind the G-d that I trust.
I fade away into memories of learning and questioning and conviction and hope. I fade away into the knowledge of my ancestors who came before me and the Torah that lined my upbringing. I fade away into my heritage of triumph over pogroms and being hated and being hunted.
I remember that there is something to be said about trusting in a relationship, even when trust seems beyond reason. I remember that it is impossible to be cold to G-d, because I care too much.
I remember my faith, which begins where my understanding ends.
And as this fire sears my already cold emotions with its contrasting heat, I travel from apathy to love, and fear, and anger, and disbelief, and confusion. And pain. So much pain.
And it makes no sense that this fire and ice inhabit the same mind. It is excruciating.
Can you look into my eyes and tell me – do they look ice blue or fire red? Do they speak of conviction or confusion? Or do they just look tired? Because eyes are the window to the soul. And my soul is all of the above.
And as I freeze and as I burn I realize that, like the hail, I am not ice or fire. I am a unified combination of those Divine opposites.
I’ve always thought being a Believer meant never having questions. I thought that it meant never admitting weakness. But my greatest role-model Believers have responded to my questions with nothing but sighs.
It takes a sigh to make a true Believer. And it takes a true Believer to admit that he, too, sighs.
Because questions are not the antithesis of belief. Questions are a fundamental part of it.
Because to be only ice would be the easy route. It would be denying many truths about the miracles that surround me every day. It would be ignoring that which I am, a Believer and the child of Believers.
And to be only fire would leave me a religious fanatic. Blind to the pain of others. Accepting of human suffering. It would leave me with a faith that is intolerant to questions. It would be denying the fact that, no, I do not have answers to everything.
I am ice. I am she who questions, “Why?”
I am fire. I am she who answers, “Honestly, I don’t know. But I believe. And because I believe, I’ll continue asking.”
And I am hail. I am she who will rain down and be a force of change until things are different.
May Gilson Gila Gayle bat Tziporah Frances and Tziporah bat Gayle have a speedy recovery and find peace. May we all continue believing, continue feeling, and continue storming the heavens with our questions. And may we receive answers to those questions and cease to know suffering with an ultimate and imminent redemption.
Image by Hernan Pinera