Thursday, January 22, 2015

Days of Love and Hate- Learning to embrace our moments of doubt

A friend of mine once told me of a rabbi that he knows who would often take more than 15 minutes to say the Shemoneh Esrei. There were also moments when it took this rabbi less than two minutes to complete the amidah. Perplexed by these two extremes, my friend finally got the courage to ask the rabbi about his approach to prayer. The rabbi replied “Sometimes, I have so much I want to discuss with God. Other times, I can barely stand to be in his presence”. Many of us might struggle with our avodas HaShem, and even experience moments of doubt and loneliness. I suspect I am not alone in that during those times, I feel as if I am doing something wrong, and that my emunah is not strong enough.

In his classic mussar sefer Alei Shur (Chelek Alef pgs. 34-35), Rav Wolbe quotes the Sefer HaYashar, a book attributed to Rabbeinu Tam, as referring to yemei ahava and yemei sin’ah, literally days of love and days of hate. He explains that there are times when our avodas HaShem goes incredibly well. Our experience of the Divine is almost palpable. Like a baseball player during a hot streak who describes the ball as looking larger than usual, everything flows. Other times, we feel alone and distant from God. Rav Wolbe suggests that although during those times one might grow despondent, and even blame themselves for the lack of closeness, this need not be the case. By recognizing that, as with all relationships, our relationship with God has its ups and downs, we need not fear those yemei sin’ah, moments when we can barely stand to be in the presence of God.

Rav Wolbe does not stop there. He says that we need to embrace the struggle and make it part of our service of God. Quoting Rav Tzadok, who speaks of our greatest sins as indicating where we have the most potential, he suggests that the doubts and struggles need not be lead to shame or despondency. On the contrary, by examining them, we can grow in those very areas.

I recently suggested a way to deal with moments of doubt. Rav Wolbe encourages us to do more. Rather than simply live with the struggle and see it as a natural part of our religious lives, we can embrace it and use it to grow. Although it seems paradoxical, in the very moments when we don’t experience God’s presence in our lives, we have a unique opportunity to get even closer to Him.


  1. In addition, there is a need to remember that for the significant issues in life, religion is more about providing a more productive way to frame the question rather than providing answers.

    All of RYBS's talk of "dialectics" is about how much of life is about working through the problem (the "dialog") rather than expecting neat solutions where none exist.

    That's less than doubt, but another critical alternative to certainty.