I Yelled At G-d

I yelled at G-d. I did. I yelled at him/he/she/her/it whatever. I screamed at G-d and beat the ground. I am not proud of it, but not quite ashamed either. It is not something that I keep to myself, but it is not something that I totally share either because, well, I don’t know why.

I can’t say because it comes from a place deep inside. It is a spot that lies beneath a lot of other junk so it doesn’t see daylight all that often. Maybe it is because I don’t like looking there because there are so many questions and so few answers.

When I was 19 I was madly in love with a girl that I though was supposed to be mine forever. I didn’t think of it as besheret, I knew it as such. I knew it the way a 19 year-old knows that life is going to give him everything because that is just how it works. I knew it in the way that I knew my hand, intimate and secure.

And then she left me.

She decided that I was not for her. She told me that she woke up one day and realized that she didn’t love me any longer. I was devastated. I couldn’t get a grip on it. It just didn’t make sense to me.

At that point in time I worked part time at a local shul where I assisted in the Hebrew school and youth departments. Monday through Thursday you would find me there between the hours of 3-6. And somewhere around a quarter to five you would find me davening with the afternoon minyan.

Almost without fail I would ask Hashem to fix things for me. I’d beg for a chance to fix the relationship or for something to help me feel better. I just couldn’t believe that my life had been spun around so dramatically.

One day Howie Mandel started showing up. His father had passed away and he needed a place to say Kaddish. He doesn’t know it, but it was his presence that helped me to recognize that I had gone astray. His loss was far more profound than mine. I stopped asking for things for myself and I healed, but I didn’t forget the feeling of not having my prayers acknowledged. I didn’t forget what it felt like to be ignored, but I didn’t focus on it.

Some years later I received a telephone call from a friend. I was in Los Angeles and he was in Boston. He told me that he was being held against his will in a hospital and asked me to get him out of there. I was 25 and working full time, but he was like a brother to me and I promised that I would help him.

So I began by checking airline flights from LA to Boston and considering how I would get him out of the hospital. As part of my research I got in touch with his family and found out why he had been hospitalized. It turned out that he had a brain tumor and that he was hallucinating. He was being held there, but for good reason.

Fast forward a few years. The first tumor has been taken care of and so has a second one, but there is a third event.

I am 29 now. I am married and have a little bit more life experience beneath my belt and I know that this time is different. I know that this time his life is in serious jeopardy and I am far more aware of it than I was before.

I receive word that the doctors consider him to be terminal. His family is going to bring him home for the final journey. I watch him deteriorate in front of me, his family and friends. I watch his parents deal with a pain that I can see in their eyes, but cannot imagine. And years later with the birth of my son I cry as I realize what loss they suffered.

His death comes after a relatively short period of time, but it feels like so much has gone by.

During his illness I have resumed asking G-d to do something to help. I have returned to the place where each day I spend precious moments begging G-d to spare him. If you can split the Red Sea, if you can cause manna to fall from heaven this should be easy.

I see no response. I hear no answers and I am angry. I begin to really speak my mind. I castigate G-d for being cold and uncaring. I yell and use the harshest terms. For a moment I think that I am overstepping my bounds and then I realize that I believe that he knows all of my thoughts anyway, so why hide.

The day of the funeral my friends and bury him. We watch his family’s most intimate moment of grief are displayed and we give all that we can by making sure that he is interred in the earth by people who knew him, who loved him and cared, not by strangers.

The cemetery is located next to my home. For a brief time I appoint myself his official caretaker and I visit his grave daily. I apologize for not being able to get through to G-d and not having been able to do more. And in the quiet stillness I ask Hashem why I couldn’t get an answer to my questions. Why couldn’t I be given something, some sign or acknowledgment of my presence. I feel badly because I feel like I was ignored and I wonder what I could have done differently and if it is selfish of me to feel this way.

Fast forward again to April of 2004. My father is ill. He is on his deathbed that is what the doctors have told me. They do not expect him to survive. I stand next to his bed and watch as he lies there unconscious. I do not know anyone stronger than my father. Mentally, physically he is unparalleled. I am a grown man, a father of one with another on the way and I feel so weak.

It is only because of the love I feel for him, for my mother, my sisters and my children, for our family that I am able to stand there and appear to be so passive.

At his bedside I beseech G-d to do something. But unlike before I am instantly angry because I remember being ignored and this time I will not accept that. I will not play Job or act like this is some kind of blessing. This is my father and I will be answered. I will be heard.

And in the quiet moments 3000 miles from home I battle for his life. I argue, I beg, I scream, I debate and demand that he be spared. It is too soon and too early for him to be taken.

Against the odds my father survives and comes home. I thank G-d. I thank G-d for everything. I thank G-d for having had experiences that helped to prepare me for this experience. I thank G-d for everything and I forgive G-d for not having responded to me earlier.

To some people this may sound rather trite. It may seem ridiculous and a little too easy, too much like a Hollywood ending. But my reality is that the day my father returned home I stopped feeling so angry and I was content.

I am in a place where I am comfortable and happy with my faith. It doesn’t mean that there are not times in which I question things or am upset, just that for now I am good and I am thankful for that.

(Cross posted on The Jewish Connection)


Stacey said...

This was beautiful and I am glad your father survived when the odds were against him -- and I'm glad this strengthened your faith.

But there are many others whose prayers go unanswered (like the family of your friend, may he rest in peace). And what does this do to their faith?

And are these individual experience due to the randomness of life, good or bad luck, or G-d? I am not certain.

Anonymous said...

Jack, I don't think your prayers go unanswered, I think the answers are just not what we want to hear. Like children, we don't know the whole picture. We ask things of our parents and they say no. We say why - they say because we know how it will turn out. We are wiser than you and can see how this will turn out. You are too young to understand.
We are still too young to understand. The pain of death seems to be harsh and meaningless, but there is a purpose. We learn lessons from every life that touches ours. It is not our purpose to control their destiny. It is our purpose to make the most of their lives while it touches ours, to give love and to receive love... and to accept the pain that comes with the package.
I just lost a good friend to Melanoma. I am angriest with myself for not celebrating her life as much as I could when she was around. I am not angry with God for taking her because I know he has more perfect timing than I. I was disappointed to find out days later that the Anderson Clinic in Houston had made a break through in Melanoma Cancer. In the future I will know where to send someone.
I am glad you are in a good place now.

Coco said...

What you have with G-d is a "relationship" : )
One where you are free to express yourself : )
to question, ask, and thank.
G-d is ALWAYS speaking to us...we just need to listen.
Life is brief- celebrate it!

Irina Tsukerman said...

Your post made me think a lot about my own relationship with God, or at leas the idea of God, the image that I have in my mind. It's not much of a relationship, because I only usually think of turning to God when I need something... so in an effort to cease that futile behavior, I try to stop thinking in those terms altogether. I don't think God as a kind of a fairy godfather/godmother who responds to particularities, but as a general force which gave us intelligence and free will and which interacts in our life but not in the way that human beings interact, in invisible ways.

foxymama said...

I see now that I have been bringing an element of dishonesty to my praying. I say Thy will be done because You are all knowing and then comes the "but..." Always there seems to be a but. It's hard to relinquish control but there can be no results until I do. There are probably answers but I don't want to acknowledge them. In truth, I want... To scream may be more of an honest dialogue. At least it's half... I once lost a friend and I said to another friend that there are so many poor excuses for the allotment of DNA out there, why did this good person with so much to offer have to be the one to go? My friend reminded me that this was true...surely, but the one had naught to do with the other. It's the luck of the draw he said and that reason may never be ours to know. I hate that. I hate being left out of the loop. It makes me want to scream...

stc said...

I appreciate the honesty of this post, Jack. There are no easy answers to the questions you're raising. During my teenaged years, I went through a period of yelling at God, too.

I think Coco is right to emphasize the concept of relationship. Sometimes the relationship goes smoothly, sometimes we're frustrated, disappointed, even discouraged. But the relationship is fundamental — it gives an orientation to our lives which nothing else can replace — so we stick with it.

And, on balance, our lives are richer for it.

Jack Steiner said...


I wanted to say that I have read each and everyone of your comments. I appreciate all of them.

It is a challenging thing for me, very frustrating to talk about a relationship in which I spend a good part of the time trying to figure out what the other party is doing.

treppenwitz said...

I think anonymous (above) hit it right on the head. People think that G-d doesn't answer their prayers... but He does. It is just impossible for some people to come to terms with the fact that sometimes the answer is 'no'.

I'm no expert on what G-d is, but I know He isn't a personal genie who answers our wishes without regard to how they might effect the rest of the word, the future and the past.

That was a beautiful post.

Jack Steiner said...

Hi David,

Call me presumptuous, but I would feel better if I was told no in a way that made it clear that it was no.

I figure that it cannot hurt to ask.

Kenny said...

Thank you for your welcome message on my blog. I followed your link here, and I must say, you are a very powerful writer.

I was wondering if you would mind if I linked to this blog post in my blog? I feel that your post was very powerful and I'd like to share it with others.

I won't do it unless I get a response from you.

Jack Steiner said...

Hi Kenny,

Be my guest. Thanks for coming by.

Kenny said...


treppenwitz said...

It seems to me that the death of a loved one is a fairly firm 'no'. Who am I to ask for seas parting and columns of smoke and fire just so I'm sure? No is no. We yesll at our kids for not accepting our 'nos', yet we are even more childish than they when confronted with 'nos' of the divine sort.

Jack Steiner said...

Hi David,

If we are asking that their life be spared, I suppose that the death of a loved one could be seen as a 'no' but sometimes you are not asking for that, sometimes it is a variation of that.

When my friend was dying from his bout with brain cancer an interesting thing happened. It killed his short term memory. If he looked at you and then looked away he would have no recollection of your having been there. Even if you had been there for hours, it was as if you had just arrived.

His long term memory was fine.

One of the things that I asked for was a few moments of complete lucidity so that I could tell him how I felt and make sure that he understood that not only was he loved, but that we would look after his family.

We wanted to be certain that he understood these things and while I suspect that he did I do not know.

If Avraham Avinu can beg and bicker to spare a city I feel comfortable asking for a few minutes or more.

One of the hardest things about belief is being told that it is ok, everything is fine, "you just don't understand the plan."

That works great for children, but it is far less satisfying for adults. And it only works for me for reasons that I cannot really explain, and in truth just barely.

Stacey said...

"you just don't understand the plan."

Doesn't work for me. At all.

And what bugs me more than that is the well-meaning (but so annoying) people who try to speak for G-d by saying things like he is there and does listen, etc., etc., etc., as if they are G-d's spokesperson. That really gets on my nerves.

Ben Sutherland said...

Very powerful, Jack:):):)...

I think of faith as something that gets me through times like this when my heart carries more than I think it can bear:):):)...that's the peace I've made with God:):):)....

I think it's really great, actually, Jack, that your writing about your faith can have this impact on people:):):)...

And that is the fruit of faith:):):)...


Assorted Babble by Suzie said...

I witnessed up, close, and personal a dear friend young die in front of my eyes. The three wks he was at home that a few of us took shifts with..we all battled with faith. From that sacrifice of every temptation that tried luring me away from a committment I made, it ended up that I was Blessed dearly from God. My dear friend is in heaven and is no longer in pain. It changed my life forever!

Anonymous said...

This post really hit home for me. I have no answers. I do believe G-d is big enough to take our yelling and screaming and pounding. If we can't be honest with G-d, who can we be honest with?

Jack Steiner said...

Hi Rivka,

Thanks for coming by. I appreciate your comments.

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