This is more of a “my failings” than “anything else” kind of post.
I’m not the most observant Jew, but I’d consider myself a decently-good one who tries relatively well to hew to the practices of Conservative Judaism.
For those of you who are long-time readers, you know that I’m a gabbai at my synagogue. I spend a Saturday morning, every few weeks, up on the bimah at my congregation, helping to run the Torah reading. I find it very rewarding – not perhaps as rewarding as I find reading a portion myself, but certainly involving less of my personal time at home trying to prep for participating in the service, and certainly less nerve-wracking when one bears in mind that I have extreme stage fright, even after reading Torah for nearly thirty years.
Part of being a gabbai means that I’m up there for the entire Torah reading service – from when the scrolls leave the bimah to when they’ve been dressed once again and are safely where they can’t be dropped. And, as other Jewish readers know, that means I’m on the bimah during the “Mi Sheberach”, the prayer asking for healing for the sick. It’s a prayer, and a recitation of names of those who are in need of prayer for healing, of mind, of body and of spirit…
And it’s those times where I do have my little crises of faith, mostly wondering to myself if I’m a “bad Jew” for wondering if I should ask God for healing for the Monster, and alternately feeling bad for even having the thought. Not putting him on the actual list of people in need of prayers, but adding a private one while I’m standing up there… (I’m going to sound like Tevye for a few minutes, so bear with me.)
On the one hand, it’s very selfish of me to ask God for that. He’s healthy. He’s happy. He’s whole. He’s not (ב”ה) dealing with a life-threatening or serious illness or a major injury. A lot of the people on the list are not so fortunate, and are more deserving and needing of prayers for their recovery. Much less all the people in the world who have far worse problems?
On the other hand… his Autism is a major problem for him, a hinderance that keeps him separate from other kids his own age, from other people. It’s a stumbling block in his path and it’s something that he’s going to have to deal with for the rest of his life until we find therapies to deal with the symptoms or ways to get around the additional difficulties that it puts into his finding a way in the “normal” world. Are we not supposed to remove stumbling blocks that lie in the paths of others?
On the other hand… didn’t God make him the way he is for a reason? Aren’t we all who we were meant to be, fashioned for a specific purpose even if we don’t know what that reason is? Who are we to question why we are who we are, why we’re where we are, how we are?
And still, on the other hand, is it really so wrong to ask for His help when we don’t necessarily understand how things are? What did he do – what did we do – that he has Autism, that he should have to cope with a world not really built for him, or vice versa?
(And yes, believe me, when you’ve done the gabbai thing for more than a few times, you have enough time for all this to go through your head, and still time enough to guilt yourself on both sides of the equation.)
A coworker asked me yesterday about faith, regarding her own issues with questions about things in her own faith that she’s having trouble accepting on the face of it, and that brought me back to this, which I’ve had rattling around in my head since doing the gabbai thing on this past Shabbos. It’s the question of how one accepts, and embraces, beliefs when there is not only a lack of proof, but plenty of additional questions that make you wonder about a lot of other, related things. If one thing could be potentially untrue, or seems like it’s contradictory, and you pull on that thread, how far does the tapestry unwind?
I suppose for me, it boils down to a simple question – do I believe in a God who would “inflict” Autism on people, and do I have the right to ask Him to change it? Does asking Him to correct something He’s done make me a bad Jew or a lack of faith, if also making me a good father for watching out for my kids?
What might be weirdest is that it’s never shaken my faith.
I’m not a person who believes that “God never gives you something you can’t handle.” I’m not a believer in the (frankly stupid) trope that “God gives special children to special people.” I don’t see any parent of a child with disabilities as a modern-day Job or as being closer to Him for the trials we’re put through daily in the name of trying to help our kids. Nor do I think it makes me a better person – a more patient one, perhaps, but not better.
I’ve also come, over time, to the conclusion that there’s nothing wrong with asking. As children, we ask our parents for a lot of things that we know that we won’t necessarily get – a pony, a toy, a sleep-over, a trip, the car of our dreams, the reach school out of our college applications. And if God sees us as children, there is nothing wrong with asking – it doesn’t make us bad, willful or indulgent “children”, as long as we understand that sometimes, indeed often, the answer may be “no”.
And just because God made him that way, doesn’t mean I’m ungrateful or a bad Jew for asking for Him to “help” things along. We always say that God helps those who help themselves… and we’re doing what we can for him. Who knows?
I still believe.
I still believe that there is a God who hears my prayers, even if He doesn’t always answer them.
I still believe that He sees that we’re doing all that we can think of, all that we can reasonably afford and all that we’re capable of, to help the Monster around the stumbling block in his path that is his Autism, but that it is a very, very big block in the midst of a very, very narrow path.
And I still believe that He understands when I say a Mi Sheberach for my son – my healthy, funny, wonderful son – that I mean only for the best, that I’m not being ungrateful for the gift that he is, but that maybe, just maybe, we could use a little bit of help that only He can give.
I’m not really asking, in the end, for a miracle, am I? And if I were, even just for a little one… would that be such a bad thing?