I watched my two-year-old son bleed from a stomach tube into a plastic grenade for 5 days. I held his limp little body in the hospital chair, careful not to push too hard on the bruises all over his middle, and I listened to him whisper that someone I loved and trusted had punched him in the stomach and beat him with a metal bat.
I know trauma.
I begged the Child Protective Services caseworkers not to put my three Jewish children into the homes of random Baltimore City foster families while they investigated our case. They listened— partially—but I still cried as they loaded my kids into their aunt’s little gold Lexus. I lost my children for six weeks, and was only able to visit them once a week for an hour in a cold city meeting room. I interviewed with police to send the bad guy to jail, I fought for my rights in court to get my kids home, and I battled with my ex for custody.
During the darkest trauma of my life, I found real emuna. I really needed Hashem. I had to believe He was in charge of all of this, or I would lose my mind completely. A mother’s nightmare was coming true. On a physical level, I could never call these circumstances anything more than a devastating tragedy. But on a spiritual level, these events were a blessing, a catalyst, a wake-up call, a knock on the door from Hashem saying: “Hey, can I please come in here for real?!”
I’m sharing my story, because my story lets me teach the lessons I learned, as someone who’s been there—not from a philosophical place, but from a life-or-death place.
An age-old question is, “Why does G-d let bad things happen if He loves us?” I’ve come up with two reasons.
Number 1: He wants to give us more abundance. We’re all vessels; some of us little teacups, some of us huge pitchers. We can only receive as much bracha as our vessel will hold, and there are two ways to increase the size of our vessel. The first is to break the old one and rebuild it. This is how G-d uses trauma. He breaks us, so He can rebuild us to hold more blessing.
The other, less painful way to increase the size of our vessel is to stretch it through gratitude. This can be so cliché or so deep. Gratitude feels better than trauma, right? We’ve got to say, “Thank You for the good—for all the good,” making it an intentional practice in our lives. Making it the antidote for trauma.
Here comes the weird part—and the hardest part: We’ve got to say, “Thank You for everything ‘bad’ too”… because Hashem is ONE. He’s bringing it all. If it’s coming to you, it’s good for you. So say Thank You! Sometimes you’ll say Thank You through your tears, and at the same time be begging Hashem for relief and for a change. This was me as I stood in front of the CPS judge and attorneys, saying, “Ein Od Milvado,” under my breath a hundred times, while waiting for the miracle of my children’s return home.
Reason Number 2 that G-d lets bad things happen when He loves us is that we need a kapparah. Again with the clichés: “It should be a kapparah.” Clichés are truths that get said so often that they lose their impact. We’ve got to force ourselves to feel their reality again. In this world, our job is to choose good over evil, to choose mitzvos over our bodily urges. We fail, we win, we fail, we win, and hopefully, we win more than we fail.
Rabbi Arush says there’s no tribulation without transgression. All of the trauma we go through, we actually deserve. Ouch! This can be so hard to hear, and it can take us to places of self-blame, guilt, anger, and despair. That’s not the place it’s supposed to take us! It’s supposed to take us to teshuva, and ultimately, closer to Hashem.
When I was crying in the Jewish Family House near the hospital, waiting to see my son, calling all of my support system to ask what I should do, Rebbetzin Tzipporah Harris asked me, “What can you do teshuva for? You’ve got to do teshuvah to lessen the judgment!” I knew immediately what I needed to do teshuva for. My trauma was an invitation to return to Hashem, and it was protecting me from greater pain in the future.
The process from trauma to joy takes time, support, effort, prayer, and more time, support, effort and prayer. If you’re in the middle of a traumatic event, there are community resources to help you. Contact your rabbi or local Jewish community organization, so that you’re not walking through it alone.
When all of your pain and trauma are telling you otherwise, please remember and believe in Hashem’s love for you. The purpose of the pain is to rebuild you for blessing and to cleanse you to draw closer to Him. Thank G-d, I can honestly say that’s what happened to me.