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Rabbanit Rachelle Fraenkel: How Can God be Found After Trauma?

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SUMMARY

In this episode of the 18Forty Podcast, we sit down with Rabbanit Rachelle Fraenkel—speaker, educator, and yoetzet halacha— about the effects of tragedy on emunah.

In 2014, Rabbanit Rachelle Fraenkel’s son Naftali was kidnapped and murdered in a tragic terror attack. The week before the world learned of his fate was sad but hopeful, leaving many feeling crushed by the outcome. Despite this impossible situation, Rachelle was lauded as displaying emunah, faith, in Hashem, remaining optimistic but devoid of expectation.

  • How did or didn’t Rachelle’s tragedy impact her emunah in God?
  • What expectations can people have of God when they pray?
  • What expectations can people not have of themselves when they pray?
  • What should our relationship with God be during difficult times?
  • And how should we console those who are themselves going through difficult times?

Tune in to hear Rachelle talk about emunah in the face of tragedy, and how one can blend optimism and realism.

References:
Yosl Rakover Talks to God by Zvi Kolitz
The Blessing of a Broken Heart by Sherri Mandell

Scholarly Mentions:
Emmanuel Levinas

Rabbanit Rachelle Fraenkel is a teacher of Torah at Nishmat and the director of Matan’s Hilchata Institute. After her son Naftali was kidnapped and killed along with Gilad Sha’er and Eyal Yifrah in 2014, Rachelle became an international speaker and teacher. Rachelle speaks from the sharpest edges of human experience and her words are marked by a deep wisdom. Listen to Rachelle to hear from a profoundly learned and experienced teacher of Torah and life.

David Bashevkin:

Hello and welcome to the 18Forty Podcast, where each month we explore a different topic, balancing modern sensibilities with traditional sensitivities to give you new approaches to timeless Jewish ideas. I’m your host, David Bashevkin, and this month we’re exploring a big topic: God. This podcast is part of a larger exploration of those big, juicy, Jewish ideas, so be sure to check out 18Forty.org, which I would be remiss if I didn’t mention has been completely redesigned. So even if you checked it out a while ago, check it out again now. You could find over there videos, articles, and recommended readings.

For better or for worse, the first time that most people think about God in a serious way, for the first time, is not when their life is going great, when they have joy, simcha, everything is aligning, job promotions, getting married. The first time for many people, and I guess I don’t want to speak for anybody else, but the first time for myself, I think, that I seriously thought about God was when things did not work out the way that I wanted, or something in my life turned out not what I had expected, what I had prayed for, what I had wished for. There’s a moment where you feel absolutely bereft. Where God, who I guess growing up as a kid, you looked at as somebody who would navigate the narrative of your life, the captain of the ship who’s steering the narrative of your life and making sure that you wind up in a place, at the very least, that you hope for, that was the best for you.

And the first time that you have to confront something that is outside of your control, that you prayed would get better, that you hoped would get better, that you hoped would be different, that you hoped it wouldn’t turn out that way, and yet it did and now you’re stuck with it… A lot of people, and I know for myself, and I’m thinking on a personal level, I’ve mentioned this a thousand and one times. And people even came up to me and said afterwards, “Get over it. It’s not that big of a deal.” I know it’s not a big deal, but it was the first introduction to that world of confronting something that is out of your control. It was when I was a teenager and my hair started turning white. I remember, I was 16 years old. I was popular. I was arguably good-looking. You could look at pictures of me in high school, you could decide for yourself. I was a good-looking, popular kid, and all of a sudden, I’m now signed up that I’m going to look different, that I’m going to appear different at the surface. I was panicked, and for me, above everything else, this was not only an emotional, anxiety issue, it was a theological dilemma. I called out, I said, “God,” like, “no thank you. I don’t want this.”

I remember later on I still had that mentality when I started dating. Lord knows my dating life did not go quite as planned, though it certainly went and ended according to plan, but I had many years where I was bereft. I had people that I thought, for sure, I’m going to end up marrying this person. When you get a no and it’s not how it works out, you feel bereft. You feel like, isn’t that the end of my story? Isn’t that how all my loose ends are going to be tied up? You turn to camera almost, as if your life is this grand play, and you turn to face the audience, and you’re like looking at the director, and you’re like, “I don’t want to read these lines in the script. I don’t want to confront the reality of where my life winded up.” And for myself, and I don’t think I’m alone in this, the first time you think about, “What does it mean that there’s a God in the world?,” it’s not when things work out, it’s not when your prayers, so to speak, are answered: it’s when something turns out that was not according to plan and you need to confront, so what does this notion of God even mean if I don’t get what I want? Not only I don’t get what I want, I’m not closing my eyes and asking for a luxury vehicle. I know that doesn’t work, but at the very least, the course of my life, I didn’t sign up for this. I didn’t sign up for this. I’m not asking for luxuries, I’m not asking for wealth. But this? This I didn’t sign up for. And if there is a God in the world, how could this be a part of my narrative? How could this be a part of my story?

You end up with this feeling of being absolutely bereft, not knowing where to turn next, because you turned to God and you didn’t get the answer, or maybe, in your mind, you didn’t get an answer: silence. And in those moments, I think you start to contend with what does it even mean to believe in God.

On the flip side, when things don’t work out and you have to grasp the reality of what it means to be alive, and part of being alive and part of being in this world is not getting what you want. There are people who have to deal with almost what seems insurmountable challenges in their own life, and part of being alive is learning how to contend with what is outside of your control, and learning how to contend, react, integrate those moments where many people feel bereft, and figuring out how to create that relationship. And in those very moments, there’s also something else that’s created very often: a tenderness, a vulnerability, a humbleness in that no matter how smart I am, no matter how accomplished I may be, there are things in my life that are outside of my control. For some people, that brings them directly to God in those moments. There are some people who it doesn’t turn them in that direction. But I do think that, even in those moments, where you’re contending with what that notion of God even means, one thing that emerges from those moments, whether or not there is a God in your life, in the lives of the listeners or anybody in those moments, there is a tenderness created. There is that sense of humbleness, of like, “Wow, this is what it means to be alive.”

I think very often of that tenderness, of that vulnerability, of the way Rabbi Soloveitchik spoke – Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, the great rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva University, the great educator who described himself as a teacher of children. An unparalleled intellect, a very discerning analytical mind – who describes when his wife was sick in the hospital, who describes his ability and his inability to be able to engage in dialogue, to reach out to God, while he was in the hospital. This is what Rabbi Soloveitchik writes, I’m quoting: “However, I could not pray in the hospital. Somehow, I could not find God in the whitewashed, long corridors among the interns and the nurses. However, the need for prayer was great. I could not live without gratifying this need. The moment I returned home, I would rush to my room, fall on my knees, and pray fervently. God, in those moments, appeared not as an exalted, majestic king, but rather as a humble, close friend, brother, father in such moments of black despair. He was not far from me. He was right there in the dark room. I felt his warm hand – kaviyachol, as if – on my shoulder. I hugged his knees kaviyachol. He was with me in the narrow confines of a small room taking up no space at all.”

This has always resonated with me, that even in those moments, where God seems most distant, there is at least a vulnerability that it creates that allows us to reach out to something. We want to know that there’s some sense in our lives and in this world. It reminds me of this beautiful quote, which I actually have in my book. I’m not certain it’s an actual historic quote, but I did see it in the name of Abraham Lincoln, and a quote that actually has resonated with me ever since I first saw it, and that’s why I included it. Abraham Lincoln said, “I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.” I think that’s a little bit about what this conversation with Rabbanit Rachelle Fraenkel is about today. It’s about contending with those moments where God feels most bereft and feels most distant, and how to create a relationship with the God in moments when the very notion of God seems preposterous, when you’re dealing with a tragedy.

For those who may not know or may not remember, Rachelle Fraenkel, Rabbanit Rachelle Fraenkel, lost her son, Naftali, in 2014 during a terrorist attack. Her son was kidnapped and killed. When I first reached out to her and said “I want to talk to you a little bit, because if you lived through that situation, and you lived through that story,” again, it was her child and a very private moment, but all of the Jewish people, if you remember, got together, and they were praying, and they were doing extra acts of kindness, and trying to be more careful with Shabbos, and all sorts of stuff were happening. We didn’t want to get a no from God, and we didn’t want to be let down, so to speak. I remember myself in those moments being like, “I hope this ends well, because otherwise there are going to be a lot of very disappointed people.” And sadly, it did not end well, and we speak about that disappointment. When I first called up Rachelle Fraenkel and I asked her, “I want you to talk about God, about emunah,” her reaction was no. She said, “That’s not really what I talk about. It’s not how I conceptualize it.” She is a scholar and an educator, and she’s not here to give quick sound bites on some quick dose of inspiration.

I think that’s why the conversation resonated so much with me. It is a deeply emotional conversation, but it is also grounded in scholarship and rich thought. It was not the conversation that I thought I would have, and I actually walked away so much more moved, and just with a deep esteem for how she has kept her own life narrative and her very notion of God intact after emerging from such a tragedy. Nobody should ever, ever, ever, ever have to experience the loss to bury a child. She buried a child under the most obscene circumstances. And to emerge from that and still be able to look at the world the way she did, I wanted to understand, what is happening? What does God mean for you if you’re able to still look at the world in the way that she does? I was so deeply moved. I think I’ve said this before: I average about a cry a year, maybe. The times when I feel most tender and most vulnerable, I think during Covid and the pandemic, maybe it’s bumped up a little bit, three times a year. It’s not a lot. I am a deeply emotional person. It takes a lot to get me to cry. I think erev Yom Kippur is the time… Not even on Yom Kippur, but right before, the day before Yom Kippur is usually when I’m most emotional. And I was fighting back tears at the very end of this. The way she weaves together her own emotional honesty with substance and scholarship, I found, resonated with me in the deepest way, and I hope it resonates with you as well. Without further ado, my conversation with Rabbanite Rachelle Fraenkel.

Hello, and welcome to the 18Forty Podcast. It is a distinct privilege today to be speaking with Rachelle Fraenkel, who for so much of the Jewish people served as a source of comfort, inspiration, and is a beacon of thought for so many people, having been through what she’s been through. In 2014, as so many people remember, in that summer, in that very tragic summer, her son, Naftali, along with Gilad and Eyal were three boys who were captured and, all of the Jewish people came together to pray on their behalf. Unfortunately the story, as we will discuss did not end the way that our tefillos, the way that the collective Jewish people hoped it would end, which is why I’m speaking with her today, because when we think about a relationship with God and the existence of God, I think throughout all of Jewish history and philosophy, the biggest question, the most difficult question, is the existence of evil and tragedy in the world. So to speak with somebody who has been through that, who is an educator, who is an outspoken voice on this, it is our distinct privilege to have Rachelle Fraenkel with us today.

Rachelle Fraenkel:

Shalom. It’s my privilege, and I won’t argue, but your introduction was way too much.

David Bashevkin:

Too much.

Rachelle Fraenkel:

Yeah, too much.

David Bashevkin:

I hope it’s okay. How would you like me to to refer to you?

Rachelle Fraenkel:

Rachelle is just right.

David Bashevkin:

Is just right, okay. Whatever you’re most comfortable with.

Rachelle Fraenkel:

I mean, I’m Israeli.

David Bashevkin:

Okay. So the formalities is too much.

Rachelle Fraenkel:

Right.

David Bashevkin:

It’s already too much. Okay. So I wanted to begin with the head-on question, and it’s really interesting, and I’ll say it to my listeners from the get-go. When I first reached out to you and said, “We’d love for you to come on and talk about emunah, talk about faith in God,” your initial reaction was somewhat hesitant. You pretty much told me explicitly, “I don’t know that I’m the right person to talk about this. Maybe I could begin with that question, if you’re comfortable talking about it. Why were you so hesitant to be a voice on this subject?

Rachelle Fraenkel:

I don’t do that stuff. My fields that I deal with most of the time, I teach Talmud, I teach Halakah. I deal somewhat with Jewish thought. But many times, when people are looking for some conversation on faith itself, they’re looking for the kind of thing I don’t necessarily feel I can provide. And it’s for a variety of reasons. One of them is because my train of thought tends to be very rationalistic, and when people look for spirituality, they often look for the kind of inspiration that I don’t necessarily… I mean, maybe it’s there, but I don’t necessarily feel I convey it.

A lot of the things I do tend to be grounded either in Jewish text or in an existential take on things. Meaning, one might ask about evil in the world, and my tendency would be, “How could we be out there with someone experiencing evil? How could we be there for them? What could we expect to happen? How can we reach out?” So I’m sure there are other people that are more into discussing either the philosophy of the spirituality of faith or faith itself. I’d say that in those days that you mentioned six years ago, one of the things that surprised me was, for a couple of times we walked out of our home and spoke to the many journalists that were here, it was like Big Brother’s house. And the feedback that I got was, “You spoke in such emunah.” And I felt I didn’t say a word about emunah. One of the things I learned was, it’s not always the words you say, it’s something about, I don’t know, other stuff that’s going on, but it’s not necessarily your train of reasoning or whatever.

David Bashevkin:

Exactly. For me, the reason why you came, and I’ll explain it, I think that people just seeing you intact, people seeing you for externally… Nobody knows what goes on inside of a person’s life, but you stepping out and even being able to speak, I remember watching myself, felt like an act of emunah, being able to even talk to the Jewish people. So maybe we’ll start with a broader question. Again, the backdrop of so much of our discussion is the tragic events that you went through and how you navigated that. But maybe we could begin with a question that isn’t directly anchored in that, though obviously that’s in the background. One of the most serious issues, as I mentioned, with people’s belief with God is being able to believe in a God with a world, inside of a world, where they see so much tragedy, pain, evil. Given what you’ve experienced, how would you approach that question? How do you approach the question, what’s formulated in the Gemara, in Talmud, in Masechtas Brachos of “tzadik v’ra lo,” of how can you be a decent person and have to experience such tragedy? Now, obviously, the Talmud says Moshe wasn’t given the answer to this, but I’m curious how you approach that question.

Rachelle Fraenkel:

First I must say: when you use the phrase “given what you went through,” so on a very, very personal tone, we went through something very painful, and our loss is very painful, but the world is full of people that suffer, and my core experience, or my core intuition of the world is that we’re blessed. Saying something general like “what you guys went through,” really, our lives are full of blessings. I’m not saying anything about your life or somebody else’s life. There’s a terrible wound there, and there’s a terrible loss, and there’s a lot of things I wish could have gone differently. But there’s something about the core experience of being blessed that changes the whole perspective. And here again, you see I’m going to… Maybe I’m running away to the experiential side of this, saying when I photograph reality, I can close the frame, focusing on the pain, and that’s definitely possible. And I can also choose to take this photograph with a wide lens. It’s right there. It’s not going anywhere, but in comes everything else. In comes all the wonders and the plans and the successes and the disappointments and the whole array of experiences. So for me, I’m not even starting to answer what you said, but just as a beginner, my mantra is, “I can feel pain. I don’t have to become my pain.” So in my inner landscape, and in my life experience, there’s so much more. So that’s just something I had to put out here.

Now, regarding the things you’re saying, of course. I’ll say, you were pointing to the that section in Brachot. So there’s a dispute there between Reb Yochanan and Reb Meir about things that Moshe Rabbeinu asked to get, and one of them was, show me your ways. Tell me how this thing runs here. How come all the good guys get the bad stuff, and exactly like you said. And there there is a machlokes. One opinion says that it was just a gap in information, Reb Yochanan, and once Moshe Rabbeinu asked to know more, he was shown the greater picture. And once he was aware of all the details, now he understood. And Reb Meir says there, “No, by definition it’s out of your league.” He didn’t say it in so many words, but he said, “He got to request the third one he never got.” There, it’s a sense of, it’s not a matter of a gap of information. It’s way beyond you. Interestingly, this machlokes is brought up in – machlokes is a dispute – this dispute is brought up in a tiny footnote on Rav Soloveitchik’s work Kol Dodi Dofek, where he deals with the evil in the world. He says, it’s a tiny footnote, and he describes this and he says, “Well, the Rambam, Maimonides, he paskened like Reb Yochanan.” As if you have to pasken on such things, you have to decide who’s right. It’s going to make a difference tomorrow. There, very subtly, he doesn’t say a word, but the next pages convey the fact that he, against Reb Yochanan and against Maimonides, he thinks Reb Meir is right.

He thinks there’s no use spending your energy on why and how and those questions, not even put in the sense of, why was something sent to me, to what goal was it sent, all that. It’s more about, “Okay, so what am I going to do with my life?” He sends us off that track altogether. I must say that it doesn’t mean that the question shouldn’t be asked or cried out or yelled out. I think throughout our Neviim, you said, that the Bible is full of it. Chabakuk, Yirmiya, Moshe, Avraham, they all yell out to Hashem and say, “How could you do this?” Basically, that means that it’s all very, very legitimate. It’s a legitimate conversation. It just doesn’t mean that we’re going to get the answers.

David Bashevkin:

So let me ask you, you mentioned this yourself. You have this intuition that you come in with it to see blessing. To me, listening to you speak, it sounds like that intuition predates the summer of 2014, predates any loss. Allow me to ask, what do you attribute your ability to cultivate that intuition, of seeing that type of blessing in the world? Correct me if I’m wrong. I assume it’s not just a footnote in Kol Dodi Dofek. How would you attribute the perspective that you have in the way that you process the world?

Rachelle Fraenkel:

I don’t know. It’s definitely not a footnote in Kol Dodi Dofek because I don’t think that Rav Soloveitchik’s view of the world went that way at all. Sometimes here in Israel, when we compare Rav Soloveitchik with Rav Kook, it seems like there’s the optimist and the pessimist there. Someone with…

David Bashevkin:

More morose.

Rachelle Fraenkel:

Right, more morose. I’ll go back to the personal stuff, but there in Kol Dodi Dofek, one of the things that he says is, in Judaism, don’t try to fool yourself and say that it’s all good. We’re not pretending that there’s no evil and there’s no suffering; on the contrary, Judaism acknowledges that. He’s just saying there are things that are worth spending your your energy on while you’re suffering, and there are things that are just futile. I once spoke to Rav Adin Steinsaltz, who we lost this year. He said, when we pray, we say “Oseh shalom u’boreh et hakol,” that God creates peace and he creates everything. And that’s just politically correct, that’s an Adin Steinsaltz way to say things. For the original verse in Isaiah that says that “Oseh shalom u’boreh ra,” that God creates peace, but also, somehow, for some reason, we might not really understand. Also, creates evil. Also, is in charge of death.

It’s part of the way we perceive reality. We’re not denying that. The reason I’m saying it is, a lot of the… Again, going back to to the text we mentioned. The metaphysical answers that try to fix it all up, “It all evens out in olam habah,” whatever it is, all kinds of answers, some of them are a way to say, “We don’t get it, but really it’s all good.” I think it’s difficult to to approach a person suffering and tell them, “What you think is suffering is not really suffering, really it’s just a disguise for something else. It will all even up in the end.” I think, at least from our very narrow perspective, and it is narrow, at a certain point in time, bad is bad and suffering is suffering. You ask about what is the…

David Bashevkin:

That intuition.

Rachelle Fraenkel:

Yeah. I can say, I’m just very… I was about to say “privileged,” but it became a very bad word.

David Bashevkin:

PC word, yeah, let’s stay away from “privileged”.

Rachelle Fraenkel:

But really very blessed.

David Bashevkin:

I mean, did you always have this… Would you say it’s a function of your personality, of your upbringing, of the type of thought you were drawn to, books that you were… I’m just curious. If somebody were to ask you, “How would you teach somebody to have the disposition you have, to be able to see bless…” Would you say that you can’t teach this stuff, or would you say, meaning…

Rachelle Fraenkel:

No, I mean I would say all the above, but really, the way I experience things, it’s factual. It’s not even a perspective. But I would say that if I would have to gift a tool to someone, it’s trying – and of course there are times for everything. There are times to dwell in pain and there are times to weep. It’s not a matter of suppression; on the contrary. It’s giving grief and pain. It’s proper place in life. But beyond those periods or those moments, really, to me, it’s that wide lens. It’s being able to say, in my inner landscape, there’s so many colors. It’s not like taking one bucket of paint and spilling it all over my life. It’s trying to walk back and make the frame larger. I think there’s some Zen Buddhist proverb of, “if there’s a cup of salt, or a handful of salt, you can put it in a cup of water and you can’t stand it. You can put it in a sea, and say that it’s still there.” But you become a sea, you let your life experience expand. You don’t get this tunnel vision that only sees the bitter and the bad, and that doesn’t say not to give it the proper attention. It doesn’t mean… Everybody and the losses in their life, that the loss in my life doesn’t pain me. It definitely does.

But somehow, after a while it manages not to shadow all the good stuff. And there’s so much good stuff. There’s good stuff before, there’s good stuff now. There’s family, there’s a wonderful profession, there’s living in Eretz Yisrael, there’s being part of the Jewish people. There was so much good around the tragedy as it went on. It has to do with the way a person’s personality is built, and everybody has their advantages and disadvantages. But I think there’s some tools that could be practiced.

David Bashevkin:

So maybe you could tell me, and I’ll begin with this. You have this disposition. You have this wonderful intuition. How would you characterize, if at all, the way your relationship with God, your conception of God, was affected or transformed, if at all, following the loss of your son?

Rachelle Fraenkel:

Let’s see. I’ll take it a few ways, okay? About a year after it all happened, we had this piece with BBC and we spent a couple of days with the journalists. I remember it was many hours, I don’t remember exactly. And then in the end of the time, after we spoke, and spoke, and spoke, the journalist turns to my husband and he says, “Well, going through this ordeal together, did you learn anything new about your wife?” And my husband says, “Hmm, nah.” And the truth is, we come who we are into the relationship and nothing changes dramatically in our personalities within two weeks.

I mean, people are constantly evolving, but first of all, I feel like saying that, that in a way, ke’ilu, as if nothing changed. But in many other ways, of course it does. I feel like in movies that they show you the person who’s very sick and he’s connected to the monitor, and it goes up and down and up and down. It only becomes a straight line when the patient is dead. So there’s something about being alive, having a dynamic relationship with God, and it changes all the time, and sometimes you feel very close, and sometimes you feel dependent, and sometimes you feel totally estranged or you have doubts in the very idea. I can say about myself that I’ve been everywhere, all over the place. If there’s one thing I learned over the years it’s not to panic. Even if I would have, in Hebrew you say “sfekot,” doubts, in my feeling Hakadosh Baruch Hu is waiting for me around the corner until I come around. Sometimes I feel very close and sometimes I feel more estranged. And it’s okay. It’s okay. It’s part of being alive. It’s part of having a true relationship.

Also – how should I put this? In that experience, for me it was mostly about feeling very, very vulnerable, and fragile, and exposed, and those feelings brought me closer, brought me to feel very dependent. The proportions of who am I and who runs the show and how little control I have over the things I want to control. Davka going through that experience for me wasn’t something that pushed me away, but something that, it’s like dealing with the life and death things of the real material that life is made out of. Most of the time, we’re covered, we’re pampered. There’s a poem in [inaudible], he says, he talks about the death and he says, “My paddings are falling apart, and suddenly my mortality is showing, it’s peeking.” And something about such experiences, it doesn’t necessarily push you away. Sometimes letting yourself feel so vulnerable brings you closer. It doesn’t necessarily have to be that. If I take the perspective of walking someone else through hardship, you’re the mentor, you’re the friend, you’re the parent, you’re whatever. And you want to have all the answers, but you don’t have the answers. So it’s more about being with them, and experiencing all kinds of things.

But one of the things you might experience is that the person that’s going through things is going to go through changes in their faith, and it would be naive to think otherwise. I mean, it doesn’t have to happen, but often it does. I’m thinking of this piece by Levinas, the French philosopher. There’s a piece of fiction that’s called The Letter of Yosl Rakover to God. It’s as if it’s written in, it was found in the ghetto after the war, and Levinas says about it, “I just read something fictional that could be so true only like a story could be.” Sometimes the story can only bring out truths that, if it was just a report, you wouldn’t get. And then he starts speaking about this dialogue that the person has with God, and he says to the effect of, I’m not quoting him, why would you expect that people would keep their image of God? They grew to become adults, and they’re in university, and I don’t know, neurosurgeons. But their image of God stayed in kindergarten. It gives out prizes, it sometimes slaps you on your hand. Something very, very primitive.

Things develop, things change. You go through things, and your image of God develops too. And he describes it as, there might be a stop on the way that’s called atheism. It’s also somewhere on the trail, but it’s not the final step. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the final step. Again, running back to this comfortable… It’s not comfortable at all, but the easier place of being the person who walks someone else through processes. I would say just be there for them. Don’t panic because they’re experiencing thoughts about faith, about belief, about God. Be there for them, and it makes so much sense. It would be so naive to think that nothing would happen. So that’s one of the things.

Another is, again, I remember after the shiva, I got a phone call. There was this young lady, and she said, “Everybody, I was so involved. I was praying. I went to rallies. Now, I’m so angry at Hakadosh Baruch Hu. Somebody told me to call you.” I said, okay great, I have to solve your problems too. But I did tell her what I think many, many people would have chosen to say, and that is that it’s a relationship. If you’re angry, go ahead, be angry. Can you even pretend otherwise? Can you fake it? If you’re angry at God, can you hide it? Go ahead, express it. Hopefully, you pray for people not to be stuck in places like anger, because it’s not constructive. It sometimes could be a poison for your soul. But it doesn’t mean that if this is what you’re experiencing, you should be angry at yourself. I have so many times met people that consider themselves believers. And believers is not observant, it’s two different things. Some are this and not that, some are the other. Not only did they experience something very painful, whatever it is, and not only do they experience anger, that’s a very difficult emotion to experience; they’re also upset and disappointed with themselves. “Why am I angry? I’m a believer. I should be saying that “hakol letova,” it’s all for the better. I should be accepting everything as it comes.”

First of all, I’m upset that they hurt themselves more than they were even hurt to begin with, but the idea is that, I think even there’s a Hasidic thinker that expressed it in a specific way, he says, “If you believe that there’s someone running the show, so you have someone to be angry at. You have someone to yell at. You have proper expectations. If you think that it’s all arbitrary, you can be bitter, but who are you going to be angry at? Why this?” So sometimes it’s davka the believer that has the legitimate reason to be angry. And again, if you’re the person who’s experiencing it, go ahead. Express it. You’re angry. Say you’re angry. Pray it all out. If you’re the person next to the person that’s angry, sometimes it’s so scary to see someone consumed by anger. All we can do is contain them, say to them, “You’re safe with me, and I’m not running away because you’re changing on me. I’m not going to say to you, ‘Sha, everything’s okay.’ It’s not okay. I’m not going to tell you that it’s awful that you’re angry and you shouldn’t… No. I’m here for you. I’m your friend. I’m listening. I might argue with you here and there…” All that said, for me it wasn’t a good choice. For me it was sending my… Especially in these times where your energy is very limited, you’re like learning how to breathe again and you’re learning how to run your life again. And again, losing a child is a bad thing, but people experience all kinds of pains and losses and suffering in hard patches in their life.

For me, at that time, I wanted to channel my energies to places where trying to build a happy, healthy life for myself and for my kids. And I’m not ashamed to say it. Saying to my kids, “If there’s any joy out there in the neighborhood, we’re opening our metaphorical windows and doors.” Let it come in. So for me anger wasn’t a good choice, but I don’t have any insurance policy. Maybe tomorrow morning, I’ll be at… Well, after the shutdown is over, but I’ll be in a wedding of a classmate of Naftali, and maybe I’ll feel this wave of rage coming. I’ll have to deal with it if it comes. So there’s that, there’s belief, there’s anger. What else comes up?

David Bashevkin:

Can I…

Rachelle Fraenkel:

Yeah, go ahead.

David Bashevkin:

I grew up in a home where definitely the existence of tragedy was a very real presence. Thank God not inside our home, but I grew up in a home where my father is a hematologist oncologist. He takes care of cancer. So it was something that we spoke about and used to. I found for myself that even growing up in a home watching people go through this and preserve their faith, I personally, David, was ill-equipped to deal with the small… I would almost call them inconveniences, when we’re sitting next to each other screen to screen. I’ll tell you for myself, and I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit more about this, though you’ve already touched on it. I think my relationship with davening went through a big transition when I was dating, that when I started dating, and I dated forever, and it was a very difficult experience. I knew it was going to be terrible the moment it started. And I remember when it first started, I was in a more Yeshivish place, I was in Ner Yisroel in Baltimore.

So when it first started, my davening, I thought, “This is going to bring the answer.” And I would daven before dates. I would daven before calls with shadchanim, saying, “If I say enough tehillim, it’s going to come out right.” And after one year, two years, three years, eventually I had to reorient my relationship of what I was doing when I was davening. And I’m wondering on a much… I would almost say lehavdil, to make the largest distinction, the Jewish people, and you on a very personal level, went through a traumatic experience. Again, what I went through I would barely call an inconvenience while talking to you, but it reoriented the way that I have to relate, what am I doing here right now? And I’m wondering, after a summer when all of the Jewish people, we had Tehillim rallies. We had everything. We’ll bring in Shabbos early and light candles and this and that. Did you reorient, or maybe it never… It was always different. Did you reorient your relationship to what are you thinking about when you’re saying, whether it’s Tehillim or davening, or doing anything that we do in the merit of something? Somebody’s sick. Here’s a name. Let’s everybody daven. You went through something where the conclusion, after our collective national efforts, everybody was together on this, and still you saw it ended with disappointment. So I’m wondering if you have the strength, capacity to talk a little bit about, was there a reorientation?

Rachelle Fraenkel:

Okay. So first of all, you left me curious about, so what did happen to your prayer as the years went by?

David Bashevkin:

Thank God, I am extraordinarily happily married with children, and I am –

Rachelle Fraenkel:

Baruch Hashem, but that’s not the question. The question is what changed in your prayer?

David Bashevkin:

I think for me, prayer became less about fulfillment of specific needs, and became more about capacity, about developing spiritual capacity to be in the moments that I am. That’s what it personally meant for me. It was much less about, I need x, y, and z, because in all honesty, I do have a little bit of a cynicism. I’m like, who says I’m going to get a yes for any of these things? Don’t get disappointed, David. Use davening and tefillah as a moment to stretch your spiritual capacity. That’s what it became for me.

Rachelle Fraenkel:

Right, okay, wonderful. That was worth bothering you about. I’m going to take that with me. To me, first of all, I never in my life… I told you, one of the reasons… Say you wouldn’t, when we originally started corresponding, say you would say, not let’s speak about emunah, you would say, let’s speak about prayer. I would probably answer you a similar answer, that I’m not sure I’m the person you want speaking to you about prayer. Why? Because often, people search for a certain kind of spirituality that tends to tell you that prayer can change anything, and that people get what they pray for, etc etc. Again, from the same source of… And you said cynicism, and I say rationality, but the problem with rationality is that it sometimes tends to cynicism. And cynicism is sometimes a poison in our life. We have to protect ourselves from it. But rationality is a power. So it’s somewhere there. And often I find that I’m not necessarily the right person to speak about prayer, and not because of the events of 2014, because of the way I perceive it. That doesn’t work for many of these… Of course it depends who’s speaking to you, etc.

Never in my life did I consider prayer as some kind of cash machine. You put in tehillim, you get what you want. It wasn’t in my jargon at all. On the contrary, when I realized that the whole world was praying, on the one hand, I was very appreciative, and it gave us tremendous support and power and this feeling of, the whole Jewish world is hugging you in your difficult moment. And there’s nobody that knows how to hug like the Jewish world. So that was totally unbelievable. But I also started becoming very afraid. In Masechet Brachot there is the concept of iyun tefillah. And iyun tefillah could mean kavana and the good stuff, you mean the words, etc. It’s also something you’re not allowed to do. It’s when you hyper focus on your prayer, and it’s as if you’re saying to Hakadosh Baruch Hu, you must do what I’m asking because millions of people are praying for it. It’s like Choni Hamagil. I’m not moving from here until –

I’m a person who’s not Choni. You’re not allowed to pray like that. All you can do is ask. Personally, I feel like Hakadosh Baruch Hu doesn’t owe me anything. And even though he doesn’t owe me anything, I’m showered and blessed with so many blessings. So while those days were going on, I was becoming scared, because I was born in Israel, and I’ve seen things happen. Nachshon Wachsman was kidnapped and the whole world was praying for him, and a week later he was killed in operation. I remember his father was quoted –

David Bashevkin:

I remember that.

Rachelle Fraenkel:

His father was quoted as saying, “You ask your father for things, your father is allowed to say no.” Just a few years ago, around the disengagement in Gaza, there were many, many, many, many, many people that were praying with that state of mind of “hayo lo yihye,” our prayer is going to change the world. Some of them were devastated afterwards. I was becoming scared that some of this might be going out on… We had kindergarten children learning torah outside our house. Then, while the search was going on, and I was actually very, very optimistic. I mean, I was working on on saying that this might take a long time, this is not easy, but I was hopeful. What can I say? Hopeful means that there’s a reasonable chance. Maybe it’s 30%, but it’s not like winning the lottery. In that time, President Obama was president, and Shimon Peres was president in Israel, and he was traveling, Naftali was an American citizen, whatever. There was a whole story there why we went to Peres to ask him, to ask Obama, to try to do something. And on the way back, we stopped in the kotel, and this group of kids ran over to me.

I’m saying this davka because it happened while everything was going on. We didn’t know the final answers, and we were very, very hopeful and optimistic. We were hoping that it’s just a matter of a few days until the kids come home. When the children in the kotel ran over and they said, “We’re praying, and we’re giving tzedakka, and everything’s going to be okay.” So apparently I said to them, I don’t remember, I have some memory of it, but I saw it because it became viral, but somebody was taking a picture and you can see me say, “Just in case something bad happens, we should remember that God doesn’t work for us. God isn’t our employee.” Somehow this sentence, because it was said while everything was –

David Bashevkin:

In the middle.

Rachelle Fraenkel:

In the middle, it became viral, and it started a discussion about how we relate to prayer, and why people pray, and what they think should happen when they… etc. And to me, it was one of those moments that was a very, very private moment, but looking back, it’s a discussion worth having. There are two things going on here. One is, I identify with what you say, about developing my spirituality and developing my capacity. And mostly about a connection, amidah as standing before God, as acknowledging I’m a creature that was created by a God, and I have a relationship to that God. It’s not necessarily about getting everything I ask for. It’s a lot about changing myself towards the places I want to get to. It’s a lot about connecting. It’s about giving thanks. It’s about gratitude. It’s acknowledging everything that should be in my consciousness, and and doing it with the connection to to a living God. But it doesn’t mean that God has to fulfill everything I wish for. The other part of it has to do, not necessarily only with the issue of tefillah, of prayer, but with the whole concept of bitachon and what you do about it in the world.

Things are not only about what we pray for, it’s about what we do about them. And I think I can think about two biblical things that come to mind. One is Jonathan going to fight the Plishtim, and he says, I’m trying to recall the pasuk, but it’s, “Ulai ya’aseh Hashem lanu, ki en la-Hashem ma’atzor l’hoshia b’rav o’bim’at.” Maybe Hashem would hear and work on our behalf, because Hashem could do anything, nothing could stop, and these two issues together, meaning, on the one hand, Hashem could flip reality. On the other hand, it’s not like we’re assured that he’ll do that. It’s not like we have it in our pocket. Not at all. Ulai, ulai, perhaps Hashem will choose to interfere. And the third part that’s very essential here is, anything is possible, and some of the reason we pray is because anything is possible. Perhaps, maybe, someone will interfere, Hashem will interfere on our behalf. But the third part is, and hence we’re going to get up and do stuff in the real world, because even in situations of doubt, the right answer is to go ahead and operate, and do, and try.

Bitachon means that whatever comes, eventually it comes from Hashem, from nowhere else. But the Jewish message is that you have to do what you can, and perhaps Hashem will be on your side. Perhaps it will work. It doesn’t only stay in the arena of prayer. It also translates itself to what you choose to do. I mentioned Rav Steinsaltz that we lost this year, Rav Jonathan Sacks, that I’m sure you can’t believe that you missed out on a podcast with him.

David Bashevkin:

I don’t know if you know, we had him scheduled.

Rachelle Fraenkel:

I’m sure. It’s obvious. No other way.

David Bashevkin:

We had him scheduled for our last month, yes.

Rachelle Fraenkel:

Wow. So Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, he has this quote, he says, “Optimism is the belief that everything will be okay.” It’s like in Hebrew we say “yihye b’seder.” With the Israeli passport, they make you say yihye b’seder. So optimism is the belief that things will go okay. “Hope is the belief that, together, we can make it become okay.” He goes on to say, a Jew that knows the history of his people, he can’t be an optimist. You can’t deny, right? But a Jew that’s deserving of the name Jew never deserts hope. And he goes on describing how the most pessimist prophets always gave the people some hope. And when he relates to them meraglim, the sin of the… How do you call in English, the meraglim?

David Bashevkin:

It’s always translated as “spies,” but I hate it. It’s one of those words like “tefillin,” “beis hamikdash,” some call it “phylactories,” just go with “meraglim”. It’s the story of the spies in Parshas Shelach, you can look it up there.

Rachelle Fraenkel:

Right. So they were showing defeatism. Again, my English isn’t perfect, and I was born here.

David Bashevkin:

You’re doing great.

Rachelle Fraenkel:

Right. And that’s why they failed as leaders and they failed as Jews. And then he coins this, “to be a Jew is to always be an agent of hope.” And to me that’s like, wow. To be a Jew is always to be an agent of hope. And I think in a way it crosses our whole conversation, because we’re not denying the bad stuff, and we’re not pretending like we have an answer for everything. There’s so much to deal with, but to be a Jew is always to be an agent of hope, is to see things on a wide lens, is to experience the blessing alongside the pain. It’s to stay connected in prayer, and to know that it’s not in your pocket, and that Hakadosh Baruch Hu doesn’t work for you on the personal sense. There is a covenant with Am Yisrael, and there I think we can demand. We can say Hakadosh Baruch Hu promised us. And even with the world, in brit Noach, there is a covenant and we can demand. But on the personal level, in this complex picture, I think if we were…

It’s always the finger that hurts us that gets all the focus on our attention. But if we would pay more attention on simple things and blessings and on family and friends and health, for me on being in Eretz Yisrael, for you on being in a time where Jews can live in a, it’s a bracha, for what they call malchut hachessed, the United States of America. Can you compare that to anything that happened in Jewish history? Do we know how to be grateful, do we know to appreciate it? I think if we would make more room in our life for that stuff, we can handle the bad stuff. I mean, most of the time. Nobody’s totally resilient, but we can do a lot to…

David Bashevkin:

I want to let you know that on a personal level, hearing somebody who doesn’t want to talk about emunah, and faith, and prayer, for me personally, is what resonates most. Meaning, I have a very hard time listening to the person who when there’s… I want to talk about… Get me the microphone, I want to talk about this. And listening to the hesitance that you, the way in which you share these ideas, for me, allows them to resonate in a much richer, much more authentic, much more vulnerable way, and I’m so, so appreciative of you sharing with me. I know we’re bumping the one hour mark. I promised I wouldn’t take too much of your time.

Rachelle Fraenkel:

It’s okay. We started five minutes late. I have time. It’s okay.

David Bashevkin:

We always wrap up with quick rapid fire questions. I was hesitant whether to ask this last question, but before we get to the rapid fire, I wanted to ask one last question. It relates to the way I think about my father and some of his skills. My father has, because he’s a doctor, he actually just retired in January, one of the things aside from being able to treat cancer, my father is what I would say one of the great experts at paying a shiva call, at giving comfort to others. I’ve seen him in a shiva house, and it looks like, ke’ilu, it’s like when Moshe parts the Red Sea, because the doctor walks in. But there’s a way about him that I’ve always found very powerful. I’ve always found there’s a paradox of sorts of being a faithful nation, of being a nation, and you touched upon this already, a nation who has an intuitive connection to a higher power, to God. The paradoxes that sometimes can make it harder to know what to do in situations of grief, because the answer isn’t always to talk to somebody who’s going through something difficult. And not just in a shiva house. Somebody who comes to you for any sort of pain, and start waxing poetic about theology and gam zu l’tova and this is also going to be good.

I’m wondering if you could, however briefly, tell us a little bit, what should you not say? What were things that you heard that you… And maybe you quietly, or you were probably filmed the whole time, so I don’t know if it was a grimace on your face, you said, “This is not the way to do it. This is not as as faithful and as much emunah and faith as you may have. This is not what you tell somebody who is going through difficulty.” And what is something that you can tell somebody who’s going through difficulty? Because sometimes we allow our own connection to God to spill over in the way that we address others in need of comfort.

Rachelle Fraenkel:

Okay. I’ll try to do it brief. First of all, I’m envious that you have a mentor like your father. I’m sure you could never really imitate, but it’s something that you could watch. I know I’m the most scared person walking into a shiva house. I’m just afraid of the situation. I know it’s natural. During the last few years, because sometimes it’s not me, anything I would say, it’s just people identifying, and if I’m walking over to the mother and hugging her, what she would get, it’s not even me. It’s the extended hug that I received from Am Yisrael. Something about this experience of who we are and how we can stand together, etc. So davka over the last few years, I do pay shiva calls. I don’t know if I do it well, but I do. I’ll say two things. One is in Israel, often if something tragic would happen, like a young person would die, people would come over to you in the shiva. And I’m not talking about myself, I’m talking about the general Israeli experience. They would put a hand on your shoulder, look in your eye, and say to you, “Chazakim,” be strong. I feel like yelling, I don’t yell, I just come and whisper in the ear, “Don’t be strong, be flexible.” To me it means make room in your life for the pain, for the weeping, for missing. It’s not going to go away, it’s going to last, and then it’s going to stay with you, and definitely have room in your life for that, but also have room for the joy, for the blessing, for the brachot that are going to grow over time. There’s a certain type of flexibility that I think one can develop when they don’t expect themselves to just be rigidly strong. Okay, we’re strong. Great. Be human. So that’s one thing.

Another thing is in this arena of the big mystical answers. Like you said, people pushing answers, “olam haba,” all that, “hakol letova”. And it’s not because I don’t believe in those things. I’m not saying anything like that. I’m just saying they’re inappropriate at certain times. At least don’t say them if you don’t 100% totally believe them. If you do offer such answers, so offer them like you’re offering a piece of clothing. You say, “For me this answer works. Maybe you want to try it on.” Never in this totally confident way. I want to give you an example of something, there’s a woman I know, her name is Achinoam Yakovs. She’s a talmidat chachama, she’s like me. I’m not a talmidat chachama, but she’s in the same field of learning and teaching Torah. And Achinoam, her daughter became ill with cancer when she was about, I think three, three and a half years old. And they battled it for four years and then she passed away.

She wrote a piece called Yissurim B’Ahava, Suffering in Love. I just want you to listen to her voice, because people are pushing something at her, and she’s resisting. She can’t stand it. But then she goes through her own process, and comes up with her own answers, and that’s totally different. I think sometimes when people come with big answers in difficult times, they’re depriving a person of their own process. Something’s going on there that’s dangerous. So listen to what Achinoam is saying and I’m translating as I go so I hope it will work.

David Bashevkin:

Please, yes.

Rachelle Fraenkel:

“Every time I would hear statements that demanded from me something in the field of faith, or that wanted to explain, or to put in order, or to give good meaning to Rotem’s disease, I would resist it. I would rebel. Do we know everything there is to know about human beings, that we could already say stuff about God and the way he watches this world?” Watches as in hashgacha. “This is not a lecture or a musser class in Yeshiva. This is a little girl, a beloved, wonderful, little girl, and her family that sees her suffering, and hugs her in her agony. Yesh l’kabel yissurim b’ahava, you should accept suffering with love, people would throw at me. This sentence would echo in my head, and the totality of me would scream out and rebel against it. If one wanted to accept their own suffering with love, let them accept it. But how can a person accept somebody else’s suffering with love? How could a mother accept the suffering of her little daughter with love? Until one day, while our suffering grew, our agony grew, the true meaning of this expression suddenly became clear to me. Like a blind person whose eyes are opening up, I understood that until this moment, I had never grasped what Chazal is saying in this statement. I suddenly got it. I suddenly understood that what is written here is, when a person is on the receiving side of suffering, of agony, you have to become strong and more proficient in the issue of love. The only thing we could give and receive with no limits was love. The only thing we could do in front of those suffering was to love, to accept this suffering by adding more love toward him. You should accept suffering with love, with great love, to fellow human beings, to people. That’s the best piece of advice, the most beautiful, the most compassionate piece of advice I ever got. And that love grew stronger, and purer, and bigger. As we had less and less to do and to help the body, the love itself became greater and stronger, until in the end it depended on nothing at all. Not even on life itself. Ahavat olam ahavtich.” I don’t have to say a word about this, but it’s about a person coming up with their own answer. It’s not about people pushing answers at them.

David Bashevkin:

That was incredibly powerful. I’ve never heard that essay before, and if you are, I don’t know if you could find it online, if you could send me a link I would love to share that with our listeners. I usually use the word “privilege” when I talk, saying it’s such a privilege to speak with somebody. I really mean, this conversation, forget our listeners for a moment, for me, David Bashevkin, resonated in a way because I think our conceptions, our orientations… I’m also a professed rationalist, but our orientations, I think, what you said really resonated, and I’m going to stop talking because any words that I use are going to diminish, any descriptions I can say are going to diminish, and the conversation I think speaks for itself.

I always end our conversations with quicker questions. These are the easier ones, I hope. You have such a wonderful array, you quoted Levinas, and from Talmud, and from Nach, and these beautiful essays. Is there a book that you would recommend to help somebody who is trying to develop the capacity for spirituality? It doesn’t even need to have the word “God,” though that’s certainly the topic of the month, that you would recommend… Most of our listeners are probably English speakers. Is there a book that you would recommend for our listeners that maybe helped you, or you recommend your students?

Rachelle Fraenkel:

It’s a difficult question to answer, and I won’t go for the big ones. They’re the major works that a person should read in their lifetime, but I won’t go there. I’ll just mention a little book, something, a reflection of a personal experience that I know has helped people in difficult situations. I think it’s called The Graces of a Broken Heart by Sherri Mandell. Again, it’s when we discuss, I can start talking about philosophy and stuff like that. It’s not that. It’s a book about human beings, about being vulnerable, about living through something difficult. And in a very, very simple, delicate way, it meets people in their experience. So that’s just something that came to my mind this minute.

David Bashevkin:

I appreciate it. My own background, I spent a lot of time in philosophy. I did a master’s thesis on Reb Tzadok HaKohen MiLublin and Rebbe Nachman. But when it comes to genuine experience and pain, and I think Rebbe Nachman and Reb Tzadok both remind us of this. It’s not about the grand theology: it’s about human to human, and just finding the wholeness, invulnerability, the wholeness within brokenness, and I love that book recommendation. My second question that I always ask our guests is, if somebody gave you an extraordinary amount of money that allowed you to take a sabbatical for however long you needed to go back to school and write a PhD, what do you think the topic of your dissertation would be?

Rachelle Fraenkel:

Oh my goodness. It’s a good question. I’m interested in things that have to do… And again, it’s not my professional field at all, so it’s like a wild thing.

David Bashevkin:

The sabbatical is as long as you need. If you have to start from scratch, you have a lot of money.

Rachelle Fraenkel:

And it comes with the right intelligence to go with it.

David Bashevkin:

The whole thing.

Rachelle Fraenkel:

The places where Bible, the history of Eretz Yisrael, archeology, and even biology, genetics, meet together, because there are a lot of things that have to do with archeology that we learn through DNA remainders of whatever it is, olives and [inaudible], or whatever. And the perspective it gives us on stories in the bible, in the Tanach, it’s something that I find fascinating. I know it’s esoteric, but I originally was a biology major, so somehow that connection is something that I find intriguing.

David Bashevkin:

Okay. We’re going to start the GoFundMe page for Rachelle to study olive DNA. There are no wrong answers over here. My final question is, I’m always fascinated with people’s sleep patterns. I’m curious, what time do you go to sleep at night, and what time do you wake up in the morning?

Rachelle Fraenkel:

I’m terrible. I work well at night, but I’m one of these people that… It’s true of procrastinators. We say that we work well under pressure, but it’s not true, we just only work under pressure. Theoretically, if I could get up at five and given, I don’t know, three, four good hours of work, I would probably work much better. But it’s a theoretical fact because I never try it out, so I find myself going to sleep three, four, all kinds of crazy hours, and then once in three or four days crashing and trying to fill it up. It’s not a healthy way to live.

David Bashevkin:

See, this is the one area where my father is unable… I wish he was my role model. He’s a 4:00 am kind of person, he wakes up at 4:00 every day. And I, like you, I only work when procrastinating. It’s late. And you need a spatula to get me out of bed. You need a crane.

Rachelle Fraenkel:

It’s interesting that you ask about sleeping patterns. I’m intrigued by the choice of questions.

David Bashevkin:

Oh, always fascinated –

Rachelle Fraenkel:

He might be that guy that wakes up at 5:00, we meet at that patch of time, when I’m going to sleep.

David Bashevkin:

…to one another. Exactly. Rachelle Fraenkel, thank you so, so much for your time, your wisdom, your experiences. It was an absolute privilege and pleasure to speak with you today.

Rachelle Fraenkel:

Okay. It’s my pleasure. Thank you so much.

David Bashevkin:

If anybody ever faces tragedy, they’re left with a question of, how is that tragedy going to color the lens with which they see the world? I would never, ever offer, because my life overall, with health and my family, I’ve had a lot of blessings in my life, and I would never give advice to somebody who’s had to experience real tragedy. But listening to Rachelle Fraenkel, for me, who hasn’t come near the universe, the galaxy, of which she is talking about, it’s a reminder for me… You know what I actually think about? It’s a reminder for me not to get cynical, not to allow those little paper cuts of life. And those paper cuts cut deep, and they’re painful, and life doesn’t work out the way that you want. But to figure out how your notion of God can remain intact even through those thousands of paper cuts and those little disappointments, not to become cynical, to allow a notion of this world and the opportunity of what it means to be alive to amount to something, and not to allow those little disappointments, big, small, those thin envelopes, those thick envelopes, whatever disappointments get mailed to your house, and everybody has some measure of disappointment. To me, listening to Rachelle Fraenkel is a master class in how not to allow those disappointments in life to metastasize into cynicism.

Because I find that once those little disappointments and all those frustrations snowball to something big, and you look at life with a bitterness and a cynicism, and I’m not even criticizing the people who do, because I have myself. But once that’s your lens to the world, it’s really hard to cleanse yourself of that perspective. You don’t have to live with that weight and that bitterness. And there is a way out. I don’t know what it is, but Rachelle Fraenkel seems to have found it. And I hope, in whatever measure she gives you a little shovel for a sandbox or a big giant shovel to shovel yourself out of a snow, if you find yourself suffocated or trapped in with the difficulties of life, whether it’s the small ones or the big ones, I hope this conversation gave you a little bit of a shovel to help dig our way out, to find the blessing and that holistic meaning that is accessible.

I believe this to my core. God, life, world, whatever word you want to use, sends you some really, really difficult challenges, and that’s usually the place where we start thinking about God. But with the right shovel, we can create a little bit of space for ourselves and still look at the world, still look at others, and still look at our own life with charity, with graciousness, with optimism, and with love.

Thank you so much for listening. This was a really special conversation. It wouldn’t be a Jewish podcast without a little bit of shnorring, so please subscribe, rate, review. Tell your friends about it. It really helps us reach new listeners and continue putting out great content. If you’d like to learn more about this topic, or some of the other great ones we’ve covered – we don’t just talk about God, we’ve had a lot of other great explorations – be sure to check out 18Forty.org. That’s the number 1-8 followed by the word “forty,” F-O-R-T-Y .org. 1-8-F-O-R-T-Y .org, 18Forty.org. You’ll also find videos, articles, recommended readings. Thank you so much for listening and stay curious my friends.