Scarcely had I passed them
when I found the one my heart loves.
I held him and would not let him go
till I had brought him to my mother’s house,
to the room of the one who conceived me.
— Song of Songs 3:4
Even for the believer, there are times in life when we are beleaguered with questions and doubts. Sometimes we might witness something that seems to be completely unjust, and we wonder how God can let things be that way. Other times, it’s the difficulties in our own lives that cause us to question God. Does He love me? Does He see me? Is He there?
If we think that we are immune to losing faith, the Talmud teaches that even the greatest and most spiritually connected people were not immune. In particular, the Talmud shares one story about four outstanding Jewish sages and scholars who lived around the first century CE and who underwent an unusual spiritual and otherworldly experience. The story is shrouded in mystery, but what we do know is that three of the four men did not come out of the experience all right. One went crazy, another died, and the third became a heretic. Only the holy Rabbi Akiva came out whole.
All four men saw things that were hard to comprehend. Three lost their faith – and they were no ordinary men. They were among the holiest men to ever live, yet their experience proved too much for them. Only Rabbi Akiva was able to hold on to his faith.
The sages attributed these words from Song of Songs to Akiva’s perseverance: “I held him and would not let him go . . .” Akiva’s secret was to hold on to God with simple but complete faith and not let go. He held on to his belief in a good God despite all the confusing things that he saw and would not let it go.
This single-minded faith is something that we all need to hold onto at times in our lives when things don’t make sense and we can’t understand God’s plan for our lives or for the world. In those moments, we need to hold on tighter than ever and not let go. Only then can we emerge from our ordeals whole and faithful.
The sages teach that in the times preceding the messianic era, God will shake the world like a rug and only those who hold on tight won’t fall off. This analogy teaches that there will be a time, perhaps the one we are in right now, when a lot of what we see or experience won’t make sense. We might be tempted to question God’s power, His love, or any of our other basic principles of faith. But we must hold on. We must hold onto Him and not let go. No matter how difficult things seem or how rough life can get, we must hold on to our faith like our very life depends on it. Because it does.