Challenges in Life

“So we that are Thy people and the flock of Thy pasture will give Thee thanks for ever; we will tell of Thy praise to all generations.”

– Psalms 79:13, JPS 1917 Tanach

We are the sheep of your pasture, we will continue to express our gratitude, even as we suffer in exile (Psalm 79:13). L’dor vador, generation after generation, we will speak of our praise to H’Shem, despite our circumstances. For, the flow of time and history does not always appear to be favorable to us. While ostensibly, this seems to be the case, if deep within our hearts, we search in earnest, we shall find that all is for our ultimate good. As is implied elsewhere, that our journey is for our own good (Genesis 12:1).

How can we recognize this essential truth, in order to not backtrack upon our commitment made at Sinai – na’aseh v’nishmah (we will do, and we will understand)? Consider, that as we continue to observe the commandments, we will not only begin to better understand the nature of their benefit in our lives; rather, also, we will be able to comprehend how remaining on the derech (path) will continue to serve as a buttress against all the nisyanos (challenges) in our lives.

Hope Surfaces

Hope, is the mainstay of my life

and the fruition of my thoughts.

Hope, will outweigh the strife

that weighs heavily upon my heart.

Hope, the champion of the future,

a prelude to ultimate victory.

Hope, is enough to suture

the wounds inflicted by misery.

Hope, will mend the broken fragments

of a life unduly shattered.

Hope, will diminish the lament

of those whose clothes are tattered.

Hope, designed to stich each patch

and sew together the unraveled strands.

Hope, will help to gather all who are lost,

like collecting so many grains of sand.

Hope, will meld with faith,

bridging the gap in between.

Hope obtained, will never fade,

always realizing the dream.

Let Faith Reign

And there’s a slow, slow train comin’ up around the bend.

Slow Train, by Bob Dylan

When society is upended,

and people are tormented,

take heart in your faith,

don’t let your soul go to waste;

there will be a slow train

coming around the bend.

Let faith reign in your heart,

don’t pretend to play the part,

when the mind is sincere,

and the pathway is clear,

there will be a slow train

on the tracks ready to start.

Let’s dare not be hesitant,

when opportunity prevails, take that first step,

look, the passenger door is open,

these tired souls that appear to be broken,

will be renewed on the slow train,

moving along the tracks.

Truth Conquers All

1.

All of the firebrands that you have thrown at me,

have been deflected, landed in fertile soil, and,

transformed into pillars of truth to guide my life.

The blazing torches of lies, brandished in my face,

have been quenched by the streams of sanctity,

and extinguished by waters from the well of salvation.

I have been inoculated against future deception,

and strengthened against the cunning of the Great Deceiver.

I have regained my sanity in a world of chaos.

2.

I put one foot forward each and every day of my life,

on the road towards freedom from my past bondage,

held as a mental hostage, in the lairs of my nemesis.

Yet, when you appeared, my bonds were loosened,

my nightmare ended, and new horizons emerged.

Now, carried away by the Spirit, to new vistas,

I have tread upon the tail of the serpent,

and danced amongst my people reborn.

Wake Up Call

I woke up this morning, as the remnant of a dream lingered in my soul. All was foretold long ago; and, yet we seem to get so little of a glimpse on occasion into this hope for redemption. My academic background is in psychology; needless to say, I began to analyze my dream: Rockets turned into butterflies, and missiles turned into doves; the sky became bright blue, as light descended from above. As if in an overnight occurrence, the Third Temple appeared in Jerusalem; and, the king entered through the Eastern Gate.

Yet, before he could reach the throne, the processions stopped. The King exclaimed, “I can go no further.” Everyone looked astonished and turned one to another in wonder. Then, I woke up with the following words spoken quietly in my mind: the redemption will not occur until you correct your spelling mistake. So, I laughed and smirked, and went back to sleep, thinking, oh, what a silly dream. Later, I wrote in my journal that this dream was a wish-fulfillment tinged with anxiety because of my lack of self-esteem. Then, I turned the page in my journal, and continued to write…

What if the dream was a divine portent? I know that mysticism bears some light upon this dream, if I think about the nature of words and their power to move mountains. I recall hearing about a misspelling in a mezuzah scroll that brought ill fortune upon the people who lived at that residence, where the mezuzah was placed on the doorway. When the mistake was found, and the correction made, all turned out well for the family and their descendants. Now, I know there is a principle, isn’t there? “As above so below.” So, our efforts, thoughts and speech in this world have an influence upon the spiritual realm. Hmm.

Then, I realized, that I had recently written a poem about the Geulah. As usual, I placed the appropriate tags on the post for ease of accessibility and viewership; however, I wonder if I misspelled the word, redemption. So, I decided to check, half-heartedly remaining skeptical. Lo and behold, I had misspelled the word, redemption, spelling the word without the second “e” – redmption. I added the letter “e,” and quietly made my usual cup of green tea in the morning. I had a glimmer of hope in my heart, wondering if I had actually in some small way contributed to the hastening of the Geulah. After all, isn’t there a saying about how one mitzvah can change the entire world? Hmm.

I sat back down at my desk in front of the computer screen. I sat silently in deep thought. I decided to check the likes for that poem. There were the usual likes from people who read my posts; there were also some likes from some bloggers unknown to me. I checked the comments; many of the comments were from the usual crowd; there were a few from others not previously known. I continued with my day, not letting my dreams hold sway over reality. An hour later, I checked the post again; the likes were climbing higher than usual; the comments kept pouring in one after the other. Hmm. I must have struck a chord in the heartstrings of like-minded folk. I decided to place the poem on some other platforms. Then, I continued to work on some other writing tasks until dusk; studied Torah and called it a day.

The next day there was a bright light in my room, and it was not even daylight yet. I thought that I was still dreaming. Perhaps, I was still sleeping, I thought to myself; so, I decided to make a cup of tea. There was music emanating from my computer; yet, the pc was still closed for I always close up my laptop overnight. Normally, the music app only works when the laptop is open. I did not even recognize the song. Then, I began listening to the lyrics, “Who is like You, majestic in holiness, awesome in splendor, working wonders?” I realized that these are the words of Az Yashir, giving praise to H’Shem, for having led us out of Egypt and split the Sea of Reeds.

Where was the music coming from? The online morning service that I attend had not even begun, so this couldn’t have been from the liturgy. The choir singing the song sounded as if composed of thousands of voices. Then, I remembered the commentary on this verse: the sages point out that the verb tense is in the future; in other words, not “Then Moses sang;” rather, “Then Moses [and the people] will sing.” When? According to chazal, after the Tehillas haMeisim (Resurrection of the Dead) at the beginning of the Messianic Age.

I couldn’t believe what I was thinking. Could this really be? Or was I still dreaming? I went into the restroom to splash some water upon my face. Then, when I looked in the mirror, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I looked as if I was twenty years old again. Wait. Didn’t my friend once tell me that when Moshiach appears, those who are alive at the time will be transformed? And, that they will have a resurrection body like that of a twenty-year old? Could this really be happening?

I decided to check the news. All of the Israeli papers, including Arutz Sheva, the Jerusalem Post, and Ha’aretz had live coverage at the Western Wall. Is the Redemption at hand? Is the Geulah being broadcast around the world? Will all eyes behold him? As is written, “And His feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives” (Zechariah 14:4, JPSN). “I would behold G-d while still in my flesh, I myself, not another, would behold Him; would see with my own eyes” (Job 19:26-27, JPSN). Amein and amein.

poem: Hidden Remnant

The time draws near,

as opportunity knocks,

only until the door closes with a tear

for every soulful look.

Those who remain

in the basement of this shul,

will wait out the battle, constrained,

as the siege in the city fails to improve.

This congregation, now divided,

between Kharkov and Dnipro,

where several dozen from the kehillah have fled,

will survive with G-d’s berachah.

Blessings, descending from heaven,

more potent than bombs and missiles,

will sustain them until they can ascend

and mend the fissures in their lives.

Those who have already taken flight,

and reached the border’s protection,

hope to see their final destination in sight –

a foreshadowing of the final redemption.

poem: Seeking Refuge

Despite the explosions nearby,

they daven as usual at shul;

a staunch commitment to the Almighty,

in the face of adversity and ruin.

And, the presence of the Shechinah,

who shelters all who seek refuge under her wings;

will guarantee protection to those on the bimah,

and amongst the congregation otherwise serene.

For, neither war, nor the chaos that might ensue,

will damage the spirit of the truly pious;

sending our hopes Above, into the azure blue,

our heartfelt prayers to Whom we trust.

Nothing will shake the faith of the soul,

who aspires to dream beyond what appears bleak;

everything is possible, as silence reveals the toll,

of redemption, soon at hand for the meek.

Exilic Prayer

“Oh my lord, let thy servant, I pray thee, speak a word in my lord’s ears.”

– Genesis 44:18, JPS 1917 Tanach

The divine yearning within ourselves seeks to be consoled by eliciting our concern for the part of ourselves that seeks to unite with the L-RD. Therefore, rather than ignore the natural affinity that the soul has for the Creator, we should acknowledge this vital element in our personal makeup. That is to say, that without nurturing the soul’s need to connect to H’Shem, we deprive ourselves of the true source of our life. Yet, the question remains, how to properly access this source, the root of our essential selves.

In parashas Vayigash, Judah makes an impassioned plea, for the sake of Benjamin, while addressing the Egyptian prince (Joseph) that stands before him. Nesivos Shalom renders the passage in a symbolic manner, ascribing Judah’s words to an imagined conversation with G-d, as if instead of addressing the prince that stands before him as lord, he is addressing H’Shem. Within this framework, we can understand through a nuanced perspective, the essence of prayer during the current exile; inasmuch that our prayers should be for the sake of the Shechinah, Who suffers with us during exile. By seeking to console the Shechinah, we console ourselves as well.

Therefore, in recognition of Joseph’s suffering, as well as the suffering of his brothers – who see the troubles that fell upon themselves in Egypt as divine recompense – as akin to our nisyanos (troubles), during this current exile, we may seek consolation through prayer; and, G-d’s presence will be with us, in the midst of our suffering. Let us speak in G-d’s ears, all that troubles us, offering our very selves as servants, as Judah offered to be a servant in place of his brother, Benjamin. Let us serve as surety for our brethren, K’lal Yisrael (All of Israel), and lead the way, towards redemption from Galus (Exile). Just as Joseph was reconciled to his brothers, may all of Israel be reconciled to H’Shem, through the unity that will be brought only by Moshiach (Messiah).

parashas Vayigash 5782

Suffering and Renewal

“I will go down with thee into Egypt; and, I will also surely bring thee up again.”

– Genesis 46:4, JPS 1917 Tanach

“I am He who in My Word will go down with thee into Mitzraim; I will regard the affliction of thy children, and My Word shall bring thee up from thence, and cause thy children to come up.”

– Targum Jonathan on Genesis 46:4, sefaria.org

Joseph sent for his father, Jacob, to bring him as well as his entire family down to Egypt. On the way to Egypt, Jacob made offerings to G-d in Beersheba. “G-d spoke to Israel in the visions of the night.” Jacob had been disconcerted, wondering about this descent of his family into Egypt; he was concerned about the eventual plight of his descendants. Yet, he was told, “Fear not to go down to Egypt; for I will there make of you a great nation.” G-d further reassured him, “I will go down with thee into Egypt; and, I will also surely bring you up again” (Genesis 46:4).

With the descent of Jacob’s family into Egypt, G-d promises their eventual redemption from the future enslavement that will occur centuries later. With this understanding, “I will go down with thee into Egypt,” pertains to the nisyanos (trials) that the children of Israel later faced in their enslavement. This may also reflect the understanding that G-d was with them, during the entire time of their “spiritual descent,” while living in Egypt: a low point in their lives, spanning several generations. As is written elsewhere, “In all their affliction He was afflicted” (Isaiah 63:9, JPS).

The children of Israel were not abandoned by H’Shem, nor forgotten during their years of servitude in Egypt. Additionally, the people remembered what Joseph had told his brothers, before he passed away, “G-d will surely remember you, and bring you up out of this land unto the land which he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob” (Genesis 50:25). In like manner, may our lives also be renewed by G-d’s promises, as we look forward to being brought out of the current exile, otherwise known in Hebrew as Galus.

May we place our hope in the Final Redemption.

Light Will Prevail

Chanukah – Day One

Light will transcend the darkness in our lives when we cast our gaze towards the flame of truth, the eish tamid (eternal light) that plays an essential role in Chanukah. The light of the Menorah in the temple, lit by the small cruze of oil found amidst the debris in the Temple, is the light of hope and renewal.

A little known midrash connects that small cruze of oil to the renewal of mankind, creation, and the earth itself, after the Mavul (Flood). When the dove brought back an olive branch in its mouth, according to the midrash, Noah pressed enough olive oil to place inside a small container. This cruze of oil was passed down to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

When Jacob returned to Beth El, he anointed the foundation stone with this oil. Then, according to the midrash, he hid the small cruze of precious olive oil. This Place (HaMakom) was none other than Mt. Moriah, where the Temple was eventually established. Because of the miracle of light that lasted for eight days from this precious oil, we celebrate Chanukah today.

Even so, the midrash is not always meant to be taken literally; a symbolic viewpoint may be rendered from this particular midrash. In light of the talmudic saying that the cure precedes the ailment, G-d, having foreseen the defilement of the Temple by the Seulicid empire, provided the means for its sanctification, shortly after the Flood, when the earth was renewed. The olive leaf signifies light, renewal, and hope.

The oil, “potential light” was passed down, safeguarded across the generations for its eventual use in re-lighting the menorah in the Temple, signifying the triumph of light over darkness. “Just as the dove brought light to the world, so too, you will bring olive oil and light it before Me” (Midrash Tanchuma, Tetzaveh 5). This message of hope will be like a small flame illuminating the darkness, despite whatever circumstances may cast a shadow over our lives. Yehi ratzon. May it be His will that the light of hope and renewal throughout the ages will always prevail over darkness. Amein.