April 16, 2024
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April 16, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

The Spiritual Journey from ‘I’ to ‘You’

Part II

Even though we are well past the Yomim Nora’im, throughout the year it is important to remember the central theme of our tefilot. This is a time when Jews all over the world express their gratitude to Hashem for the gifts He bestows upon them; they are also asked to commit themselves to publicly acknowledge Hashem’s malchiut, Kingship, over the world at large. Our rabbis raise the question regarding the problematic nature of this charge. It is true that in the case of observant Jews it is relatively easy to understand this charge. Yet, how are we to convince Jews and gentiles for whom these are ordinary work days, and as a result have no clue as to what is going on in the shuls? In a recent shiur, a reference was made to a text in Yeshayahu, which happens to be repeated in our daily tefilot, which explains the manner in which Hamelech Hakadosh, God, the Holy King, can be elevated. Our Torah teaches us that “….through justice and righteousness He sits on His throne and judges the world, showing Himself as a merciful King.” Yet, we have to agree that it is sometimes quite difficult to understand that Hashem rules mercifully, given all the struggles and challenges we continue to face personally and as a nation. It seems that each time we fall into complacency, we are shocked into the reality of our state as galut Jews, as we were reminded by the massacre in Pittsburgh; and as we witness the pain, loss and suffering, that tests the faith of so many in our own families and communities. It is easy to believe that we are punished unjustly.

In Parshat Chayei Sarah, the introductory text left us with the impression that Avraham and Sarah led idyllic lives, despite the challenges they faced. Yet our rabbis explain that the text is written in that way because, in the eyes of Avraham and Sarah, their lives were ideal. I believe this segment of the parsha is meant to relate an essential message, which is particularly salient in light of the tragedy experienced by the families and friends of those who were murdered in cold blood a few weeks ago, in an act of terror that the ADL described as the “greatest anti-Semitic attack in in history of American Jewry.” Indeed, the show of achdus and support to the Pittsburgh Jewish community was a true reflection of acheinu kol am Yisrael. Rabbi Efrem Goldberg of Boca Raton directed his words of solace to his kehilah, whose mourning was coupled by the loss of a beloved young wife, mother, and teacher, as well as to those who currently experience the pain of seeing those they love valiantly battling difficult diseases or other challenges. He began by acknowledging that there is no easy way to adequately respond to the questions of how a person can arm himself with weapons, walk into a holy space and open fire with the intent to murder as many people as possible, or how could Hashem allow the suffering or loss of a beloved parent, grandparent, sibling, or friend. It is not difficult to understand why for many this poses a huge challenge of faith. In his response to these seemingly unanswerable questions, Rabbi Goldberg referenced the remarkable faith and courage reflected in the words of consolation expressed by the young rabbi who just lost his wife when he reminded the audience that “We work for God, He doesn’t work for us.”

Rabbi Goldberg went on to console the community by normalizing the drop in emunah and the distancing from Hashem that may be experienced during this time of severe emotional trauma; a time when confusion and conflicted feelings are expected. With his words of consolation, I believe Rabbi Goldberg was also trying to make sure that the family and congregants did not experience any feelings of guilt to add to the burden they were already carrying.

In deepening his message, he referenced Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch who called attention to the similarity between the words avel, mourner and aval, but. Indeed, the avel, mourner, feels a deep sense of life interrupted as he is hit with the glaring reality that his life used to be joyful, aval, but, now is faced with the sadness and pain of his recent loss. While there are no answers that can adequately address the question of why evil and sickness continue to leave a permanent mark on the victims, we can again find greater meaning and joy in life by intensifying our connections with our loving God and His Torah.

Rabbi Goldberg’s response reminded me of his remarks when this question came up on our trip to Poland. “When tragedy strikes, Rabbi Soloveitchik calls us not to ask lamah, why, but l’mah, for what?” I believe he was helping us face the reality that while we will never understand the “why?” when we experience pain, suffering and loss and when evil prevails, but we can focus our attention to what we can do to find meaning in every situation we find ourselves in; and in doing so, we have a greater chance of preventing the trap of “Y, yiush, hopelessness.” Indeed, via our Torah stories, our Jewish history and the example set by our real-time role models, we know this is possible. Dr. Victor Frankel’s real-time research supported this truth. As he navigated and survived the depths of the Holocaust, he found that those who were fortified by their faith and devoted their time, even risking their own lives, to helping others had a far greater chance of survival.
While it is difficult hearing this, it is important because it can happen again. Rabbi Goldberg cautions us: “The brutal murder in Pittsburgh is a harsh wake-up call and reminder that as much as things change, they remain the same. Anti-Semitism is as old as the Jewish people, and while we can be lulled into a false sense of security and acceptance, we must always remain vigilant and proactive in confronting our enemies and defending our people.”

I have no doubt that each one of us was horrified and shocked on Motzei Shabbat when we heard the news of the brutal massacre. Yet, Rabbi Goldberg again cautions us, our feelings of empathy and the amazing show of solidarity “…is not enough. This atrocity demands a greater response.:” Indeed, while the question of lamah, why, remains unanswered, the response for l’mah, for what, can be addressed; and one way is by walking in the path of our forefathers and those who continue to show us the way. My friends, I truly believe that striving for the goal of transforming the “I” to the “you,” the yearly theme I selected for the chavruta I facilitate, is a noble start in this endeavor. All we have to do is follow in the path of those who resonate for us as individuals who fashion their lives around the mandate of v’halachta b’drachav, walking in the Ways of God.

In Fair Lawn we are so fortunate to have Rabbi Yudin and his beloved wife Shevi as amazing role models in this mission. Our rabbis teach us that our kavanah and efforts go a long way in the eyes of God; and while He forgives the mistakes we make along the way, He expects us to hold back our judgments and anger and to forgive ourselves and others for the glitches one is bound to encounter in this mission. In doing so, we not only transform our own lives, but make a difference in the lives of others. The lesson learned through our efforts teach us that there is no end to the path of the righteous and holy; rather, we find ourselves coming full circle, ever true to our commitment of being mamlich Hakadosh Baruch Hu. May our actions show the world that we are the Chosen People because we chose to serve as ambassadors of God, reflecting the justice, compassion, loving kindness, appreciation and mercy with which He reigns over the entire world.

By Renee Nussbaum, PhD, PsyA


Renee Nussbaum is a practicing psychoanalyst with training in imago and EFT. She also facilitates a chavruta in cyberspace on the weekly parsha, edited by Debbie Friedman. She can be reached at [email protected].

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