June 17, 2024
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June 17, 2024
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Rav Yaakov Galinsky, zt”l—a scion of Yeshivas Novardok in Bialystok—was a traveling maggid and baal mussar, an inspiring speaker and towering personality. In 1939, Rav Yaakov was exiled and spent a number of difficult years imprisoned in Siberia. While in the gulag, he would rise early in the morning to daven before the other prisoners woke up. One day, he noticed a fellow prisoner who would wake up early as well. Each morning, the prisoner—a Polish national—would remove a folded uniform kept hidden away under his bed, put it on, stand up tall and salute, holding the position for a few moments. He would then quickly take off the uniform, scurry it away under his bed until the next morning.

One day while working together on a hard labor detail, Rav Galinsky asked his fellow prisoner about his enigmatic, secret daily ritual. “My whole life I have been committed to serving my country, and since I was a little boy, dreamt of becoming a general in the Polish army. I finally achieved the rank of general—just before I was captured by the Russians. Now in captivity, everything I had worked for, everything I wanted to become, was gone. So early in the morning, I don my uniform, and I am my true self. Regardless of how the Russians or our fellow prisoners see me, for those few moments, when I am wearing that uniform, I am not a lowly, broken inmate, but a proud general in the Polish army.”

~

Our sedra describes the “posture” in which Hashem took us out of our constricted state of slavery in Egypt:

אֲנִי ה׳ אֱלֹקֵיכֶם אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִי אֶתְכֶם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם מִהְיֹת לָהֶם עֲבָדִים … וָאוֹלֵךְ אֶתְכֶם קוֹמְמִיּוּת:

“I am Hashem, your God, Who took you out of the land of Egypt from being slaves to them; and I broke the pegs of your yoke and led you upright, ” (26:13).

Rashi quotes Midrash Toras Kohanim: komemiyus—upright, means בקומה זקופה, “erect in stature,” due to our relief from bondage. After generations of suffering and slavery Hashem delivered us from exile, and not just physically, but by restoring our posture, our “stature,” our life-force, our inner light, our true self—our soul.

~

We are approaching the great day of Lag B’Omer, the Hilulah—celebration of the Tanna Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai, when Rebbe Shimon revealed the holy sefer “haZohar” to his closest disciples before leaving the world. The Zohar is the textbook of Jewish mysticism, the secrets of the Torah—a sefer of inner brilliance and deep wisdom. It is a guidebook to navigating the world of the soul, and it allows us to see that there is a reality beyond that which we can sense, measure or understand.

It was not merely mystical knowledge and lofty ideas that Rashbi conveyed to his disciples, and to us. Rebbe Shimon inspired a renewed, inner perception of the Torah and helped them grasp the secret of creation: to see and connect to the hidden spark of God, the penimiyus—the inner truth and light of all of reality.

Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai lived after the destruction of the second Beis Hamikdash. When the Temple stood, Am Yisrael’s relationship with Hashem was an obvious fact. After its destruction, Hashem’s existence was concealed and the Shechina was exiled. In this world darkened by destruction and exile, the Zohar revealed, and continues to reveal, hope and meaning by opening our eyes to our true life-force and the reality of God’s plan and involvement in whatever happens. Beneath the surface of world events, there is an inner reality that is pulsating, alive and shining with Hashem’s light.

When Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai first emerged from the dark cave where he had been hiding from the Romans, he saw an imperfect world and people with flaws and spiritual lackings, and burned everything up with his judgmental gaze. Following a second period of personal refinement, when he was able to emerge again from the cave, Rebbe Shimon saw positivity, light and holiness in others and the world.

Jewish identity is rooted in our recognition that beneath our surface we exist as a soul; we are inextricably bound with the divine essence. That is our defining quality. Revealing that infinite soul—the source hidden away within us—is to truly come alive.

Each of us is a soul who has descended to this world on a mission, with a purpose. In a world struggling through the final stages of exile, we are charged with responsibility, opportunity and privilege to come alive, to don our “uniform” and stand upright, בקומה זקופה—filled with pride in who we are. כל מי התהפכא חשוכא לנהורא מרירו למתיקא—“Let all who turn darkness to light, bitterness to sweetness enter.”

May we recognize the exalted nature of nishmas Yisrael—and be zoche to enter the gates of redemption, together.

~

Sergeant Major Aviad Cohen, HY”D—a young father and soldier in the Etzioni Brigade—was killed while fighting jihadist terrorists on Simchas Torah, October 7th, 2023. A couple of months later—in advance of Purim—his wife posted the following notice on the door of their home: “Happy Purim! You are asked to enter this home בראש מורם ובקומה זקופה—‘With your head held high and standing tall!’ Fill yourself with strength and happiness; only then may you knock on our door. We are the family of a hero who spread light and hope during his life and with his death. We are proud of all of you.”


Rav Judah Mischel is executive director of Camp HASC, the Hebrew Academy for Special Children. He is the mashpiah of OU-NCSY, founder of Tzama Nafshi and the author of “Baderech: Along the Path of Teshuva.” Rav Judah lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh with his wife Ora and their family.

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