April 12, 2024
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April 12, 2024
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Vulnerability Within Invincibility

A couple of weeks ago at work I had to attend an active shooter training. For the beginning of the class the instructor went through tons of statistics about different shootings throughout American history, from how many were injured and killed to the increasing frequency of these tragic events in the past decade. The second half of the class was more focused on practical advice about where the exits are around the building, and protocol in case, God forbid, this would happen to us at work, or really in any other location.

I left the training kind of shaken up. I felt vulnerable. I imagine that was the instructor’s objective—so all of us in the room would comprehend the severity of the risk of this actually happening. But generally I am not someone who tends to dwell in fear; I’m the kind of person who just goes on autopilot. Every time I get onto Route 4 I kind of look at the cars zooming by and assume I’ll never find a truly safe opportunity to make that merge so I just close my eyes and speed up. Maybe the feeling is invincibility—never really considering I would actually find myself in a shooting or a massive car accident (b”ah, k”ah, pooh pooh pooh).

I thought about this a lot as we approached the month of Cheshvan. We spend Elul and Tishrei completely consumed on our hopes and our dreams for the coming year and are completely introspective. As I get older, while I feel fearful during these months of what’s at stake for a fresh slate, I tend to also feel a certain sense of calmness in knowing I will be able to embrace all that lies ahead.

But then the Yom Tov season is over and we go back to our day-to-day lives. If you are lucky enough to have an autopilot kind of life like me, then it’s kind of carpool/work/make supper/repeat sprinkled with an occasional shiur or a simcha in between supper and repeat. I hear over and over again, “Good to get back to routine,” but imagine how it would be if our daily routine included the same focus we had during the Yomim Noraim season. Yes, we always have tefillah and chances to do teshuva, but it’s not the same all-encompassing feeling as we experience during Elul and Tishrei.

What’s even scarier is how we can quickly fall into living our life again with the same set of expectations and assumptions. There is a well-known theory that people (Jews and non-Jews alike) have an easier time relating to God during times of tragedy or trouble. When things are going well, it’s natural to want to take credit. Or maybe that we even deserve all the good that Hashem has bestowed upon us.

Yet when a tragedy hits, we feel instantaneously connected because we are realigned and come to the realization that Hashem is the only One who can ultimately bring us our yeshua, so we reconnect, as we call it, in prayer and through other mitzvos. But why is it so hard to have that same kesher with Hashem when things are going well and Cheshvan is progressing without so much thought and mental energy?

But even more so, it is our responsibility to give value to things that truly matter and to remind ourselves constantly that it is Hashem Who is responsible for all the good in our lives. (PSA: I never like to get “preachy” in my writing, but more often than not I write so that I can better internalize my own message.) Soon after this article gets published, our Instagram feeds and Jewish magazines will get filled with decor and menu ideas for our upcoming Chanukah parties. And I will be taking screenshots and notes and looking up recipes and trying to figure out color schemes and what I can do to make this year’s party more unique than last year.

Simultaneously, I will attempt to make an effort to remember that I am spending the time, the mental energy and money because I truly want to make this party as memorable for my family and friends to enhance their celebration of Chanukah and commemorating the incredible national miracle, of taking nothing for granted.

These few weeks in shul on Shabbos we are reintroduced to the Avos and Imahos, as we are each year. I was struck by the relatable issues we watch them navigate in these pesukim, living a life completely different than how you were raised, fertility issues and that impact on a marriage, finding a shidduch, navigating delicate child-rearing issues amongst a blended family, a meddling parent in marriage preparations, sibling rivalry…and I could go on and on. Yet, they accomplished more in their lives than we could ever comprehend. What’s more remarkable is that it seems that our forefathers and foremothers, like many of the characters we will meet again in the Torah over the coming weeks, seemed to intrinsically know that they were a part of something bigger. That “something” is the same “something” we are a part of. While Avraham Avinu was the very first one to even comprehend Hashem’s existence, it’s our responsibility each and every day to relive the same experience Avraham had and rediscover Hashem in all aspects of our life.

This year, my family experienced a drastic different start to Cheshvan with the petirah of my grandmother, my Bobby, on the second day of Cheshvan—just four days after the yahrtzeit for my other grandmother, my Savta. Both these women lived very different lives, but at their core were quite similar. They never lived their lives with any sense of expectations, but only an immense amount of gratitude despite the tremendous challenges they each navigated with grace and a constant sense of shleimut. These women came from a different generation than what we have created for ourselves today. Simply put, there were no expectations; it was all a gift and never taken for granted.

My mother shared a beautiful thought from Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook in her hesped for my Bobby. The month of Cheshvan follows the month of Tishrei—filled with celebrations, gatherings, holidays, a lot of carefully designed experiences to assure we are encountering HaKadosh Baruch Hu. Then, we get to the month of Cheshvan with absolutely no holidays at all. Rav Kook, in his work Meged Yerachim, says the month of Cheshvan challenges us to stop depending on the prescribed moments of meaning, which were provided for us during the month of Tishrei, the holidays, the celebrations, the special mitzvos, the extra tefillos, and instead we have to begin to create meaning ourselves, and bring it into the world as we enter the month of Cheshvan. The month of Cheshvan challenges us to bring the extraordinary into the ordinary—to be able to find greatness in the everyday experiences.

My grandparents were all part of a generation that took nothing for granted. It’s as if any ounce of success was seen as a shock and a gift. They worked hard, lived simply, faced challenges too difficult to comprehend, and above all, embraced the life Hashem bestowed upon them. Simply put, there were no expectations. Each of their relationships with Hashem was individualistic, yet shone through for all around them to see.

May my Bobby, Beatrice Zamist, join my Zeidy, Max Zamist, along with my Saba and Savta, Rabbi Yaakov and Mrs. Miriam Jacobs and continue to be a meilitz yosher for our family and continue to stand as role models for their future generations continuing to thrive.


Rachel Zamist lives in Passaic.

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