Balancing act

Friday, 17 November, 2023 - 4:23 am

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

It is quite natural for people to like living life with a plan.

When there are too many unknowns it can be quite stressful.

Let’s face it, no one in this world really knows what will happen in their lives in the future. But balanced people are able to banish thoughts of ‘the sky falling down on their heads’ or being struck by lightning, from their list of concerns and live nearly predictable lives.

We, the Jewish people, have more of a challenging existence.

In every generation there are challenges of a real nature.

To be Jewish means to be straddling two worlds. Trying to live a natural life. At the same time recognizing our reliance on the miraculous’ness’ of Hashem’s protection.

Particularly at this moment of history Jews grapple with the pain and suffering inflicted by the Hamas. And with the anxieties and fears relating to the war in Israel and the resurgence of antisemitism around the world.

At the same time, there is a collective awakening among the Jewish people to strengthen our identity as Jews. Rallies of Jewish solidarity are attended in unprecedented numbers. Synagogues in the USA are reporting higher attendance than usual and there is a flurry of purchase of Tefillin and Tzitzit like never before.

We have become clearer about who we are.

While at the very same time, what the future holds in store for us has become less clear to the rational-logic-oriented mind.

Last week I attended the annual conference of Shluchim in NY.

I spent twenty-four hours in Israel on my way home.

To pay condolences to the family of a fallen soldier.

To say Mazel tov at the wedding of a family friend.  

To drop in and say hi to our Israel based children and grandchildren.

And just simply to ‘be there’ and breathe in the air and atmosphere of the holy land. The land that the Torah describes as being the land that Hashem’s Eyes are always focused on. Thus, the land that is the safest place in the world for a Jew.

The twenty-four hours in Israel was really forty-eight hours. As I traveled from New York to Bangkok on El Al. When you travel El Al, you get the full experience of being in Israel the duration of the flight.

I love sitting surrounded by fellow Jews – especially during this trying time in history. There is a very special feeling while traveling with the airline of Israel that serves kosher food and keeps the day of Shabbat holy. The pilot even said ‘Shabbat Shalom’ when we landed.

So as you can see, this past week brought me into direct contact with literally hundreds of people. Different countries. Varying backgrounds. And multiple differences of opinions.

I come away with two things that stick out in my mind as being universal feelings to Am Yisrael at this time.

Amongst the Jews of the world today there is a unity and a deep sense of conviction about our eternity as a people. Our future is guaranteed by G-d Himself.

Yet on the other hand, in our rational analytical minds, there is a deep feeling of uncertainty as to how the future will unfold. This leads to conscious and subconscious anxiety, fear or even dread.

Most people I have spoken to know and believe that we will be victorious and defeat our enemy with G-d’s help. Yet many feel that the way forward after that is very much unknown.

And that leaves them unsettled and anxious.

Then we have the nuanced task of balance between pain and joy.

It is clear that while our hearts are reeling with pain, our hearts aching empathetically, we must place special emphasis on our Jewish identity and on the joy of our connection to G-d.

The pain and sadness are ubiquitous. If one merely thinks for a moment about the bereaved families, the families waiting for any snipped of news from the hostages or our wounded brethren one feels hurt and agony.

Not very energetically joyous.

Yet, without energy and joy we won’t muster up the incredible energy levels that we need to be victorious physically, emotionally and spiritually.

That would be counterproductive and detrimental to those who need our help.

How does one live with two competing emotions that are both true?

Uncertainty coupled with pain. Vs conviction coupled with joy.

This weeks parsha gives us an answer.

Yitschak the son of Avraham looked exactly like his father Avraham.

In the Rebbe’s words, Avraham and Yitschak had differing styles in serving Hashem. Thus, the Midrash posits that Yitschak would have looked very different than his father Avraham.

Avraham who was extraordinarily kind, had a benevolent look while Yitschak who served G-d from a place of strength and judgment would have naturally looked stricter.

Hashem made a miracle and formed the facial features of the stricter Yitschak to look exactly like the benevolent Avraham.

What does this have to do with us?

We, who call the ‘three fathers’ our ‘forefathers’ are expected to embody the modality of serving Hashem with all of the attributes of our forefathers.  

How can that be?

Avraham represented benevolence while Yitschak represented strictness.

How can they coexist within us? How can we be expected to embody these conflicting qualities without some form of spiritual schizophrenia?

The answer is that Hashem is infinite. Higher than definition. Kindness and strictness are definitions. Our souls at their deepest most essential point are a part of G-d. When Hashem’s infinite light that resides within us is accessed, those mutually exclusive traits can be embodied in one person.

Kabala teaches that we ought to have bitterness on one side of our heart and joy on the other side. We need to bemoan our undeservingness while celebrating our relationship with G-d.

Admittedly, I have asked a question with logic, and I have answered with faith.

That blend of the rational and the supra-rational, is ultimately the way we Jews have always lived.

We have a song that proclaims joyously and even jubilantly ‘Ashreinu…’ ‘How happy we are, how good is our lot’.

On the other hand, we look soberly at our reality and recognize the deep pain and suffering that we have undergone and the still unfolding tragedy of war in Israel.

One way of dealing with this dichotomy is by allotting different times for focusing on the painful things and reserving other times for engaging in positive thinking.

An even higher level is trying to simultaneously bear in mind and heart the awareness of both the joyous and the painful.

G-d gives us the gift of being able to aim for that synthesis and make the impossible possible.

From our very inception, the Jewish people were born as an impossibility.

Yitschak, the first Jew, was born to a ninety-year-old barren mother. A miracle of epic proportion.

Couldn’t G-d have blessed Sara to have her son when she was of childbearing age? Did we have to start as a total miracle?

The lesson here is that the Jewish people is born as a miracle.

The continuation and sustaining of our people is also a miracle.

In other words, if your rational mind doesn’t understand how things will work out for the Jewish people, don’t worry.

Place your trust in Hashem and do the next right thing.

Even in 2023, or perhaps especially in 2023 we are acutely and painfully aware of the words in Tehilim ‘if Hashem doesn’t guard the city, the watchman works in vain’. The inference is that with Hashem guarding us, we are safe and secure.

I would like to suggest this exercise.

Don’t try to ‘escape’ and ignore your feelings.

Give yourself permission to feel the two competing emotional states that you are likely embodying at this time.

Feel the deep pain for the loss of life, for the hostages and for the wounded.

Conversely, feel the deep conviction and joy of being Hashem’s specially chosen and endowed Jewish people.

And recognize that both emotional states are very much valid at this time. It is natural to vacillate between the two, though it is helpful to oneself to focus more on the positive and even more beneficial to those suffering if you are energized by positivity as you will be more able and willing to help.

To protect your inner equilibrium and underlying anxiety let us try to liberate ourselves from the crippling fear that pervades us.

Identify the subconscious fears that you have.

Recognize that they are likely coming from the disturbing recent events and the ensuing uncertainty that they invoke regarding Israel’s future. And from the frightening sounds of antisemitism around the world.

Remind yourself that that a Jew is meant to ask not ‘what till be’ but ‘what shall I do’?

Ask yourself, is there something practical that I can do to fix that feeling of insecurity?

If yes, (like providing appropriate security to protect lives) then go ahead and do it.

And then proceed to surrender your dreams of ‘living a life totally reliant on nature’ and take the leap of  strengthening your trust in Hashem, the only thing that is infallible and eternally reliable.

(If there is nothing you can or should actively do, jump straight to the trust).

The most certain thing that exists is G-d.

Meditate on the fact that Almighty G-d is the master of the universe, and He runs every single detail of this world. Place your trust and reliance solely on Him and then breathe in, breathe out and try your hardest to ‘chill out’.

The more you trust, the more calm and peaceful you will feel.

Plan concrete positive actions. Like thinking about and planning joyous events.

(On a personal note, while the thousands of tourists who would usually be in Thailand now, are currently in the army in Israel, we are projecting that once it will be possible, the guests will start streaming into our Chabad Houses in larger numbers than before. This is the time to prepare the appropriate infrastructure to prepare to be able to welcome our soldiers with open arms).

Placing your trust in Hashem will give you inner calm and a sense of tranquility.

Connecting to Hashem and sending Mitzvah spiritual hugs to our soldiers, captives, wounded and citizens of Israel, is the ‘order of the day’ for all of us.

Each Mitzvah adds light to the battle of light against darkness.

During our conference, much emphasis was placed on how to spread the joy of being Hashem’s chosen Jewish people with our respective communities.

Jews world over are starting to make plans on how to best celebrate the upcoming Festival of Lights – Chanukah!!!

Chanukah is around the corner starting on December 7th.

Save the date for the Bangkok community celebration on Monday December 11th at Rembrandt hotel.

May Hashem bless us with secure peace, the coming home of our hostages, the safety or our soldiers, the healing of our wounded, and peace and serenity for all of the humane and good people of our world.

We want Mashiach NOW!

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS here is a link to a number of inspiring articles related to the war in Israel.

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