I spent Shabbos with relatives who live on a tiny quiet yishuv in the midst of high mountains, a view of the entire country, and the kind of silence that you never hear in the city. The entire yishuv has a few more than 200 families. They live in individual homes, on unmarked streets (more correctly one of two possible streets) and being Jewish of course have three synagogues! Their version of a night out is going to the "restaurant" which is owned by an older woman who enjoys baking a small cake every day. She then serves it with coffee or tea in her very beautiful living room. Complete with a view. Since everyone is completely frum, Shabbos means that there is real silence. There is no sound of traffic; no dull electric buzz There is nothing happening except Torah, tefillah and visiting. My family there has three little girls. The oldest took herself to shul in the morning (a good 10 minute walk). No one was surprised to see her. The littlest (who isn't two but who speaks mini-sentences (three words or less) toddled over to a neighbor and said "chalav". They gave her a bag of milk, and she went home with it exactly as she was instructed to do. The middle one came home from Gan early because (in her words) "I asked Mimi for a hitch". That was too much even for my laid-back relatives; a three-year-old hitchhiking under the guidance of her five-year-old sister? I never saw children as independent and secure as they are.
When I told my friends where I would be for Shabbos, they asked me "Aren't you afraid to go out there?"
Every fear is relative.
The reason that I am telling you about my Shabbos in Never Never land, is that your assumptions about life, like mine, are based on your experience. The word "normal" is one that just reflects what you were taught somewhere between the ages of four and seven. When I grew up in Brooklyn, no one would send a young child out alone. My graddaughter in Monsey told me that it is in fact illegal to leave children alone even in their own homes without an adult who is at least 18. This posed a problem to her when she watched her siblings at 17…The reason in both cases is that the danger of letting a child out on his own in N.Y. is real. There's traffic… and worse. No one can forget the tragic and terrifying days that passed just a few years ago when a child went missing in the short space between the area where his school bus let him off, and his home. His death was cruel, but in honesty not completely unexpected. The children on the ysishuv also face danger. The entire area is surrounded by a fence and is guarded 24 hours a day. No child can get in or out without being seen by a soldier or one of the men who stand guard duty along with them. Nonetheless, facing danger from the outside, from who speak another language, and are not part of your daily life, seems (at least to me) to be easier than not trusting people who are indistinguishable from the people you have every reason to love.
The worst thing that can happen, from this perspective, is when you can't trust Hashem.
For all sorts of reasons some of you see Hashem as an enemy, One who is going to afflict you with uninterpretable events happening at a rapid pace, or choking you with laws that restrict your desires and goals.
No one is closer to you than Hashem.
This past week's Parshah, Ve"eschanan, begins with Moshe pleading with Hashem to allow him to enter Eretz Yisrael. He offered hundreds of prayers, but he was denied entrance to the Land. This didn't change his relationship to Hashem. You can trace the underlying pattern by focusing on the word that the Torah uses to describe the manner in which he prayed. The word that is used is "veschanan" which is a word that Rashi explains is being rooted in the word "chinam", which means "for free". Rashi quotes Sifri, which says, "The Jews had two great leaders, Moshe and King David. They could have made requests from Hashem bases on their good deeds, but they never did. They asked for "free gifts". We should learn that if people of this stature don't rely on their merits, how much more so people on our level should only ask for gifts that are given out of G-d's grace, gifts that are given for free."
Taking a deeper look, you may come to realize that Hashem doesn’t owe you anything. A mother might tell her two-year-old that if she eats nicely and doesn’t throw her food off the highchair tray, she will get a treat. The fact is that eating is to the child's benefit. Throwing food of the tray is not. The reward is just a means of helping her child overcome impulsivity. It isn't as though the child performed a service to her mother that benefits the mother). Similarly, when Hashem gives you opportunities to generate what the Arizal calls "an awakening from below”. This means that He may offer you the potential to awaken your latent emunah in Hashem when things are uninterpretable or your trust in Him when the mitzvos are challenging. These two responses come from the deepest part of you, and can change you more authentically than any other means of growth.
Once you open your heart to this, you will realize that you are always completely understood, completely validated, and most of all completely beloved. Your life is a free gift, and every aspect of your life is a reflection of Hashem's belief in you.
The Parshah repeats two mitzvos that I know some of you find awesomely difficult. One is honoring your parents, and the other is not envying other people's lives. They are (respectively) the last of the first five, which were on one side of the tablets, and the last of the second five, which were on the other side of the tablets. The reason for this is far from coincidental. These are the ones that are the most difficult to approach. The ones that generate the most emotional dissonance. In different ways, they are the "grand finale".
They are also the ones that can draw you closer to Hashem than any of the others. They force you awake, and make you more alive than you ever thought you could be.