We’re back! Work, school, whatever you do with your day, is no longer on hold; the holidays are over.
Real Life has raised its head after a month overflowing with lavish spiritual nurture. Now you have choices to make. It can all be filed away in the folder called The Holidays, or you bring it with you. This means that you have to bite the bullet, and head towards a world that is concrete, defined, and awfully demanding. I miss the holidays already. Just thinking about bircat kohanim, with its surging crowds, makes me hungry for more. “Hearing” (well actually just recalling) the resounding “amen” after each of the ancient triplicate brachos recited at the Kotel does it. I “see” hundreds of men who can trace themselves back to Aharon take me to another world.
Being back in Real Life still has its virtues.
You are back to the daily grind, and to tell you the truth, I think most of us like it that way. When you get up in the morning with a to-do list in your mind as you say modeh ani, the adrenalin starts flowing. The first day of Real Life for me was Friday. Hashem in His infinite mercy knew how ambivalent I was about leaving the holidays behind, so He gave me a special treat to help me get through the transition.
Friday was going to be a memorable day no matter what. My son Baruch’s youngest boy, Natanel, was scheduled to put on tefillin for the first time, a month before his Bar Mitzvah. They chose the Kotel as the best place for this to take place. The entire Heller tribe came for the occasion, as did my daughter-in-law’s clan, the Becker family. I was standing near the mechitzah watching him put on the tefillin, when suddenly it became clear that Someone Important arrived at the Kotel plaza. There were cameras flashing, music playing (which is usually not allowed in the plaza), and many men in white uniforms. A stretcher followed. I soon found out what was happening. A woman who volunteers for the Magen David Adom (Israeli version of the Red Cross), has a son who shares a birthday with Natanel. She mentioned her plan of bringing him to the Kotel to her great uncle. “I want to go too”, he said. “I want to put on tefillin”. The man is 93 years old; his Bar mitzvah was meant to take place 80 years ago. The times weren’t right-he never did end up having a real Bar Mitzvah, or have the opportunity to don tefillin. He asked his niece if she could make this a joint Bar Mitzvah. With a little help from her friends, fellow volunteers, he was there, putting on tefillin for the first time along with his about to be thirteen year old great great grand-nephew. The volunteers played the Jewish music that he remembered from his early years, heveinu shalom Aleichem, David Melech Yisrael, and more.
I felt like I was on a bridge between worlds. When we walked up to Har Tzion where my daughter in law Batya had arranged a beautiful breakfast, I didn’t feel the back-to-reality- let down that sometimes happens, sort of like jet lag, when you fly from heaven to earth. It felt organic and right to move into the big decisions, like choosing whole wheat bagels because they are more healthful, or the ones made out of white flour that are made with onion and garlic. It was natural. Fun. A great way to take the Kotel with you into your heart. The Real World is where it’s at; we are here to give it purpose and direction, never to deny its power or its potential.
Today (26 of Cheshvan) is my husband’s yahrtzeit. It fit his personality so well to leave us just after the holidays were over, leaving us with his unforgettable way of being both practical and inspired as a relevant heritage. The family will be headed to Har hazeitim, which is the site where the revival of the dead will begin. The entire idea of returning to this world after death was once a puzzle to me. Why would anyone want a return trip to a place that demands struggle, and often is the scene of failure? Isn’t the joy of the future world better?
While there is more than one approach to answering this question, the truth seems to me to lie with the Ramchal’s vision of what life is meant to be like. The war between the two sides of your nature was never meant to last your entire lifetime. Ideally, there can be a moment of final victory. This can happen only after the body is no longer demanding the right to rule. The moment that the soul and body are really united, the result is simchah.
When we were first married, my husband O.H. went to one of the building meetings that are part of life in Israel. When everyone owns their apartment (or rents from someone who owns it), it is only natural that they take care of their homes. The public areas of the building belong to everyone. That means that they don’t belong to anyone specific; neither does the roof, the entrance hall or the garden. Every building has a committee (a vaad bayit) that is in charge, and like all committees, it has a chairperson. My husband came down and announced that he is now in charge of the vaad. I was appalled. How did he let himself into a tedious and unpopular task that involves dealing with people who want things perfect but who don’t want to spend money or put in time to make things happen. People like me come from a long line of non-belongers. My aunt Fay, who belonged to a book club, was a source of mystery to the rest of us. We don’t join anything, much less run anything. I asked him why he let himself be elected to the vaad... I still remember the look- he had no concept of not bringing what you believe in into your life. Reality wasn’t the enemy to him; it was what we are all here for.
Have a great winter,