First of all, how are you all? I really like to hear from you, and haven’t heard much lately (which is usually either a very good sign-life is going smoothly, or a not so good sign-you feel like there is nothing new to write, which is actually the same thing as the good sign, life is going smoothly in a basic sense, but you may feel that it is colored by a sort of grey film that sometimes makes life feel ordinary, a feeling that makes it impossible to feel really enthusiastic and animated about being here. You can find yourself not knowing what to write not just out of normal indolence, but because life seems to be an exercise in passive resistance to minor (and sometimes major) Issues (note the caps. If you don’t live in a cave, you will know that in this century, Issues are what life is about ).
In Orchot Tzadikim there is a list of 30 items that he recommends putting on your hard disk so to speak. The very first is that existence itself is a gift. Is this how you see it?
Avraham no doubt saw it that way. The question that was almost his heartbeat was, “Who is the master of the palace”? He understood the art, and spent his life making connection with the Artist, which means that he found meaning and discovery as he did what you do-eat, drink, etc. The physical world, its order and precision live right alongside its never-ending list of surprises. It’s an astounding place to be. The joy of minute to minute discovery in existence is often clouded over by the feelings of disappointment, loss, and failure that are also part of life’s drama.
It’s hard to stay engaged with the wonder of life; it’s easier to worry about what to do if you discover that the elevator isn’t’ working, or that your appointment was cancelled, or that the scale never lies.
One of the things that you can do to stay awake to what life really is, is to bring people into the picture. It’s true that we ae all mixed bags (as it says, there is not tzadik in the land who does good but no evil), but every so often things happen that make you feel the wonder of being a choosing, thinking, and most of all sensitive person. Look at the people who got past the Greys.
I heard the following story just recently.
It was after the war. Like many other people, Efraim Greenfeld and Yechiel Weinberger had no one left. The two young men, barely out of their teens found comfort in their friendship. When the authorities who ran the DP (displaced persons) camp that they called home after they were released from Auschwitz made an announcement. They told them that it was now possible to fill out forms requesting I and migration to Canada, and that there was a good chance at being accepted. They wasted no time. When the responses came in, they found out that only one of them was given a positive reply. Efraim Greenfeld was presented with travel documents, a visa and instructions as to how to find the Jewish organization that sponsored him. Yechiel was turned down. He had typhus, and the government of Canada had no interest in taking in a person who would inevitably just be a drain on their economy. He was distraught. He saw time and life as an endless expanse, peopled by Others, people who had friends, family, and a future. When the day came to escort Efraim to the dock, he couldn’t hold back the stream of words and tears that had become one in a pain laden attempt at saying goodbye. “We will never see each other again”, he said again and again, “I have no one” There was nothing Efraim could say. It was very possibly true; Yechiel’s name was on the Bad List. He was marked off as an unwanted remnant of a war no one wanted to think about too deeply. Instead of speaking, he went to his vest pocket, and quietly handed Yechiel h is travel documents, tickets, and address book. “From now on, your name is Efraim Greenfeld. No one will ever know the difference”
Years later, Efriam Greenfeld, who was known by everyone he had met since that fateful afternoon as Yechiel Weinberger, began to ask himself some questions. He decided to address the questions to the Rebbe of Vizhnitz in Monsey. He told him the story and asked, “should I change my name back to Efraim Greenfeld. Efraim is the name I was given at my bris. Greenfeld is the name my family carried. It will take some effort, (I imagine that he meant with all of the formal and legal issues involved in changing your name), but if it’s right, that’s what I’ll do”.
The Rebbe’s answer was succinct, and passionate. “Don’t change it. Whenever anyone calls you by the name you used to save a life, Hashem hears it as defense of the Jewish people. You have no idea of what you may be achieving”.
You may be wondering what this story has to do with you.
You have made all sorts of choices. Some are dramatic and some aren’t. The yetzer ha ra will devalue the choices that you made. He won’t let you see that your existence here on the planet called earth may be so significant that it would justify not only your existence, but the existence of all of may those you touch. The yetzer hara will demand drama. He will also demoralize you by making you “forget” the moments of meaning.
This week’s parshah or more correctly, one of this week’s parshiot (there are two), is kedoshim. It begins by Hashem telling us that we can be holy. It also tells you why you can be holy. The text tells you that the reason is, Because He is.
You are in His image.
The parshah continues with one perek (16) listing many of the interpersonal mitzvot. One of the observations that you may find meaningful is one that Maharal made in Netivot Olam, his chapter on loving your neighbor. The most available way to “learn” Hashem is by seeing His image through the prism of loving your friends, seeing their greatness
And perhaps seeing your own while you’re at it.