Picture Batei Ungarin, one of the scenic courtyards of Meah Shearim. The people who live there don’t have driers. Their clotheslines cross the entire expanse of vast public square. This leads to a subtle and unending contest that no one talks about. Whose laundry is whiter? The rules are rigid. No yellow or greyish laundry is allowed. Needless to say, bleach, synthetic whiteners and various home- made concoctions are popular items. One day Ruchele says to Chaim over their morning coffee, “Chaim, I think that the neighbor’s must be having financial trouble. Her laundry is, you know, greyish. Maybe they can’t afford decent detergent. Maybe their washing machine isn’t what it once was. Maybe you should speak to someone in Kupat HaIr (the communal charity fund) about helping them out” “I’m not a yenta. I will not discuss someone else’s laundry with the rabbis of Kupat HaIr. Forget it”, he replied in a tone that left little room for debate. Nonetheless, Ruchele mentioned it the next day. The third day she had a “chiddush”. “Chaim look! They must have a new machine, or bought much better detergent. Their laundry is sparkling! “Ruchele, I realized that today is your birthday, so I made a surprise for you. I washed the windows”….The story is, of course, just a flight of fancy.
The person who told it is worth knowing. Rebbitzen Aidel Miller is a genuine dyed-in-the-wool Yerushalmis of the old school. and a great-granddaughter of Rav Yaakov Yosef Herman of “All for the Boss” fame. She came to Bnos Avigail on Rosh Chodesh Adar to give us some experiential insight into simchah. The hour or so that she was with us began and ended with laughter, but what made the deepest and most enduring imprint was that she really knows what simchah is about. It’s about trust in Hashem, positivity, judging favorably, taking responsibility for your life rather than escaping or blaming. Most of all it’s about real emunah, and the optimism that is its natural child. I know her for quite a number of years. Her grandmother, Frieda, was one of the “Herman girls”; some of you may have met or heard of two others, Ruchama Shain and Rebbitzen Bessie Sheinberg. They both were legends in their time. Ruchama Shain for her unforgettable books, all of which brought you to a meeting with the place inside you that loves light, and Rebbitzen Sheinberg who had a bad case of compulsive maternalism towards any English speaking individual twenty years her junior. All of “the girls” had learned the art of having “clean windows”.
I can hear some of you thinking “One more thing to feel depressed about. It’s not enough that I’m still not married (or if you are, that it’s still not perfect, or if it is, that you still are not financially as secure as you want to be, or if you are that you worry about your kids or your health…). Now I have to feel guilty about not being full of simchah?
Reb Ahron HaGadol of Karlin once wrote, “Depression isn’t a sin, but the greatest sin doesn’t create the ‘timtum ha leiv’ ( a spiritually blocked heart) that it generates”
The real question is how to you open your heart to feeling some simchah?
The first thing is to be focused on your many successes. There is a story in Seder HaDoros in about a man who had fallen just about as low as a person can fall. One day Rabbi Akiva saw him riding a donkey and saw that his face was shining like the sun at midday, and that he had a brilliant aura of light above his head. Rabi Akiva asked his students, “Do you see anything above this man’s head? “ When they said “No”, Rabbi Akiva said, “Bring him to me, quickly”. Rabbi Akiva told the man, “My son, an aura of light is above your head. I see that you will merit Olam Haba. What deed did you do?
There was no great deed.
That man had not done teshuvah
He said,” I held back from doing a grave sin”. That was enough.
Think about the times that we live in, the temptations that you face every day, the light you shed just by being a person whose inherent desire to make your life worth something is manifest in everything that you do and everything that you are. Of course you have numerous human failures. They make your choices even more significant.
I took a group of women from Project Chizuk to Chevron this week. We went to a spring that is about a five minute walk down a marked path from the tombs of Ruth and Yishai. I had been there before, but this time Reb Simchah Hochberg (who is known as Mr. Chevron for his dedication to the city of the Avos) was with us. He explained that this is the only spring in the entire area. There is no other water source. Avraham’s tent couldn’t’ have been far from where we stood. Any one of the ancient olive trees (one olive tree has a trunk that is wide enough to hold a small house in its vast interior) could have been the one that he pointed out when he asked his guests to recline until he prepared their meal. I couldn’t help thinking of what nachas Avraham would have from you. You also do what you can, use what you have.
Hashem believes in you far more than you believe in yourselves. The Torah is eternal. In this past week’s parshah, He told us to build Him a sanctuary so that “I will live in you”, He says - not in it, but in you. In his essays on the Parshah, Rav Dovid Soloveichic shlita, the Rosh Yeshiva of Brisk, mentions that what we do here and now is the sanctuary to which the text is referring to. There is a spiritual parallel to the Bais HaMikdash that we humans built. It is called the “Heavenly Bais HaMikdash” and the sages tell us that the two parallel each other. The Rosh Yeshiva tells us that the earthly Temple is what the Torah is focused upon. It says, “Hashem looked into the Torah and created the world”. The heavenly Temple mirrors the one that we build, not the opposite. That means, for you, that everything you do is far more significant than you can possibly know. You are too busy building the Bais HaMikdash to realize the significance of your actions.
If you only realized what spiritual power keeping Shabbos alone in Northern California (because you didn’t make plans to go away earlier in the week) is, or if you only knew the spiritual force of dressing with tznius in Manhattan is, you would dance your way through life!
Have a fantabulous Adar!