I love starting Shmos. The first letters of the names of the first six Parshas spell out the word “Shovavim” which means “Wild Ones”. The context is that G-d implored us (as it says in the haftorah) “Return wild children”. We are such wild kids!
I was walking out late one night and saw a gaggle of ‘off-the-derech’ boys. They were young. The oldest of this particular group couldn’t have been much more than seventeen. They wore their Declaration of Independence on their backs. Sleeveless shirts, neon colors (presumably chosen to match their hair), high top shoes recalling army battalions that they will or §won’t belong to any time soon, any more than any other part of the society that they rejected. One of my sons has a clubhouse for them. His goal is to give them back their humanity. It isn’t easy, and it isn’t always successful. Their stories, he tells me, are distressingly similar. They don’t fit in; this may be true (as in the case of boys with learning disabilities) or may be imagined (as in the case of boys who have low self-esteem for whatever reason). They end up trapped in a no man’s land in which they are rejected because they reject, and then experience more rejection still. They sometimes numb themselves with various substances, and sometimes drown their pain in the unconditional friendships that they offer each other. Theft is not at all unusual. Some of them don’t have anywhere to go to, and far more have neatgive associations of defeat the minute they open the door to their homes. There is also another component. There’s a lot of easy, painless, attractive and enjoyable escape via the media, eating, sleeping, wandering, and even hanging around the malls. The mall designers use their skills to give a message: “This is quality, and you are quality”.
They don’t know that they have options. They don’t know that they don’t have to choose between rejection and escape. They don’t know that being wild in any sense of the word is yearning to feel something.
This time of year is one in which even the doors of the most vulnerable heart can reopen.
When we read the Parshas of redemption this sort of return in is most possible. The Kabbalists say that all of the doors are open. Each one of the Parshas, the Shlah (an acronym for “shnei luchot habris” a sefer written by one of the most famous post-medieval scholars) points out that each Parshah has a theme. In the first one, this week’s Parshah, suffering is the theme. It can open doors by forcing you face your real self. The way this works, is that when you suffer you can’t hide from yourself. This can free you to shed all of the impurities that you may have picked up along the way in order to make hiding more efficient(by escaping, and indulging). You come to a place where you know your only source of refuge and hope is Hashem. The problem that some people have is that they don’t really believe that He cares about them. This is why the Jews in Egypt had to first suffer and then experience the miracles that testify to how beloved they really are.
Moshe understood all of this better than we will ever be able to, but you still see that at the end of the Parshah, he asks Hashem, “Why have you dealt badly with this people”. The Pri Tzadik (one of the great Chassidic Rebbes) asks the obvious question. Moshe knew that things would get worse before they get better. Hashem Himself told Moshe that Pharaoh will not release the Jews easily. He brings a Midrash that makes things clearer. When Moshe (who at the time was still a prince in Pharaoh’s palace) saw how unbearable the servitude had become, he suggested to Pharaoh that he give the Jews one day off each week in order to get more work out of them. When Pharaoh agreed, Moshe suggested that the day be (guess what?) Shabbos. They used the day to regain their strength not only physically, but they reviewed the scrolls that they had in which all of the events that took place in their history were written. When they would read about the redemption there were at least a few rays of hope and consolation. It was only at the end, when Pharaoh forbade them to continue keeping Shabbos that their pain was unbearable enough for Moshe to ask Hashem this question.
Shabbos is the way that you can feel cared about. It gives you the inner space to take your escapist wild self and to tame it by surrendering to the knowledge that Hashem created the entire world for you, and for every other Jew.
New baalei teshuva often have a hard time with Shabbos; you are upstairs in your room after having had your Shabbos meal in splendid isolation. Downstairs you can hear the TV and the laughter. There may be a generous scoop of mockery thrown in. You may want to escape. You know the truth, but you feel rejected. Hashem is there, you may feel, but not for me. Others may feel the choking of being stuck in Sterile Suburbia without anyone to share your Shabbos or any other part of your life that has spiritual meaning.
Do what you have to do open the gift box and see the treasure that Shabbos is.
Those of you who can invite Neve girls maybe let the office know. Those of you who need invitations, be brave enough to ask for them, either via the office or your kiruv Rabbi. The time couldn’t be better.
All the best,