Three phrases that can change your life “Isn’t it amazing?” “You are beloved” and “Challenge is good”.
I don’t know what will happen, but seeing the picture in the news of Jonathan Pollard and Ester, his wonderful wife with the headline, “May be soon released” made more than my day. It made me revisit the last time I spoke to Ester. My dear friend, Leah Faigin is a long-time friend and fan of the Pollards. She was kind enough to introduce me to Ester: Jonathan was not there for me to meet. He was serving his impossibly long prison sentence for spying for Israel. I wrote to him periodically, and sent him the weekly letters I write to you. He couldn’t write back; his funds and privileges were limited, and had to be saved for Ester and for his lawyers. Ester lived in Israel at the time. I called to invite her for a Shabbos. I will never forget what she said. “Yes. I will come with Yohonason as soon as it is possible”. I didn’t know what to think, let alone know what to say. She saw hope where I saw a fait accompli. He would never be here. Never be free. Doesn’t she get it? Sure, you should have bitachon, but don’t you have to be realistic. Why not come for Shabbos? My higher self soon answered my lower self. “She’s right! Anything is possible? When was the last time you thought about Kriyat Yam Suf- the splitting of the Sea? When you let yourself go back to the times when you were in Israel in 1967. Did you predict what would happen in just 6 days”. My higher self silenced my lower self, and my sceptiscm changed into deep admiration for Ester’s bitachon in a matter of a few moments. But the thoughts coming from the other side, my “realistic” self, returned.
Then things changed. Mr. Pollard had been given 30 years, and served every day of it. Even then he was released to live a semi free existence. He was housebound in the literal sense every Shabbos. He had to wear a device that connected him to the security authorities, and couldn’t leave his tiny Manhattan apartment. His crime was letting Israel know the information America had about the danger Iraq posed as it progressed in building an atomic reactor. In the end, Americans used the information, and let Israel, its ally do the dirty work. The reactor was destroyed, as was decades of Pollard’s life. His sentence was unprecedented. People who had sold seriously dangerous information to enemy states were given prison sentences that dwarfed the one that he endured. President Trump is considering letting him finally be free to go to Israel to live, which has been his dream. My dream is unlikely to materialize any time soon. There were many people who were far more proactive than I was in trying to bring Pollard home, and when Ester and Yohonson decide that it is time for some social life, I doubt if I am (or should be) very high on the list.
You may be wondering why I am telling you all of this. The reason is that every so often its worth questioning your level of trust in Hashem. In Chovos HaLevavos (Duties of the Heart), Rabbenu Bachaya Ibn Pekuda tells you some ways in which you can get yourself “unstuck”.
1-Realize that people who believe in Hashem’s presence, love, and power, and who know that the Torah is true, may or may not think about these concepts very often. The reason is that the material world is so engaging! Tomorrow is Shop for Shabbos day. My daughter Chani is in the States for a visit, so it looks like I will be braving Cheaperkol’s Thursday lines. I can already see myself standing in front of the ice-cream freezer deep in thought. On one hand, ice cream sandwiches are really great. On the other hand, they have no fudge. Maybe the minis would be a better choice. You can eat a few without feeling guilty. I will spare you the rest of my soliloquy, but trust me, it’s not over till it’s over. This is only part one; since you and I like physical pleasures, you and I have to earn the cash to buy them. This is another grab at your emotional capacity. Oh yes. Don’t forget that living standards are continually rising. Gourmet food, season by season clothes shopping, and serious decorating are all normal. This certainly wasn’t the case a generation ago. Still more emotional grabbing. You may have very little time or passion left for anything real and enduring. He provides you with a profoundly moving answer, articulated with his usual erudition. I will put it to you in my words.
LEARN TO SAY, “ISN’T IT AMAZING?”
Revisit the ice cream display. Isn’t it amazing that Hashem created so many tastes and textures? Isn’t the way your body can handle them all (which is as you know a hugely complex process) really amazing? Isn’t the fact that you have more than your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents could ever have even dreamed of amazing? You have enough money to buy non-necessities (well some people consider ice cream a non-necessity) really amazing?
If you think like this, a very interesting change takes place. What is common place (hitting Cheaperkol on Thursday) becomes amazing. So much compassion, involvement, outpouring, form the Source of all things. What is almost unimaginable like the picture in the news of the Pollards smiling, becomes completely possible. Not prosaic, but not all that much bigger than life-not because their miracle became smaller, but because life became bigger.
Many of you sometimes feel stuck (at least that’s what you tell me when you write.). I am not going to tell you that things will change tomorrow. I can’t tell you when or if you will find the right man, job, friends, college, or doctor. What I am telling you is the more attention you pay when you buy ice cream, the more you can see the world of the Possible with all of its beautiful colors and tastes.