Food For the Soul
The constant connection
Unfortunately, for many people, only when faced with hardships or tragedy do they examine their existence. At times of maximum vulnerability, people tend to gravitate to the sanctuary of their faith, hoping to ride out the hard times under Judaism’s shelter. This time of crisis becomes the impetus for a rapprochement with their G‑d.
We read in the Parsha Va’etchanan the first paragraph of the Shema, the basis credo of Jewish belief: “Hear O Israel, the L-rd, Our G‑d, the L-rd is one.” The verses continue to describe our love for G‑d and some of the basic commandments. Twice a day, “night and morning,” we are instructed to reaffirm that commitment. This obligation is fulfilled by the recitation of the Shema.
I would like to posit an alternative explanation for this verse. The love of G‑d is the basis of our faith; as a feeling of connection to one’s Creator drives one to live up to His religious expectations. This connection must be a constant, both during the blackness of night, when all is dark and turning to G‑d for succor comes naturally, and under the bright lights of daytime when the average man feels no need of reassurance.
Connecting to G‑d during the hard times comes easily, but how many have the intelligence to hop off the gravy train while the good times still roll? Don’t wait for the cold shower of tragedy to shock you into conformity, the verse advises; reconnect to G‑d now, during the good times and take pleasure in choosing your path not under duress but because it is the right thing to do.
From an article by Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum
“Comfort My people”
The haftorah following the Torah reading on Shabbat usually reflects a topic in the Torah reading. The centerpiece of the reading, Va’etchanan,is the Ten Commandments. Yet the haftorah is from Isaiah, and it is about comfort. “Comfort My people, comfort them . . .” says G‑d to the prophets. After destruction comes rebirth and rebuilding. After the destruction of the first Temple came the building of the second. After the destruction of the second Temple will come the advent of the Messiah and the building of the third Temple. The sense of comfort after the darkness of destruction is so strong that in fact this is only the first of a series of seven haftarot, week by week, all with the theme of the promise of redemption.
From an article by Dr. Tali Loewenthal
Mind Over Matter
How to become free
In every situation, we have the ability to be free. Even in this dark exile, where the world seems against us. Even in our personal lives, where we each have difficulties, suffering and pain. It is our choices that express our free nature –not our predicaments. In every situation, we find a way to free our essence, our Jewishness. Today, this seems harder than ever, as there is great temptation to be like our non-Jewish neighbors. But we have been there before, and if you try, Hashem will surely help you free yourself from your Egypt. On a deeper level: Each of us has the ability to free ourselves from our current level and reach higher plateaus. Ask yourself: How can I improve myself? How can I get closer to G_d? Then you become free.
From an article by Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz
Love His children
Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz writes, “…realize that to get closer to G‑d, you need to love his children, including those you deem less observant or more observant than yourself. Loving each other is the key to our redemption; it is how we break the chains of this exile. Perhaps that is why it is so difficult. Nevertheless, we will overcome this as well. May it happen soon.”
Have I got a Story
Kindness, positivity and gratitude
When I was a little girl, I used to love hearing my grandmother retell a Yiddish folktale about a miserable couple living in their cramped quarters with their many children. They went to seek rabbinical advice and were surprised to hear that to solve the issue they need to bring a goat inside the house. The family was confused, but did as they were told by the sage. With this addition, they became even more miserable. The family returned to clarify what to do and astonishingly were advised to bring a sheep into the house. This went on until they had an entire barn inside the house. Finally, the house had become utterly unlivable and they went to beg the rabbi for help, and only then did the rabbi tell them to let all the animals out of the house. The couple did so and was ecstatic to be living in their now-spacious-feeling dwelling with just the family. Clearly, they were back to the beginning, but with a new perspective.
My grandmother taught me about life by sharing meaningful stories such as this one. Life can always get worse, yet we have an opportunity to transcend our limitations and look at the bright side of things, regardless of circumstances.
Some might say that the death of a 95-year-old woman should not be shattering. Yet a lifetime of wisdom could not prepare me for the loss of my grandmother, Zelda bas David, who passed away on May 6, 2020. Her vibrant spirit transcends her actual years on this earth. How can a heart so full of goodness and resilience just simply stop beating? My grandmother’s life taught me that as a container is defined by its contents, life is identified by how one spends precious hours, days, years and decades.
Zelda was born a lifetime ago in July of 1924 in the former Soviet Union. The world was recuperating from the Great War before confronting the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust. Her mother died in childbirth when Zelda was just 3 years old. Zelda and her two sisters were raised by her loving father, who worked around the clock to feed his three little motherless daughters.
My grandmother was the kindest person I have ever known. Perhaps people who lived through wars, starvation and poverty had a special passion for giving to others. Zelda often repeated the story about a little boy sitting on the stoop in the neighborhood. It was the early 1930s; these were the years of Stalin’s oppression and unbearable hunger. The boy was covered in lice, begging for food. Zelda’s heart was racing as she ran inside the house yelling, “Papa, I want to give my day’s ration of bread to the poor child outside.” Her own hunger couldn’t stop her, as she snatched a piece of bread and ran into the street. The boy grabbed the bread with both hands, stuffing it into his mouth. Zelda often thought about that boy, remembering how hungry and weak he was.
Later in life, Zelda became a doctor, saving countless lives. She married and had two daughters. Then, at 34, she became a widow when her husband died in a horrific drowning accident. A year after, her youngest daughter, who was 8, year fell off a slide and suffered a traumatic brain injury, becoming handicapped for life. A motherless widow with a sick child, she continued to march on through her personal obstacle course. Zelda spent 12 years of her life in and out of hospitals, doing everything possible to save her daughter’s life. Despite the unimaginable struggles, her spirit remained unbroken.
During these complicated and uncertain times, before I fall asleep I imagine my grandmother reminding me to learn to narrate my life with positivity and gratitude. I hear her voice reassuring me that “all the memories and experiences that have been accumulated along the way can be rechanneled into a vehicle of light and kindness.”
Just as Zelda dressed up her challenging life into a colorful rainbow of joy and gratitude, I hope and pray that all of us will emerge victorious from this challenging period, embracing kindness and empathy.
Condensed from an article by Sofya Sara Esther Tamarkin