One of the famous survivors of the Holocaust was Rabbi Yekutiel Yehudah Halberstam. When the war ended one of the first Sabbaths that he celebrated as a free man was the one that we read a section from the book of Leviticus (Chapter 46) which describes the awful things that will befall the Jewish people in the future if they fail to comply with their end of the covenant. The custom is to read these words quickly and in a hushed tone as if to say that these things should never happen. As the reader began reading Rabbi Halberstam banged on his table and yelled “Louder!” The reader thought that perhaps the Rabbi with all that he had experienced during the Holocaust had forgotten that we customarily read this section quietly and quickly. Not wanting to embarrass the Rabbi the reader continued reading softly. The Rabbi once again banged on the table and yelled “Louder!” The reader continued reading as if the Rabbi had said nothing. Finally for a third time the Rabbi banged but this time he said “Louder! We have already experienced all the curses. We have nothing to be embarrassed about. Now it is time for the blessings to begin!”
When planting, we push the seed in to the soil and wait for it to grow. As a necessary step for growth the seed must begin to break down and deteriorate. If you are impatient and you dig up the soil without giving it sufficient time to sprout the seed will never grow. Life is often similar to the seed. It takes patience and tenacity to confront adversity. Blessings, though, often will follow.
It is important to see your life not as two separate experiences-the good times and the bad. Rather we must see life as dynamic and learn the lessons of adversity and challenge. We must allow them to be the building blocks, the seeds through which blessing and goodness will grow. A fender bender can lead someone to being a safer and more careful driver. An argument with your spouse once resolved can elevate your relationship by sensitizing you to your spouse’s likes and dislikes. A failed business teaches you how to create a successful one the next time around.
The Torah speaks of Abraham and others as “zaken ba bayamim” (elderly who comes with his days). What does it mean to come with your days? It means to allow all the episodes of your life-both good and bad-to be your teacher. Abraham refined his character by seeing life as a holistic, dynamic process. We learn from the successes and the good and we also learn from the failures and the challenges.
The State of Israel just celebrated her 65th anniversary. It is very easy to be cynical and to focus on all the problems and struggles that Israel is facing. There is corruption in the government, terrorism, lack of patriotism amongst the younger generations, many Israeli’s are leaving Israel, fights between the religious and the secular---there is certainly no shortage of things to point and wag your finger at. It can be depressing. I think though that this is the absolute wrong attitude. We must celebrate the extraordinary achievements of the State of Israel and acknowledge the unique and special time that we are living in. Having a sovereign state of our own in our historic homeland is something that our ancestors for the last 2000 years have only dreamed of. The problems that exist in Israel must be put in to context---after 2000 years of running and fleeing at the drop of a leaf we have come home. Jewish blood is no longer free for the taking as it has been for the last 2000 years. The problems in Israel must be seen as challenges, as building blocks to further develop our State.
Many see the State of Israel as the beginning of redemption. Of course we are aware of the secular even anti-religious that do not see this. Yet, we must be able to see with “holy eyes”-a phrase that the first Chief rabbi of Israel coined for the ability to see the bigger picture. The idea is not to get caught up in the problems but rather to see them as the beginning steps of the solution. When we learn to look at the world with our own holy eyes, we will be able to observe the curses and yet behold the blessings.