Souls On Fire: Musings Of A Shliach From Montana
The world is blowing up, or at least that’s how it feels as we watch from Montana.
We have evil rioters causing havoc and bringing needless death to the halls of Congress. The First Amendment to the Constitution reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” But billionaire tech giants, who aren’t elected and wield way too much power in our fragile union, are controlling too much of our freedom of speech, and more and more Americans are growing despondent with the country they love.
Being a shliach during such a time isn’t easy, as there are those gloating about their party’s successes, those broken about their party’s losses, those who are looking to move to calmer countries, and those who, at least in Montana, are preparing for the potential of a civil war.
It’s a tough time to be a leader, to remain focused on the mission, the G-d-given mandate.
We are meant to “live with the times—with the Torah portion of the week,” and as I dive into our parashah, Vaeira, it seems like history is repeating itself. There is suffering, there are taskmasters, there are dictators, there are reassuring leaders, and the masses aren’t buying the possibility of a bright future. There is deep stubbornness on all sides, and, like the ten plagues, there are constant hints that G-d sends our way to awaken us, though too often we don’t get it and remain asleep at the wheel. The idea that the suffering Egyptians were practically begging their leader Pharaoh to free the Jews and he wouldn’t listen because he was stubborn is still a bipartisan ailment that plagues our republic.
Yet, in the midst of that chaos, we start inching closer to redemption. It takes another three plagues (in next week’s parashah, Bo) and it takes more G-dly intervention at the Yam Suf, the Sea of Reeds, but eventually the liberty process takes hold and Am Yisrael, the apple of Hashem’s eye, make their way to Sinai and 40 years later to Eretz Yisrael, our eternal and beloved homeland.
Redemption seems unattainable at first, and sometimes it’s in the darkest most challenging moments of the exile where the light is embedded.
Moshe screams to Hashem: “Why have You made it worse for this nation?” He demands of G-d to make things better, not worse, and expects Hashem to give him more Divine intuition and revelation than he had up until that point. Hashem responds by giving him a lesson in gratefulness. “I am the L-rd. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob with the name Al-mighty G-d, but with My name YHWH, I did not become known to them … I established My covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan … I heard the moans of the children of Israel, whom the Egyptians are holding in bondage, and I remembered My covenant. Therefore, say to the children of Israel, ‘I am the L-rd, and I will take you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.’”
G-d was giving His beloved Moses a crash course: (1) I am giving you the ultimate revelation of my Ineffable Name. I didn’t give it to the Avos, the patriarchs, and they still didn’t complain. (2) You will get out of Egypt, and Bnei Yisrael will end up, as promised, in Eretz Yisrael. (3) I hear their pain, I feel their suffering, and don’t ever think that I am detached from the human experience. (4) Go do your job and bring My message to the Jews.
It was a dose of tough love for His favorite servant, but also a lesson for us all. Even in the harshest of times, even when we are broken inside and out, even when we wonder whether G-d is listening to our cry or ignoring us, even then, not only does Hashem hear us and care for us, but He’s pained, He’s broken with us, and never leaves us alone. I am not preaching this to you as a rabbi; I am writing this to myself, as every one of us, even shluchim on the frontline sharing Torah and emunah with the masses, needs a biblical boost when times are tough.
For me, one of the toughest challenges is raising my children—in our case, our five beautiful adopted kids. You don’t have to be a psychologist or social worker to know that every adopted child, by the simple fact that he or she is adopted, has experienced trauma in his or her young life and has attachment challenges due to the biological/adoptive discrepancies. Add to the mix the fact that five such souls are one family, living in the same home, attending three different schools, and being raised as chassidim in Bozeman, Montana, and the daily roller coaster of emotions and mental-health needs are, at times, extremely overwhelming.
The last few months have been such a time for us. Chavie and I don’t seek pity or rachmanus—it’s not our style or something we need. Baruch Hashem, we have supportive friends and family and a community who love us very much. I share this simply because I know there are many readers who experience hardships of their own with their children and other life dilemmas and they, too, deserve to know that not only is there light at the end of the tunnel, but there’s light in the darkest section of the tunnel, too. No need to suffer in silence, wondering if Hashem cares about you, hears you, and will make things better. He will, as He always does, and it’s our role to hang on until we reach that point.
In the last Parashas Vaeira talk the Rebbe gave back in 1992, just two months before he suffered a debilitating stroke in Queens at his father-in-law’s resting place, the Rebbe emphasized the word “Vaiera,” meaning the “Appearance of G-d” as an important part of this inner conflict and conversation we each endure. Moshe was demanding a revelation, and G-d was telling him that He does show Himself. Hashem was basically saying, “I revealed myself to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov with the name Kel-Shakai and I will show y’all even more, but hang tight.”
Sometimes in our lives that revelation is easily obvious, like with the ten plagues and the splitting of the sea, but at other times it will take some meditation and introspection to see that Hashem is right here. Yet, the Jew does not suffice with this level of warm coddling from Hashem, and we say to Him, “We want the ultimate revelation, we want the revelation that is even greater than Yetzias Mitzrayim, Matan Torah, and Kriyas Yam Suf; we want the Messianic revelation, we want the ease, we want the tranquil, we want the simple. We don’t want Your Names, as holy as they may be—we want You. We are tired of playing hide-and-seek with You, dear G-d, we are tired of seeking You as You keep hiding from us. It’s time to get back together in the natural oneness with our Creator.
In that talk and subsequent talks, the Rebbe quotes the Zohar in Parashas Vayigash that says that “Come and behold in Pharaoh’s house” alludes to, on high, Binah, which is the house from which the lights and candles are revealed … “all that was hidden, is there revealed.” Though written in the typical cryptic Zohar style, Hashem is basically telling us that the hardest moments of life, the ones that cause the most tears and the deepest hopelessness, are the moments that bring about the greatest light. If you can deal with the Pharaoh, inner and outer, who is known as the fierce crocodile in Kabbalah, then not only will there be “Vaeira,” revelation, but Hashem eventually says “Bo el Pharaoh, come to Pharaoh.”
Why “come” and not “go to Pharaoh,” which would make the most sense? Because if we are ready to take on the “pharaoh moments” of life, Hashem comes with us right into the royal room of evil, face to face with the centerpiece of darkness, and forces an exodus with triumph. It may take some time, as it did from when Moses started Project Exodus until they arrived in Israel, but once the miracles start rolling, they don’t stop.
I take Moshe Rabbeinu’s lessons to heart as I parent our children. I don’t kvetch all day or fume at G-d for my woes, but simply do my best today and even better tomorrow and recognize that Hashem is the best Redeemer one can wish for. We love our children dearly, with every fiber of our being, but parenting is hard and it’s OK to say it. It doesn’t make me inept or less fatherly—it simply allows me to share my parenting struggles, fears, hopes, and inspirations, and do so while in the midst of loving these kiddos gifted to me by Hashem, miraculously.
Vaeira teaches us that when we are exasperated, falling apart, asking G-d, “Why me?” we should listen intently and pay close attention as G-d responds and tells us that the revelation is near. The change is happening and your sea will split at the right moment; just hold on for the ride.
Rabbi Chaim Bruk is co-CEO of Chabad Lubavitch of Montana and spiritual leader of The Shul of Bozeman. For comments or to partner in our holy work, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit JewishMontana.com/Donate.