This past Shabbat, two 16-year-old Chabad students, Rivka Moshe and Brocha Katz, went missing while on a weekend Shabbaton trip with their classmates. They were staying at a hotel in Florida, which is surrounded by a thick forest. The girls went for a walk on Shabbat afternoon, and did not return at the appointed time.
Because it was Shabbat, we knew they had nothing with them. No food, water, money or cell phone.
Like thousands of other people around the world, when I heard the news I was extremely worried. Were they kidnapped? Lured into a bad area? Could it possibly be terrorism? And even if they were "just" lost, this is a Florida forest, near a lake, where alligators and snakes abound. How would they stay safe?
With all this in mind, I gathered my children and we recited tehillim (Psalms) together, in the merit of these two young women. We prayed for their safety, their speedy return, and their parents' peace of mind.
And we were certainly not the only ones. It was later calculated that approximately 15,175 chapters of tehillim were recited for these two girls. In fact, the entire book was tehillim was completed 89 times by a combined 4,246 readers. Moreover, 350 people committed to doing a new mitzvah in their merit. The global Jewish community joined forces in an effort to storm the Heavens for their safe return.
Thankfully, the girls survived. They got lost in the forest and ended up stuck in a marsh, from which they were extracted the next day.
I was thinking that there is a tremendous lesson here for all of us. These young girls were lost in a massive dark forest, and we, too, are lost—in this dark, bitter exile.
The further the girls walked, the more difficult the terrain became, and the more lost they became. Likewise, the further we travel through the exile, the more entrenched in it we become. Each generation of Jews born into this exile is like taking another step, walking another mile, as the terrain becomes more spiritually treacherous and ever darker.
At one point, the swamp was so deep that the girls found themselves in murky water up to their chins. We, too, are chin deep in this exile, and many of us have begun to lose hope that Redemption will ever arrive.
When asked what gave them strength, they both mentioned that hearing the helicopters buzzing overhead throughout the night gave them the encouragement they needed to push through and keep their spirits up.
And when a helicopter finally spotted the girls, he threw down a note, on which he wrote, "Stay put! We are coming to you."
We are about to celebrate Passover, the festival of freedom, when we eat matzah, which is called the bread of faith. When we crunch on the matzah, it sounds like those choppers. It reminds us that just as G-d took the Jews out of Egypt all those years ago, He will, without doubt, redeem us too. It gives us hope.
Passover is like a personal note from G-d, reassuring us that He knows where we are, and that Moshiach is on the way. It's up to us to hold on and stay strong until that rescue mission is complete.