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“It Bothers Me That It Bother Me…”

elulthekingisinfield.jpgShortly before Rosh Hashanah two years ago I received a phone call from my friend Peter.

“Rabbi, I have a problem,” he said.

“Sure, how can I help you?”

“I’ve been dating a girl for quite some time and lately it’s gotten more serious,” he told me. “I’m helplessly in love with her.”

“That’s great news!” I said enthusiastically. “So, what’s the problem?”

That’s when Peter dropped the bombshell. “She’s not Jewish,” he said. However, “my parents want us to marry, my siblings are also encouraging the relationship, and most importantly, I love her and want to spend the rest of my life with her.”

“Hmm…” I said, my mind racing. “But why are you calling me? You sound like you’ve made up your mind.”

“As much as I love her, it bothers me that she’s not Jewish,” he answered. “But more than that, it bothers me that it bothers me.” 

That line ran through my mind over and over. “It bothers me that it bothers me.” What a powerful testament to the purity of the soul! 

My friend Peter is tormented by his predicament. He loves a woman who he knows he shouldn’t marry and his soul is capitalizing on that. His soul is pleading, crying out, “Set me free! Nurture me!” His soul wants to raise Jewish children and continue the chain of Jewish tradition. 

We’re almost halfway through the Jewish month of Elul, the month immediately preceding Rosh Hashanah. Chassidic teaching explains that during the other 11 months of the year, G-d is like a king in his palace. When a king is in his court, he is less accessible. Only invited dignitaries and royalty can meet with him, appointments must be scheduled far in advance and can be cancelled at whim. But during the month of Elul, G-d is likened to a king in the field. When a king is out touring his land, he is much more accessible to his subjects. He wants to see how they live, and what they think and feel. Right now, G-d is “in the field.” He is closer to us than at any other time during the year and we can reach Him with much less effort than usual.  

Also during the month of Elul we blow the shofar daily. The shofar represents the cry of the soul; the collective Jewish soul as well as our individual souls. It was that cry I heard in Peter’s heart. “It bothers me that it bothers me.” His soul was crying out for recognition and understanding. 

I suggested to Peter that he pay his soul some of the attention it was begging for. “Come to shul every week, attend all our events and classes for a year. Feed your soul. Get involved. Unshackle your soul and harness its power by doing mitzvot and learning Torah.” 

And while Peter was in a very specific situation, we can all benefit by doing the same. The word teshuva, usually translated as ‘repentance’ actually means ‘return.’ As we prepare for the new year, it is the most opportune time for us to do teshuva, to return to our true selves. We are all good people and we want to do the right things. Our souls are calling out for it. Let’s give them what they want. 

My Beloved Aunt Passed Away

1.jpgWe all pray for things we want and need – for ourselves and for others – but how often do we feel our prayers were answered? One of the questions I get asked very often, is “Rabbi, I pray and pray but it doesn’t seem to work. Does G-d really hear me?”

In this week’s Torah portion we read about Moses’ desire to enter the Land of Israel, together with the nation he shepherded faithfully through the desert for forty full years. He beseeched G-d 515 times to grant his request! He pleaded, he begged, he prayed, but it was not to be. He died in the desert, but G-d did allow him to view the entire Land of Israel from the top of a mountain first. 

My aunt, who lived in Israel, recently passed away. I remember coming to Israel as a young teenager of 14 years to study in Yeshiva there. I often spent the weekends at my aunt, Tzippora Vigler’s house, in Lod. Although she has 12 children and lives in a tiny Israeli-sized three-bedroom apartment, whenever I came to visit she gave me my own room! She truly exemplified the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim (welcoming guests).  Her Shabbat table was always filled singing, laughter and happiness. Her smile was contagious. My aunt was content with her lot in life, a truly admirable trait. She was beloved to her friends and family – and really to all who knew her. We will miss her. 

My cousin Mendy, her son, just emailed all our relatives. He writes: “I am heartbroken by the loss of my mother at the young age of 57. Like all of you, I’m questioning: didn’t we pray for her recovery? Didn’t we beseech the A-mighty G-d to restore her health? Where did all the prayers go? We went to the Ohel. We went to the Kotel to pray together. We went to Kever Rachel. We went to Meron and to the gravesites of so many righteous and holy people. We took upon ourselves countless initiatives. We studied Torah in her merit. We even wrote an entire Torah in her merit.  One of my brothers got up every morning at 5am to recite the entire book of Psalms for 2 hours. So what happened to all these prayers and extra good deeds?”  

He continued, “We, of course, cannot know the how’s and why’s of G-d’s plan, and I fully believe that He knows what He’s doing, but perhaps out prayers eased my mother’s burden, even if we were not able to ultimately save her life. She suffered with terrible cancer for three and a half years. Normally, someone in her condition would have been hospitalized, greatly deteriorated and in severe pain. But my mother hardly suffered during this period. She was able to lead a very normal lifestyle despite the disease racking her body. She was able to communicate with her children and grandchildren, she even cooked and hosted Shabbat dinner for her entire family the week before she passed away. Moreover, all her children were with her when she died, and they all said the “confession” prayer together with her. She was able to return her soul to her Creator in peace and purity, surrounded by those she loved. Perhaps this was what our prayers accomplished. Perhaps out prayers eased her suffering during those years of illness.” 

While I don’t know forsure if my cousin’s theory is accurate, I do know that our sages tell us that when we pray, G-d always listens. Our prayers always result in a positive outcome, even if we don’t perceive it. 

May the soul of my aunt, Tzipporah Vigler, be elevated in Heaven! May we all pray for the coming of the Moshiach, which will herald an era with no more suffering and pain.

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