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"Stay Put! We're Coming to You..."

Blog.jpgThis 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. 

Trip to Israel

Blog.jpgI just returned from Israel, where I spent five days touring the length and breadth of the country with two of my children. Sharing the experience with my kids brought the country to life in a way I didn’t realize was possible. 

I’ve been to Israel many, many times, but travelling with my 10-year-old daughter was a whole new experience. It was as if I were experiencing it for the very first time. 

When I pointed out the Temple Mount, she said, “Wow! That is where Isaac was bound by his father, Abraham. Over there is where Abraham faced his greatest test!” I could see all the Torah stories and Jewish history she has learned coming to life in her young mind. She felt Abraham’s presence, could picture the stories more clearly, and connected with our heritage in a very real way. 

When we visited Kever Rachel, where our mother Rachel is buried, my kids relived the story of Rachel being buried at the side of the road by her husband, Yaakov. They could feel the presence of Joseph, praying at her graveside while being escorted to Israel. 

When we arrived at the outskirts of Jericho, my daughter remembered that this was the first city the Jews conquered when Joshua lead the Israelites out of the desert and into the Land of Israel. She was able to visualize the miracle that took place there when the Jews circled the walled city seven times and the walls crumbled. 

And when we prayed at the gravesite of Rabbi Akiva in Teverya, she connected with this holy man through all the stories she knows about him. She recalled the way he grew up a poor shepherd, thinking he could never learn any Torah, but with his wife’s guidance and encouragement he went on to become one of the greatest Torah sages ever. She remembered the heroic way he died at the hands of the Romans, while calling out the Shema prayer. 

I watched with awe as my children connected with the land and our ancestors over and over again, in ways that I, as an adult, am not able to. For my children, this was not ancient history. It was alive and vibrant and current.

What a wonderful lesson for the rest of us! 

We are entering the month of Nissan, during which we celebrate Pesach—the holiday that made us into a nation and eventually led us back to our homeland, Israel. 

Our connection with and love of Israel is nothing new; it was ours well before 1948! It is our eternal home. The same place our people have lived throughout history. 

We have the Torah, we have each other and we have Israel. This Passover, let’s make an effort to connect with our fellow Jews, our Jewish heritage, and the Land of Israel in a real and meaningful way.

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