Monday, June 1, 2009

In Search of Personal Nechama

To live is to lose...and the longer we live the more substantial and irreplaceable our losses.

When I was a child I visited my grandparents in their large home on President Street in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. On my way home I realized I had left behind a favorite puppet of mine, one named after a children's cartoon character of the period, Flubadub. Years later, long after my grandparents had passed away, I visited Crown Heights for Shabbat and davened in the famed Chaim Berlin Yeshiva. I came to realize, to my amazement that the Yeshiva Beit Medrash was housed in the very same building that formerly was my grandparent's home... And what do you think immediately occurred to me?...Of course, to look for Flubadub!

Since Flubadub I have had many losses...more significant and gut wrenching. My father passed away three years wife two years ago...a dog I loved a year ago...and those are only the obvious losses of many many painful and sad. While the difference in the loss between the childhood puppet and those I loved can be talked about in terms of meaning and import. Its not that difference I want to reflect on here for a moment...Rather I want to think on how I dealt with the loss...Flubadub, the puppet of only instrumental value, I never really gave up on...Years later I found myself looking for him, as if he really could be found...As the losses in my life mounted my sense that losses could yet be found disappeared. I began to give up on ever having the loss restored, on ever finding a replacement, on ever finding a true nechama, consolation.

Nechama seemed something that belonged to the next world, not to this one. Yi'ush despair seemed the more realistic response in the here and now. It was get over it and move on...accept the losses as a consequence of living.

This week I happened on a Gemara in Pesachim that caused me to rethink my approach to loss. The Talmud teaches that there are seven things that are intentionally kept hidden from a person. Some are obvious, like the day s/he will die and the day Mashiach will come. We can surmise the reasons in both cases. Others are less obvious. And one gave me a new sense of hope. The Gemara teaches that one of the things kept hidden from a person is the day s/he will find his/her nechama (Rashi learns that the Gemara is referring to a personal nechama not the national nechama ).

Wow, so my nechama may actually be just around the corner and I do not realize it. It is coming if not yet. And if I do not see it now that does not mean it will not arrive. But if I do not look for it than when it comes I may miss it. Could there be any gift more precious to the despairing.

Before Yom Tov I went to a barber in my new neighborhood. I noticed that he was wearing a white shirt and black Shabbat pants as he cut hair. I asked him about it. I said "do you always dress this way for work? I have never been to a barber who dressed as for Shabbat while cutting hair". He explained, "We never know when Mashiach may come. And when he does I want to be dressed so I can go to greet him right away".

How wonderful that hashkafa. Not only does my barber not despair despite the long and painful galut. He anticipates the redemption, and each day. Now the question is can we apply that perspective to our personal life as well, and never stop believing that the nechama is yet to come, never stop looking for the Flubadub in our lives that has been lost.

You say, very nice but what has this got to do with the Parsha. Well, actually this thought was stimulated by this week's Torah reading. We are told towards the middle of the text, at the beginning of a sequence of stories of murmurings, that the people of Israel complained against Hashem.
But it does not say in the text what exactly was the nature of their complaint. Rashi explains that the people complained that G-d had them travel three hard days and that they were becoming weary from the harshness of G-d's travel requirements.

Hashem in response got angry at them. He said that here I have them travel out of love for them, to bring them more quickly to the Holy Land. And they interpret my intentions as a desire to cause them harm.

So often in life we complain that we are weary, that we have endured so many losses, that we cannot but despair from the harshness of our life's journey. It is all too natural to feel that way. Life is indeed hard.

And yet Hashem wills us to know that all that we go through is for our benefit and the nechama will come to us in time.But like the barber we must be prepared for it.And like the child in me we must never stop looking for it. And unlike the wicked of the Generation of the Wilderness we must know that our personal journey, no matter how challenging, always moves us to the promised land.

I pray that you and I will see the comfort promised us...that our day of personal nechama will soon come.

Shabbat Shalom

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