Archive for the 'Klal Yisrael' Category

11
Sep
11

Elul Reflections, 9/11- Despair and Hope


Usually when Elul – the month signifying the beginning of Jewish New Year – cycles round I find myself absorbed with feelings of contriteness for all the things I could have/should have improved upon during the year. My bucket list includes everything from switching the early childhood imprinted critical j’ accuse confrontational rules of engagement with saner problem solving language and mannerisms, to not giving in to anger, to doing more for those I love and those I don’t, to praying better, to all the ways I could/should have been a better parent, child, sister, friend, person, etc.  This year however, my whole being feels beyond inconsolable…

The familiar paths toward repentance feel distant, out of my reach; I am like a devastated body transfigured by unrelenting pain and shame from which there is no easy peace or solace. I feel partly to blame Leiby’s heinous death. I feel that even though so many of us joined together to look for him, if only I had been better, if only we were a better klal- group – this could never would never have happened. I feel that somehow, collectively, we’ve reached an all-time low that facilitated someone from our own midst perpetrating such a horrendously inhuman deed. I cannot help but feel that somehow we all are answerable for the actions of this one individual, and that we are obligated to repair the sickness within us that enabled such monstrous measures in our midst.

I try to bite back other thoughts that race at train wreck speeds with increasing velocity propelled by unaskable questions. You steer the world, nothing happens lest You allow it! There were so many moments when You could have saved Leiby, made a good hearted pedestrian appear that would steer him back on path to his waiting mom, a self-correcting moment in time that would have taken a happier turn, or a change of choice or happenstance while waiting for the predator – disguised as one of us – as he descended deeper and deeper into unspeakable depravity.
You, who changed Pharaoh’s thoughts, could You not have changed this dark malicious abducting heart, to contritely return the child? So many moments of possibilities to choose life especially once the predator saw the posters and all-out campaign to locate our lost child? The whys don’t stop! And  once you take the lid off of the vaulted why thought-bank, the outpouring of unanswerables becomes a flood gate incapable of resealing. The essence of my Elul endeavor to become closer to Him, is falling apart. The whole Elul concept of Ani leDodi veDodi liI am for my Beloved and my Beloved is for me (Song of Songs 6:3) -  is slipping from my grasp as I find myself sinking into the rabbit hole of despair.

Down the rabbit hole of despair... Photo from: http://lucasknisely.blogspot.com/2011/02/despair.html

Childhood memories filled with stories of death, survival, Hashem‘s seeming absence, His miracles, Divine Providence, good and bad, return with a sickening familiar spewing. Any child of Holocaust survivors, will tell you how powerless,  unfixably frustrated and burdened they feel with the historical back-pack they are obliged to carry forward as a living testament to our Diaspora’s deepest  abyss.  And if that were not enough for a midsummer’s night nighmare, then Irene stormed in with two more stories. The story of a brave Monsey rabbi who lost his life saving a young boy from electrocution and got electrocuted himself; or the one of the 90 year old vacationing survivor swept away and drowned in her cabin during the storm. Why? Why?!?!?

Couldn’t You have made that Rabbi a living hero? We certainly could use more present day heroes in Klal Yisrael. And this poor woman, who merited survival from the fires of Hitler’s WWII gehinnom only to be drowned in a vacation box terminating her old age? Where were Your waters back then when You could have extinguished the raging fires that ashed a million, nay two, nay three, nay four, nay five, nay six million of Your beloved ones?  All actions, we are taught, are clearly Yad-Hashem, His role, His actions, His will, perfect; no consolation to be drawn from the evil actions of man versus G-d argument.
The bile of injustice rising within me this year was compelling and not so good for the state of my desolate, inconsolable, soul.  There were the countless stories of miraculous moments where we felt touched by Hakadosh Baruch Hu, assisted by angels watching over us or our loved ones, where Divine Providence - hashgacha pratit - was palpable, (I fully acknowledge them, I don’t want Hashem to strike me down for not appreciating each and every one of those moments of celebration and victory over defeat). And then… and then… as my mind uncontrollably, feverishly, delved upon all these heart searing whys, I chanced upon the 9/11 story of stairway B that put me back on track somewhat, with its powerful implications.

Fireman Bill Butler - Photo by: The New York Times

Sixteen people – most of them firefighters carrying 100 pound packs on their backs – were trying to make it down stairway B of the north tower from the 22nd floor and doing so at a hopeful pace. The building’s shaking, debris flying everywhere, the south tower had just collapsed, the stairway itself buckling… On the 15nth floor they meet up with a 59 year old bookkeeper, Josephine Harris.  who had miraculously made it down 50 flights with an injured braced leg from a car accident sustained several months earlier.  She had stopped unable to go further without some help. The firefighters were faced with a dilemma; they were progressing well, and if they kept pace they might escape alive, should they stop and take her or not?  Survival adrenaline, waiting loved ones, a building collapsing over and around them… Jonas, a 43 year old firefighter didn’t hesitate. “Grab her, let’s go!” “If somebody needs help, we got to give it a shot. It wasn’t a difficult decision.” “We got to bring her with us,”  Butler, the fire company’s strongest man put her arm around his shoulder and helped carry her down; it was a slow process her legs were giving out; slowing the group’s progress significantly.  When they reached the fifth floor, the injured woman could not  go on, and she told the fire fighters to leave her. The clock was ticking away their deaths seemed imminent. Foreceful rushes of air hit the group, blowing some of them down to the first floor, the floors above them were collaspping like stacked dominos. Floor upon floor, upon floor, quickened to collapse on top of them and ten seconds later, the building gave fell. All were sure they were about to die. They hoped it would be fast. Instead, they were enclosed within a small pocket of debris, bubbled in a cavity of stairway B, all surviving to tell their stories.

Had Josephine not slowed him down, Lim later said, he’d have been dead. The consegrity of their righteous, courageous, choice and good action saved them. Obviously the Boreh Olam went along with the plan. There have been times, many have experienced, where they are so focused on the task of good  action that it feels like the universe and shamayim synchronically move in unison with their movements to achieve a good outcome.  This story resonated within me, it brought me back a hopeful sense of rhyme and reason to a world I so often don’t comprehend.

Sometimes we are not saved, it’s true.  We claw at shamayim’s gates with our cries, our protests, our prayers, knowing full well we are but lowly creatures unable to fathom His ways. Yet sometimes in the course of our hishtadlut, the wings of His nesharimsurround us and and carry us into the palms of His hands, rushing with us joyfully toward the accomplishments of our right and good actions.

Kotel at sunrise - Photo from: http://www.askabba.com/gen123.html

As we travel through this final leg of our millennia old galut, as we approach this holy time of the year, the grieving Shechina again pours out her heart right  beside us. This year her presence is almost palpable. We are a sister to her tears, her pain, her sense of loss for Yerushalayim, as never before, knowing that our tefilot, our actions, have the power to imprint the outcome of our fates. May all our tefilot be answered letova- for the good. G-d give us the strength to be the best that we can be, to make the right choices and hasten the bringing of Mashiach tzidkenu, bimhera beyamenu. Amen!

SYR



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