Living with joy in turbulent times

Living with joy in turbulent times

By Harav Yitzchak Reuven Rubin     

The news right now is monopolized by stories about international borders. The British voted for Brexit partially because of the border issue, Israel has its perennial battle over borders with their sworn enemies, and now the new American President has taken his first moments in office to scrawl his name on an executive order temporarily barring certain immigrants. Borders are meant to be sacred; porous ones make for problems.

Now, back in its day, Mitzrayim had almost impregnable borders. Chazal tell us that no slave had ever escaped over those borders. So how was it that an entire nation, our ancestors, just marched out in broad daylight? The Izhbitzer Rebbe, Rav Mordechai Yosef ztl shares an interesting insight. He explains that the borders were not demarcated by high walls or locks. In fact, it wasn’t necessary. Life in Mitzrayim was the center of materialism and immorality. There wasn’t anything that couldn’t be had in that cesspool of filth, and the whole world sought to live and visit there. They had no need for fortifications; even the slaves chose to live there. The life experience of the lowest of slaves was perceived to be better than living anywhere else.

“One has to believe that Hashem is interested in him, and that he was created for a purpose”

So what happened with the Yidden? Why did they break the mold and march out? They were given the mitzvah of Korban Pesach. That first mitzvah introduced a new sweetness, something beyond all the material trinkets that the golus of Mitzrayim offered.

The Rebbe elaborates: when the Yidden were blessed to bring that first sacrifice it was the first time they had the taste of true freedom. Accepting Hashem’s rule far exceeded anything they could have experienced beforehand. The Rebbe explains further that the taste of Torah and mitzvos raises one above the material crassness and gives one a joyfulness of spirituality.

Today borders loom high, and people are agitated. In truth we are all swamped in an ocean of spiritual dirt and foulness. Oceans of meaninglessness surround us and threaten to engulf everyone. Countries scramble about trying to hold onto their identity but in reality borders are futile when everyone carries the whole world in their hands. Technology doesn’t have borders, and fighting over yesterday’s maps is like chasing mercury.

In Parshas Beshalach we learn how the Jews were faced with a natural border: the sea. They witnessed yet another miracle and walked through a sea bed that had turned dry. Upon reaching the other side and seeing the destruction wrought upon their erstwhile masters, the Egyptians, they broke out in song. This Shira has become part of our daily prayers and lends its name to this Shabbos. The Beis Aron writes about the great reward that one can earn by saying Oz Yashir. He writes “The Shira contains everything that happened in the past, and everything that will happen in the future, and everything that a person needs. All this is in the Shira.” Towards its conclusion we declare: ‘When Pharaoh’s horse came with his chariots and horsemen into the sea and Hashem turned back the waters of the sea upon them, the Children of Israel walked on the dry land amid the sea.’  The Yidden stood on dry land whilst surrounded by the turbulence of the sea. Currently, Klal Yisroel lies submerged in the ocean of today’s crippling crassness, but we have the taste of mitzvos, and this illumination allows us to rise above it all. Torah Yidden throughout history have clung to the Shira and tasted the sweetness of a Torah life. Despite everything, we sang the song of the Yidden’s freedom and connected with Hashem. That sweetness, derived from adherence to Hashem’s Torah, is what keeps us going, allowing us to walk on dry land despite the worldly sea’s turbulence.

The young among us who seem to be floundering, may have attended the right mosdos, and davened in fine shuls, but just maybe they never tasted the sweetness of our mitzvos. It’s just possible that despite all efforts, the simcha of Torah life passed them by. Why? Every soul is different; there are no black and white answers. However, the simchas hachaim of a Torah life is there for every neshoma. The Rebbe, Rav Tzaddok Hacohen of Lublin teaches that in addition to believing in Hashem one must believe in himself. One has to believe that Hashem is interested in him, and that he was created for a purpose. Instilling this realization in the young is no simple matter, but goes to the kernel of our existence. Every soul deserves to know this, and feel the taste of the mitzvos. To stand on dry land despite the storms around us, simchas hachaim is vital. Our young deserve the inner joy of mitzvos; it is the only way. How does this happen? By ourselves being connected and showing the next generation what it means to live with joy.

Broken and depressed youngsters don’t believe Hashem cares; they are mired in the coldness that surrounds them. We must find the point of entry into their hearts and fill it with the true happiness that is Jewishness. This will raise them above the grasp of today’s Mitzrayim and allow them to join in the singing of our nation’s Shira. 


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