I write these words at 3:00 AM, earlier this week, from the hospital bedside of my ailing mother, whose life journey appears to be nearing its end, R’L. It is a time when one can reflect and perhaps think more deeply than usual. A time when one’s perspective is clear, not encumbered by the normal little tensions that color daily interactions and feelings.
Being afforded the opportunity to contemplate events and developments near and far, and being in an unusual environment, I am struck by a human quality that needs to be understood, for it affects us in many significant ways. This phenomenon exists in the physical and spiritual realms. Physically, my mother lies in an environment where her visual and audial senses are assaulted constantly; lights are on, machines are beeping, noisy personnel are seemingly oblivious to the time of day. Interestingly enough, because my mother is heavily sedated, she rests comfortably, completely oblivious to the stimuli around her. The sounds and lights are a physical reality, but she shows no reaction to them – they do not penetrate into her world.
In the spiritual world, this obliviousness is all too common and especially dangerous. Let me share one small example. As I frequent numerous new (for me) and varied shuls to catch a minyan, there is one identifiable quality that is common to all – talking, and a lack of reverence for the sanctity of a synagogue. But – we are less than a month from the horrifying events that pierced the heart of our people; a massacre in our holiest city, at a holy place, in the midst of our exalted daily prayers. The victims were teachers and exemplars of the very best our nation has to offer. This happened in a shul in the middle of davening! What has penetrated into our psyche? It should be so clear that a heavenly message relevant to a shul and tefila has been delivered. What happened is reality. How can our senses be so deadened as to not react to this event? How can life go on as usual?
This is not a criticism of anyone. We should never judge others. This is about me and you and our children. This is our default position. All too often, we don’t want to change, work on ourselves or admit mistakes and shortcomings. We can be hit over the head – and we still won’t budge. We need to realize this about ourselves. Many of those who currently do not believe or observe say “just let me experience a miracle and then I’ll believe in Hashem,” – and they are completely mistaken. Their belief system won’t change, until they want it to change. Many go through life without an awareness of this life changing realization. They keep waiting for something to happen on the outside, that will cause a change and improvement on their inside. It doesn’t work that way. We must tell ourselves and our children – change begins at home, change begins within each one of us. We must take the first step to realize something is missing, and look for lessons and guideposts in the events and people around us. We cannot be passive observers in the quest for self-improvement. We must take charge, focus on where improvement is needed, be open to signs and messages from Above, and take our children along on our journey.
Just as my mother never allowed the harsh bitterness of Nazi cruelty to enter and redefine her essence, or let the vicissitudes of refugee life in a new and (spiritually) inhospitable land deaden her spiritual core, let us fortify ourselves and our children, and seek out opportunities for growth in all areas of our spirit and humanity.Best wishes for a restful, reflective Shabbos,
Rabbi Kalman Baumann