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September 16, 2014 / 21 Elul, 5774
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Turning Pain Into Blessings


Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

There is an old Yiddish saying, “Tracht gut vet zein gut – think good and it will be good.” My saintly father, HaRav HaGaon HaTzaddik Avraham HaLevi Jungreis, zt”l, would add, “Es iz shoin gut – it is already good.” It is a message that gave life to our people throughout the long centuries of persecution and torture. No matter how dense the darkness may have been, no matter how agonizing the pain, our trust in G-d was always there to put a smile on our faces.

But does this work for our generation? Sadly, the answer is no. We pride ourselves on our education. We are too sophisticated to take such simple sayings seriously. So we smirk and with a wave of the hand dismiss it all.

How, then, do we deal with our life crises, with our agonies?

Some of us become depressed. The Torah tells us that ancient Egypt had forty-nine levels of contaminating impurities and Hashem wanted us out before the fiftieth would become viral and infect us with its deadly sting. What was this life-threatening fiftieth impurity? Depression. That’s why when Hashem brought us forth from Egypt, He did so with speed and alacrity. We didn’t even have time for our bread to bake.

Depression overtakes you and you become immobile and have difficulty seeing even a ray of light. So we had to leave Egypt as quickly as possible. Tragically, in our generation too many have fallen victim to this virus and remain locked in their depression, trapped behind locked doors, and after a while they are no longer capable of escaping.

Then there are those among us who become angry, cynical, and bitter. They alienate themselves from others. They become difficult marriage partners, parents, and work colleagues. And their lives descend further into darkness.

Those of you who have read my columns and have heard me speak know I believe in only one solution to problems: Torah. Our sages teach us that while we all have to wrestle with our yetzer hara, our evil inclination, it is also true that G-d provided us with an antidote that can control if not altogether banish it from our hearts. It’s a simple medication, free and available to one and all. Yes, Torah is an antibiotic that can immunize us from the virus of the yetzer hara.

So what does the Torah teach us about resolving the pain in our hearts? As I write this column it is the week of Parshat Vayakhel, which relates how Moshe Rabbeinu gathered the Jewish people and charged them with Hashem’s mitzvos. The words Moshe used were the very ones the people had used when they fashioned the golden calf and proclaimed, “This is your god, oh Israel.” Moshe spoke the same words to proclaim that these are the things Hashem commanded us to do.

What does that mean? It means the same energy that was destructive can be harnessed and converted into blessing.

There is another teaching our sages bequeathed to us that can help us on our life journey: “What happened, happened.” Don’t dwell on the past. It’s over. Don’t flagellate yourself. It’s time to move on. Focus on rebuilding.

This past Shabbos I had the privilege of participating in a Shabbaton facilitated by the organization Frum Divorce. The organization was established by Cantor Benny Rogosnitzky, who has personally experienced the agonizing hurt that accompanies divorce. Not only was he determined to emerge from his suffering, he wanted to help others who were going through the same experience.

I spoke several times on Shabbos. And as always, I remembered my father’s teaching: Open your heart, relate your personal hurts, and help others. So I shared the pain I suffered when my beloved husband, HaRav HaTzaddik Meshulem HaLevi Jungreis, was called to the next world. It happened more than 18 years ago but I see him today as I did yesterday. He was called “a gentle giant” because that is what he was. He was 6’2” and full of love, not only for his family and his congregation but for every Jew – for every person, no matter who he may have been.

To be sure, becoming a widow and experiencing divorce are two different tragedies. In one you have closure. You sit shiva and hopefully you are left with good memories. In the second instance there is no closure. There is no shiva. The marriage is over and your good memories are mingled with nightmares – and the negatives are almost always stronger than the positives. You see your children and the scars they were left with. You see your former soul mate who is now your “ex” – and sometimes a nasty “ex.” Then you have to deal with the lawyers, the beis din, the gossip, the loneliness. You need someone to comfort and encourage you. So I shared my personal stories – my concentration camp experiences, the death of my husband and the loneliness that followed – and how I tried to convert my pain into blessings.

When Motzaei Shabbos came we had a powerful and inspiring Havdalah. Benny sang with his beautiful voice. Everyone sang along with him. Soon you heard the sound of clapping. I got up and gathered all the women and danced with everyone present. I held my cane high like a flag, sending a message: “Yes, I have a cane. Yes, I broke my hip. But so what? We are Jews. We are all here to dance a dance of joy to Hashem.”

The very last mitzvah Moshe Rabbeinu entrusted us with prior to his death was “Kisvu lachem hashira hazos – write for yourselves this song – the song of Torah.” Our Torah is one awesome, joyous, everlasting song. It has enabled us to triumph over all the tyrants of the world who schemed to annihilate us. What is the power of a song? Even if we momentarily forget the lyrics, the tune of the song will awaken us. We start to hum and soon the words come back. Now we sing with gusto. We remember who we are. We are Jews. Our lives have meaning. We take our children, grasp their hands, teach them to sing and dance. We are Am Yisrael, the nation that can triumph over the all vicissitudes of life with a song – the song of Torah, the song of Hashem.

It was a beautiful Shabbos and I’ll close this week’s column with a blessing to all those who were part of it and sang this song and gave hope: the wonderful speakers who shared their stories, including Jewish Press Associate Publisher Naomi Klass Mauer, community activist Dr. Faye Zakheim, and of course Benny – the spirit behind it all – and his dedicated team.

Above all, special thanks to all the many people who came with scarred hearts and left singing that eternal song that kept us dancing through the night and will keep us dancing until Mashiach comes.

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One Response to “Turning Pain Into Blessings”

  1. Depression is a result of not living right with God. Reconciliation with God always brings peace.

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