Whenever a Jew sets out on a journey, he recites Tefillas Haderech, a prayer for peace, wellbeing, and success. I compare committing to writing a column to going on a major trip. It is only appropriate, therefore, to begin with words from this tefillah: “May You send blessing and success in all our undertakings and may we find favor in Your eyes and those who observe us.”
Also customary among Jews who travel is saying Parshas Vayislach (until Chamishi) on the Motzei Shabbos preceding their journey. Why? Because “Vayislach” is related to the word “shliach” (messenger), one who is asked to fulfil a mission. I consider the opportunity to address a tzibbur a holy mission.
Stepping into the shoes of Rebbetzen Esther Jungreis, a”h, is clearly an impossible task. Nonetheless, in the merit of you – the readers – I beseech the Almighty, in the spirit of the chazzan’s introductory prayer to Mussaf on the High Holidays, “…Even though I am not worthy or fit for this…may You crown this undertaking with success”
* * * * *
The Three Weeks of mourning for the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash have begun. All eyes are turned towards the heavenly throne in expectation of the final redemption for which we have prayed for close to 2,000 years. It has been a long, trying journey – but we haven’t given up, fervently saying morning after morning: “Even though he is delayed, I await him every day.”
Let me share a memory of my youth: One of my siblings had gone to Israel for the summer and I, a young child, at the time, anticipated her return with great excitement, counting down the days on my fingers. Finally the big day came, but unbeknownst to us, something went wrong at the airport in Israel and her flight was postponed a day.
In those “olden days,” a telephone was still a luxury item, and there was just no way for my sister to communicate this delay to us. Meanwhile, with every hour, my expectation increased. Eventually, an acquaintance who met my sister at the airport in Israel told us what had happened. Another day of waiting had been imposed on us.
I remember my disappointment vividly. I rolled up in a bundle on the armchair in our sitting room, sighing and tearing, expressing my feelings in every possible way.
It was then that my father of blessed memory, a respected rabbi in the Antwerp (Belgium) community, approached me and said the following sentence whose effect I still feel today: “Do you realize that this is the way Yidden used to feel at the end of every day when they learned it would take another day of expectation before Moshiach would come?”
My father understood human nature and knew I would digest this message in a most poignant way when I was feeling disappointment in the pit of my stomach. He was right. The message hit home – and I haven’t forgotten it!
Many people ask: How are we – the generation of the end of days – expected to bring the ge’ulah if all the great people who preceded us failed to do so? Can we really set in motion what our predecessors – spiritual lions – didn’t succeed in doing? Is there anything we can offer today that couldn’t be offered in the past?
The answer, surprisingly enough, is yes! The world surrounding us is cracking up and close to falling apart. In past decades, people retained a certain level of decency. Family life was still in fashion, speech respectable, loyalty valued, integrity praised… The contrast between Jewish life and that of mainstream society wasn’t that obvious.
Today, though, a storm is raging as we witness the breakdown of society. Against such a background, it is easy to make a difference. When a canvas is black, a light-colored stripe shines ever brighter. When corruption and violence are rampant and life is devoid of goals and beliefs, even the smallest deed – like posting a note for a lost item (hashavas aveida) or giving precedence to an older person waiting in line (vehadarta pnei zaken) – can cause a spiritual earthquake.
A taxi driver once heard my husband wishing me, “Zei gezunt” (“Be well”) as he was getting out of the taxi and I was continuing on. The driver started questioning me about this expression, and I heard him quietly repeating the words in the intonation with which they had been said. “Do you know,” he shared with me, “that whenever I use those words, it is to express exasperation to my wife? This gives me a new insight on relating to my spouse!”
Would you believe it? Two small words, maybe a smile – that was it! That’s how easy it is become to be an ambassador, a representative of the Ribbono Shel Olam, on this earth. That’s how easy it is become to engender kiddush Hashem – and ultimately bring the ge’ulah.