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October 22, 2014 / 28 Tishri, 5775
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Life In Fragments

I’m relaxing on the sofa watching Shira, my 11-year-old, patiently teaching baby Sara Leah how to build a tower with her blocks, when the tranquil peace is suddenly shattered. Sara Leah has noticed an intriguing, sharp object on a high shelf. She climbs up to grab it, only to have it swiftly pulled away by her older, vigilant sister. Sara Leah wails loudly and inconsolably. Innovative Shira sprints to action and finds a colorful new book to read to her sister.


Within seconds, this minor tragedy has been averted as Sara Leah nestles comfortably on Shira’s lap, engrossed in the tale.


The scene reminded me of how just a few months back, I took Sara Leah to the doctor for her scheduled inoculation. One moment she was screaming over the pain of the shot; but the next she was contently sucking on her lollipop treat that I had brought precisely for this purpose, her head snuggled contentedly over my shoulder.


Toddlers, even more than older children, are notorious for their changing moods. One moment they are in absolute bliss over a new toy or activity, only to be followed by a state of utter distress because something is being denied them. And vice versa.


It’s not that Sara Leah’s pain was not real. At that point, when the object was taken away, her whole world had collapsed. The denied toy might be trivial, but for that moment, it became her passion, need and obsession.


She didn’t consider how trivial the forbidden object was compared to her parents’ love for her. She didn’t think about the warm home that surrounds her, her many toys and prizes, or all the other far more wonderful things in her life. To her, her world had just caved in because she was unable to get that little something that she so craved.


On the other hand, even when she was suffering real pain over the needle’s prick, the coveted piece of candy immediately distracted her, enabling her to forget her suffering. Her worldview suddenly turned positively jubilant, merely as a result of a newly acquired lollipop.


A child is imprisoned within the moment. She cannot see beyond it.


The context of past and future is lost on her because her mind has not yet sufficiently matured to assimilate a continuity of past to present, or the concept of future. Nor is there an appreciation of context – of this denied pleasure vis-a-vis for all other toys or belongings that she owns. Sara Leah, like all children, sees only what is before her – this moment, this toy, this lollipop.


Sara Leah has a vision and perception that is fragmented.


Sitting on the couch watching Sara Leah’s fickle moods reminded me of my own limited perception. Just last week, I was having a bad day, everything was going wrong and my dour mood reflected it. Then, at the end of the day, a small gift and kind word suddenly changed it all, as my mood – just like my baby’s – suddenly turned positively optimistic.


Why my vacillation between a sour mood and the sudden jubilant change? Because adults, too, have a fragmented vision – similar to a child’s -due to our state of living in galut.


Galut is usually translated as “exile.” But galut is not simply a state of banishment from our land or our inability to live as practicing Jews.


Galut means being imprisoned within a fragmented perception of reality on all levels – fragmentation in time, space, self and community. It affects how we view ourselves and others, and all the events in our lives. It is our inability to see the underlying unity in all of reality.


We don’t see the connection between events in our lives, the people in our lives, or even aspects of ourselves. We view people as separate from us, rather than as part of a unified, symbiotic whole. We view time and events as separate and disjointed with no theme of a purpose. The past is a “memory” that is not lived with in the moment, and there is no concept or vision of a future. The here and now is all that is real and palpable.


That is why those small issues in my life become so overpowering on those days that I am in such a lousy mood, and cause me (and others) so much suffering. And that is why Sara Leah, on her own baby level, too, can’t overcome being denied one object until she is granted the diversion of another.


When I am imprisoned within the moment, I am unable to see beyond this particular problem that I am confronting, or the streak of bad luck that I am currently experiencing. These negative aspects of my life are senseless to me, and thus painful.


Geulah (redemption), on the other hand, is seeing the wholeness, unity and underlying G-dliness within creation. It is the perception of the connecting thread and the unifying force in everything – people, places and events. It is viewing each event as leading up to a purpose and having a mission and reason; while understanding that there will be a grand finale when all these loose ends will be wholesomely tied together.


That is why the Hebrew word for exile, golah differs only in one letter from its counterpart, geulah – redemption. Golah is missing the aleph (one) contained in geulah. It is lacking the perception of Oneness – the unity, the wholeness, the Divine underlying purpose of its creation.


Without the aleph, we behold the very same world, but it is a world of fragmentation, purposelessness, restlessness and frustrations.


Happiness and fulfillment are lacking because there is no appreciation for the role of the people and things around us. Insert the aleph, though, and context, mission, reason and unity emerges.


Every mitzvah that we do within galut empowers us to draw down this “aleph of geulah” awareness into every facet of our world.


Mitzvah means connection. Every mitzvah uncovers the concealed purpose of this moment, or of this created matter, and thereby connects us all to our Creator.


Because drawing down this aleph consciousness is something that is in the power of each and every one of us.


One day at a time. One mitzvah at a time.


Chana Weisberg is the author of several books, the latest, Divine Whispers-Stories that Speak to the Heart and Soul. She is also a columnist for www.chabad.org’s  Weekly Magazine. Weisberg lectures worldwide on issues relating to women, faith, relationships and the Jewish soul. To book a talk for your community or for information on her books or speaking schedule, please contact: weisberg@sympatico.ca 

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