It is always our choice to pass the tests with which we have been challenged, or to collapse and succumb to depression. Esther Jungreis’ words are so personal and so inspiring that the reader will take heart and find solace in his/her most troubled times. He/she will refer back to this book often and gain strength during the hard times as well as the good. Those who do not believe will begin to believe again, and those who have faith will find their faith strengthened. That is a pretty exceptional accomplishment for an author.
Life is a Test, the newest book by Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis (ArtScroll/Mesorah Publications) may well be her finest one to date. Readers will laugh and they will cry, but no one will remain unaffected. There is a Hebrew saying that words that emanate from the heart enter the heart of another. The inspiring words in this book are sure to enter the heart of all who read them.
What is life all about? This question has crossed the minds of most people at some point in their lives. Without a clear answer, people resort to metaphors, such as, “Life is a deck of cards, and you have to deal with the hand you are dealt,” or, “Life is a marathon, and you have to come in first,” or “Life is a game,” or “Life is a stage,” or even, “It is what it is.” But these metaphors leave us cold. Not only don’t they answer the question; they leave us very unfulfilled. How can we make a difference in this world if life is just a game?
To answer these questions (in fact, all questions) the Rebbetzin turns to the Torah, our instruction manual, our blueprint for life. And from the Torah we learn the definitive metaphor for life – is that it is a test. “G-d tested our patriarch Abraham” – And He continues to test each and every one of us. Everyone has been created to make a difference, and every person has been molded by G-d for a special mission that only he/she can fulfill.” It is our job to discover what our mission is.
Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis does not speak in platitudes. She knows what suffering is, and she has known the depths of despair. As a young girl growing up in Hungary during World War II, she was herded, along with her family, into a ghetto and from there sent to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Hunger, lice and despair were the way of life there, but the strong faith in G-d that Esther’s parents had imbued in their children kept them from giving up on life. Esther and her family passed this test and went on to rebuild their lives, and in so doing, became an inspiration to thousands.
The Rebbetzin was tested again 10 years ago when her beloved husband Rabbi Meshulam Jungreis was called to Heaven in the prime of his life. After his death, she tells us, she found among his papers, in his own handwriting this brief note, “A long life is not good enough, but a good life is long enough.” So taking a cue from her gentle husband’s words, she did not throw up her hands and give up; instead she went on and continues to do good with her life.
Jungreis explains that the tests that G-d sends us are wake up calls to help us attain our potential. So when we are challenged with trials, and tribulations overwhelm us, instead of sinking into despair we must ask ourselves, “What is the lesson I can derive from this … What message is G-d sending me?” And as we ponder the answer, by following the Rebbetzin’s guidelines we will discover the miracle that our very lives are.
Many years ago, Esther Jungreis created the organization Hineni as a means to reach out to Jews everywhere and bring them back to a life of Torah. From small beginnings Hineni has grown to a worldwide organization responsible for bringing hundreds of Jews back into the fold. Life is a Test is filled with true stories of people who came to the Rebbetzin when their lives were troubled, many in the throes of despair, whether due to illness, financial problems or wayward children. And gently, through the wise counsel she imparts to them, we too learn the lessons of the tests of life. Sometimes the words seem almost poetic, such as when she wisely reminds us that at one time or another we will all die, “But whether we go on the wings of prayer and a legacy of faith, or in regret and shame, will determine whether we continue to live on (through our children).”
Those fortunate enough to have heard Rebbetzin Jungreis in person at one of her many lectures may recognize a few of the stories, but reading them adds a new dimension to them.
Towards the end of the book, Jungreis tackles the questions surrounding the Holocaust. How could it happen? Where was G-d? Her answer and the astounding story she relates will give the reader much food for thought.