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ב"ה

WHAT WEAKENS YOU FROM YOUR STRENGTH?

Tuesday, 14 September, 2021 - 6:08 pm

Moshe always worried about everything all his life. But one day his coworkers noticed Moshe seemed like a changed man.

They remarked that he didn’t seem to be the least bit worried about anything. Moshe said he’d hired a professional worrier and no longer had any problems.

“A professional worrier?" they said. "What does that cost?”


“150 grand a year.”

"150,000 dollars a year?! How on earth are you going to pay him? You are about to declare bankruptcy!"


"Well, that’s why I hired him—let HIM worry about how I will pay him."


Why is it, that if a child cries, we ask, “What’s wrong?” But if a child laughs and plays and dances around the room, we don’t ask, “What’s the big celebration about? Why are you happy?” Yet strangely by an adult, it’s the opposite. If you see an adult walking around with a big smile, you ask, “What’s wrong with you? Why are you smiling? What are you on…?” If he’s got a frown, moping around the house with droopy eyes, ah—that’s normal!


What is going on here? Why this huge discrepancy between the two? Are smiles on sale for children, while we have to pay full price? Why do we need to go to comedy shows to laugh, and children can laugh when you make the goofiest face? What do they know about life, we don’t?


Of course, we all know the answer. They are, for the most part, worry-free. The common thread that I find lies beneath the struggles of so many of us is that we are filled with anxiety, angst, and fear. We worry so much, about so many things, all of the time.


For 20 years a woman had been having trouble getting to sleep at night because she feared burglars. One night her husband heard a noise in the house, so he went downstairs to investigate. When he got there, he did find a burglar. "Good evening," said the man of the house. "I am pleased to see you. Come upstairs and meet my wife. She has been waiting 20 years to meet you."  


What are we worried about?


What not? We worry about illness, finances, our children, our world, our people, our future, our grades, our careers…


Some say there is nothing we can do about it. After all, we live in a crazy world, and we are Jewish. Jews love worrying. You know about the Jewish mother who is overseas, and she sends a telegram. It contains five words: Start worrying; details to follow.


They asked a Jew: Why do you worry so much? He said: “Worrying is like praying for what you don't want to happen.”

Yet the truth is that Worrying is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but it gets you nowhere!

“Don't worry that there won't be a tomorrow, it's already tomorrow in Australia,” they say. Yet we worry…

So what is going on here? Why are children so naturally happy while we adults struggle so much each day to find some inner peace and tranquility?


Of course, every situation is different. But there is a poem we say on Kol Nidrei night that, I believe, can give you and me so much comfort and calmness.


The poem contains seven verses. Each verse describes a raw material given its precise shape by a craftsperson. G-d is described as the craftsman; we are the material He fashions. We are the clay in the potter’s hand; the stone in the mason’s hand; the rudder in the sailor’s hand; the glass in the glass blower’s hand; the cloth in the weaver’s hand; and are the silver in the hand of the silversmith.


כִּי הִנֵּה כַּחֹמֶר בְּיַד הַיּוֹצֵר

בִּרְצוֹתוֹ מַרְחִיב וּבִרְצוֹתוֹ מְקַצֵּר

כֵּן אֲנַחְנוּ בְיָדְךָ חֶסֶד נוֹצֵר

...לַבְּרִית הַבֵּט וְאַל תֵּפֶן לַיֵּצֶר


Behold, as the clay in the hand of the potter, who, when he wishes expands it and when he wishes contracts it; so are we in Your hand…


Close your eyes. Imagine yourself as a piece of clay. G-d is turning the wheel and forming you with His hands. You are breathing. Your heart is beating. Your brain and its trillions of neurons are functioning. You can sit up, talk, listen, talk, and feel. G-d is forming your body, mind, and soul at this very moment. You are the clay in the hand of the potter.


This is how we can begin to restore serenity to our lives. But what if this young mother is holding an infant in her arms as she makes this arduous journey halfway around the world? If the baby was asked where he has been all these days and weeks, what would his response be? His answer will be: I was in the same place all the time—cuddled up in my mother's arms.


For the baby, there is little difference between continents, countries, states, and cities. He’s lodged comfortably in the safest and most nurturing place on earth: In his mother’s or father’s warm clinch.

You are in G-d’s loving arms. At this moment, G-d leads you to one meeting; at a later point, G-d leads you to another one. He may take you today to 30 places. He may keep you today in the same space. But throughout it all, you are always in His space—and in that space, you are whole, safe, secure, confident, happy, and protected.


You all remember the Refusnik, Nathan Sharansky, the great hero who spent 9 years in Soviet Communist prisons for his activism for Israel and the Jewish people. He was arrested and accused of being a spy against Russia. First, they wanted to execute him, then they sentenced him to prison. He spent years in solitary confinement without a bed to sleep on. He was treated like a roach. His suffering was intense. What kept him alive? I quote from his book Fear No Evil:

“Just a few days before my arrest, I received via a tourist a small gift sent by my wife Avital (who has already left the Soviet Union), a book of Psalms. Frankly, it was in the middle of our struggle. I had to fight against KGB. I had many tails behind me. I had no time for these things like reading psalm books, so I put it aside.


“When I was arrested some days after this, I suddenly remembered about it, and I started fighting in order to get it. The Soviets confiscated the book sent by my wife. It took me three years to fight, to force authorities to give me this book. They gave it to me on the same day when they also gave me the telegram that my father passed away. I felt terrible because I could not be with my mother, I could not support her in those days. So what can I do? I decided that I'll start reading this psalm book.


“I can't say that I understood the Psalms completely, but I sensed their spirit and felt both the joy and the suffering of King David, their author… I especially liked Psalm 23: "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for You are with me…." And Psalm 27 was a particular comfort to me: "Do not forsake me, do not abandon me, O God, my deliverer.  Though my father and mother abandon me, the Lord will take me in…"

For forty days I read the Psalms… Through reading these Psalms, I thought continually about Papa, Mama, and Avital, about the past and the future, and about the fate of our family… My feelings of grief and loss were gradually replaced by sweet sorrow and fond hopes.


“A few months later Mama wrote to seek my advice about the inscription on Papa's gravestone.  Not surprisingly, I turned to the Psalms – in particular, to Psalm 25, with its prophetic reference to Israel, to my father, and to his imprisoned but a hopeful son.  The verse read, "His soul will rest in peace, for his seed shall inherit the Land."


About a year after the book of Tehilim that he had received from his wife Avital had been returned to him, it was once again taken away. “In reply to my protests a representative appeared… who said, "It is the duty of the state to guard you in prison from harmful influences, so your religious literature has been confiscated with our consent."


Sharansky proclaimed a work strike until his book of Tehilim would be returned to him.  As punishment, he was sent to a punishment cell in exceedingly difficult conditions for fifteen days, and every time that he refused to go back to work before his book of Tehilim was returned to him, he was sent back for another fifteen days.  In this way, his time in the punishment cell continued for about 100 consecutive days, and his health deteriorated to such an extent that his jailers were forced to admit him into the infirmary.  When his health showed a slight improvement, he was returned to the punishment cell, where he stayed for another 86 days.  He was then judged for his "crimes" in the work camp and sentenced to three years of incarceration in a horrible prison. There his book of Tehilim was finally returned to him.


Nathan was on a hunger strike for 110 days, because they would not allow him to read his wife’s and mother’s letters. They forced the food down his throat.  “I took my Psalm book and for days on end, with the photographs of my dear ones in front of me, I recited all one hundred and fifty of King David's Psalms, syllable by syllable.


“I felt all the time that if this psalm book was with me, nothing would happen. I fought each time they took it from me: I was on hunger strikes, I spent hundreds of days on hunger strikes and in punishment cells, in order not to permit them to take it from me. Even when I was released, and I still didn't know that I was released, but I was brought to the airplane from the prison, and they took all the clothes and gave me the different ones, and I suddenly understood that maybe some big changes are happening, but my psalm book was not with me. I was so scared to be without it that I lay in the snow and refused to enter the airplane until they brought it back to me. And that's the only piece of property with which I came to freedom from Soviet prison.”


Our lives become stressful and disorienting because we are all trying to achieve so many different things. But if you discover that you are always, hugged and cuddled in G-d’s embrace, then even as you are running from place to place, you always remain in the same space—in the space of love, confidence, stability, trust, optimism, joy and unity.


In the unforgettable words of King David in Psalms 139, which kept Sharanaky going for a decade:


Where shall I go from Your spirit, and where shall I flee from Your presence?


There is no Hebrew word with one letter. Do you know why? We are never alone! We are always in our mother’s arms.


“Every evening I turn worries over to God. He's going to be up all night anyway,” said a wise man.


Worry is wasting today's time to clutter up tomorrow's opportunities with yesterday's troubles.


Many of our worries are like that-- unfounded and unnecessary. Even when we are facing stuff to deal with, what does your anxiety do? It does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, but it does empty today of its strength. It does not make you escape the challenge; it makes you unfit to cope with it when it comes. G-d is forming you as the potter does his clay.


 

But this above-read Yom Kippur poem takes it one step further. G-d is just not with us, holding us, cradling us, watching us, walking with us. But He does this in seven distinct ways. That is why this poem has seven stanzas. He is the potter who forms the clay. The mason who chisels the stone. The blacksmith who forges the iron. The sailor directing the anchor. The weaver designing the garment. The silversmith refining the silver.


1.       An Open and Empty Vessel

As the Clay in the hand of the Potter, so are we in your hand:

Those of you who ever formed clay into a vessel, or watched the process, know-how incredible it really is. With a subtle touch of your finger, you create the shape, ridges, design, size, nuances, and cavity of the vessel. G-d, at every moment, forms us, something from nothing, creating us as an open vessel—open to the opportunities and celebrations of life, to His light, direction, wisdom, and destiny.

But we often live like a closed-up vessel. A man who was a scholar comes to a great Kabbalist, watching to master Jewish mysticism and spirituality. The master began to make tea. When it was ready, he poured the tea into the scholar's cup until it began to overflow and run all over the floor. The scholar saw what was happening and shouted, "Stop, stop! The cup is full; you can't get any more in."

The master stopped pouring and said: "You are like this cup; you are full of your own “stuff.” You come and ask for teaching, but your cup is full; I can't put anything in. Before I can teach you, you'll have to empty your cup." You have to become an open vessel.


G-d, whose love and joy are present everywhere, can't come and visit you unless you aren't there.


Some of us as children had a bad experience with religion and we shut it down. We may have been insulted or seen hypocrisy and we dismiss it forever. Many of us do not allow ourselves to experience anything out of our comfort zone, because our cups are full of expectation and fear. Many of us remain too close our entire lives because of the pain we once experienced.

Friends, this year, maybe try something new. Like an open, empty vessel. Let something new come in your way.


2.       A Rock

Behold, like a stone in the hand of a mason, so are we in your hand:

We ate the stone G-d chisels out at every moment, allowing us to remain confident, strong, and proud.


Let me tell you a story that occurred a few years ago. The past President of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, was in Rome, and he went to visit the Pope. He went into the Pope with his chief of staff, Rivkah Ravitz, who is an observant Orthodox Jewish woman. At age 39, Rivkah is the mother of 11 children, holds two degrees in Computer and political science, and is currently working towards her Ph.D. in public policy. She has a full-time job as the chief of staff of the Israeli president.


Now, when one meets the Pope the rule is to shake hands and bow down, as a sign of respect. This has been going on for generations. When it came time for Ravitz to do so, she turned to the Pope and this is what she said:

“I am sorry, but since you are wearing a cross on your necklace, my faith does not allow me to bow down. As a Jew, I cannot bow down to a cross.

“We also have a tradition that women do not shake hands with men, in order to respect the boundaries between genders, so I am sorry that I cannot shake your hand.”

Do you know what happened next?


What happened next was unheard of in 2000 years.

The Pope covered his cross and bowed down to Rivkah!

The moment was captured by a photographer.


Think about this for a moment. For close to two millennia, the Church hunted down our people, depriving them of dignity, liberty, and basic human rights. Millions have been killed, all because the Jewish people refused to bow down and embrace the cross. Today, when the Pope encounters a Jew who is not ashamed of her history, heritage, faith, G-d, and Torah, not only does he not find it offensive, on the contrary, he bows down to her! He feels privileged to be in her presence! He views her as a mentor, as a source of inspiration, he feels it is a privilege for him to bow to her since she is representing G-d.

The world is waiting for the Jewish voice—the voice from Sinai, the voice of morality, justice, unity, and hope.


3.       Iron

As the iron in the hand of the blacksmith, so are we in your hand:

G-d also forms us into iron—used throughout history as the primary weapon for war.


For in life, we must be ready to wage battle. A battle against those who crave to destroy us on the outside. We cannot afford to be apologetic about our survival. We must stand united, firm, fearless, and motivated to fight for our people and our homeland.


But we must also lift our iron weapon against forces within ourselves that threaten to destroy us. As a Jew, I need to fight each day against my immoral cravings, temptations, depression, envy, narcissism, stupidity, superficiality, judgementalism, laziness, arrogance, and all the forces that eclipse my deepest self, my Jewishness, my relationship with G-d and with His children.


4.       The Anchor

As the anchor in the hand of the sailor, so are we in your hand.

Life is a tumultuous sea. We are the anchors of the boat of humanity on a voyage on this long and complex journey from Sinai to redemption. G-d holds the anchor at every single moment, giving us the ability to remain on course, focused, directed, and safe.

This is what the study of Torah and celebration of its Mitzvot are—an anchor in a vast, endless sea. When you build a relationship with G-d, in your daily life, you are connected to the one holding the anchor!


5.       The Glass

Like the glass in the hand of the glazier, so are we in your hands.

Life glass, we must be conscious of how fragile our lives are, and how fragile our souls are. Be appreciative of every breath, of every hug, kiss, and gesture of love. Celebrate every heartbeat and every day.



Nor can we take our moral decisions for granted. When I choose to tell a lie, I am shattering a piece of my soul, like glass. When I betray, cheat, deceive, I am breaking my spiritual flow. When I do something contrary to the will of my glazier, my G-d, I break something very valuable and precious.


This is one of the reasons we break a glass at the Jewish wedding—to teach the young couple how fragile and delicate relationships are. Treat it like crystal. Don’t abuse it. Don’t play games. Be sensitive.


Like glass, a real relationship takes a long time to develop. But only a few seconds to break and destroy…


And like glass, we are reminded that our lives are here to be to look out of ourselves and see what is outside of us.


6.       Cloth

Like a cloth in the hands of the weaver, we are in your hands.

We are called upon to serve as a cloak to bring warmth to ourselves and others. G-d waves each of us differently, in our own particular shape and design, to be able to deliver the warmth each of us can deliver in our own inimitable way.


7.       Silver

Like silver in the hands of the silversmith, so are we in your hands:

A child wanted to learn about the work of the silversmith. He called up a silversmith and made an appointment to watch him while at work. As he watched the silversmith work, he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. He explained that in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire, where the flames were the hottest as to burn away all the impurities in the silver. The silversmith explained to the child that he had to sit there in front of the fire the entire time the silver was being refined. And not only did he have to sit there holding the silver, but he had to keep his eyes on it the entire time it was in the fire. If the silver was left even a moment too long in the flames, it would be destroyed.


Then the boy asked the silversmith, "But how do you know when the silver is fully refined? How do you know that all the sediment and dirt in the silver has been removed?"

He smiled at her and answered: "Oh, that's easy when I see my image in it."


Behold as the silver in the hand of the silversmith, who, when he wishes alloys it, and when he wishes refines it, so are we in Your hand…


If today you are feeling the heat, remember that you are in G-d's hand. He has His eye on you, and He will keep holding you and watching you until He sees His image in you.

 

Gmar Chatima Tova a sweet New Year,


Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

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