Monday, 20 June, 2022 - 12:58 am

There was once a jungle in which one lion thought himself a king. Every day he got up, went over to the chipmunk, pinned him to the ground, and asked, "Who's the toughest animal in the jungle?"
To which the chipmunk, in a meek little voice, always replied, "You are!"
Then the lion would find the bird. He would grab the bird, pin him to the ground and ask, "Who's the toughest animal in the jungle?"
"You are," the poor frightened bird would reply.
This went on each day, all morning. The lion would go to every other animal, pin them to the ground and ask his question. Finally, one day, he came up to the elephant. Grabbing him by the leg, the lion squeezed it and asked, "Who's the toughest beast in the jungle?"
The elephant looked at the lion and then grabbed him by his trunk. Picking the lion up, he slammed him to the ground fifteen times. The lion was wobbly, shaken, and distraught.
And he said to the elephant: "If you didn't know the answer, you didn't have to get so sore about it."
People are stressed, scattered, afraid, confused, sad, and depressed. At best, we are overwhelmed, burdened, and all over the place. Today I will try to give you the “magic pill”—and it is a single verse in this week’s portion Behaalotecha.
But the truth is it is not a “pill” at all. It is an awareness, a paradigm shift, that needs to be set in our minds and hearts.
The journey of the Jewish people in the Sinai desert was guided by G-d. A cloud hovered over the portable sanctuary, built in the desert. "Whenever the cloud lifted from the Tent, the Israelites would set out; accordingly, and at the spot where the cloud settled, there the Israelites would encamp."
Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz gives a beautiful parable.
Imagine a young woman traveling halfway around the globe. From Miami, she flies to LA, then to London, Moscow, Tel Aviv, Johannesburg, Sydney, and then NY. In each place, she must wait in the long and exhausting lines to go through customs and security. She needs to wait in lines to board and deplane. In each place, she needs to deal with luggage, travel and settling in.
But what if this young woman 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? If you were to ask—how many countries he/she visited, in how many places did he hang out, how many lines he waited on? His answer will be I was in the same place all the time—cuddled up in my mother’s arms.
This, then, is the meaning behind the Talmudic answer: “Since the Torah states, ‘They camped at G-d's word and moved on at G-d's word, While journeying in the desert, the Jewish people experienced themselves as lodged 24/7 in G-d’s loving and embracing “arms.” From their perspective, they were always situated in the same “place.” Sure, geographically, they moved around; but in their consciousness, they have not moved anywhere: they were in the same spot—in the loving and nurturing grip of G-d.
As Moses tells the Israelites: “and in the desert, where you have seen how the Lord, your God, has carried you as a man carries his son.
Life’s journeys, excursions, voyages, rides, and expeditions, take us up mountains, down valleys, and sometimes down cliffs.
But when you can come to realize that I am situated in my mother’s arms all the time, it confers upon you a sense of stability, confidence, and serenity.
If you discover that you are always, 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:
Where shall I go from Your spirit, and where shall I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to the heavens, there You are, and if I make my bed in the grave, behold, You are there.
If I take up the wings of the dawn, [if] I dwell at the end of the west,
There too, Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will grasp me.
Or in the words of the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schnuer Zalman of Liadi: This is the essence of the faith for which man was created: to believe that “There is no space devoid of G-d”… confidence and joy are in His place because He is but good all the time. Therefore, first of all, a person ought to be happy and joyous at every time and hour, and truly live by his faith in G d, who animates him and acts kindly towards him at every moment.
The story is told of an actor and an opera singer who was known for his readings and recitations from the Classics. He always ended his performance with a dramatic recital of Psalm 23. Each night, without exception, as the actor began his recitation -- "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want" -- the crowd would listen attentively and then rise with thunderous applause, in appreciation of the actor's ability to bring the psalm to life.
One night, just before the singer and actor was to offer his customary recital of Psalm 23, an old Jew from the audience spoke up. "Sir, would you mind, if tonight, I recite Psalm 23?"
The actor was surprised by this unusual request. However, he invited the old Jew to come onto the stage to recite the psalm; curious to see how the ability of this Jew weighed against his own talent.
Softly the old man began to recite the words of the psalm. His voice was parched and weak, and his tune lousy.  
“The Lord is my shepherd: I shall not want…
 “Though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff-they will comfort me…
“Only goodness and kindness shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the House of the Lord for many long years.”
When he was finished, there was no applause. There was no standing ovation as on other nights. All that could be heard was the sound of weeping. The audience had been so moved by the man's recitation that every eye was tearful.
Amazed by what he had experienced, the opera star queried, "I don't understand. I have been performing Psalm 23 for years. I have a lifetime of experience and training -- but I have never been able to move an audience as you have tonight. And frankly, you have a horrible voice and can barely carry a tune. Tell me, what is your secret?"
The Jew humbly replied, "Well sir, you know the psalm...but I know the Shepherd."
There was a Jewish child who witnessed and endured unthinkable suffering at the hands of the Nazis in seven different death camps. At the age of ten, he came to Auschwitz with his father, who perished there on the very day of liberation. The young boy, spoke twice with the monster Dr. Joseph Mengeleh, each time surviving him miraculously.
At the age of 11, he was sent on the Death March from Poland to Germany, as the Russians were invading. The march continued for seven days, in which he and the other Jews were not allowed to eat only the muddy snow on the earth. At some point, he was unable to march any longer. His leg was so badly injured, and he was in so much pain, that he thought of stepping out of the line and getting shot since he felt death was inevitable. He spoke to an 8-year-old boy from his town in Czechoslovakia who supported him so he could walk. But his energy was depleted.
And then he suddenly remembered the warm and bright Shabbat table at his home before the war, where his father often repeated a story of the Baal Shem Tov.
A man left home and went to visit the holy Baal Shem Tov in another city. Suddenly, the man’s wife started to go into labor. He was called for by the midwife to return home immediately, and the only way home was through dark and dangerous woods, which were filled with thieves at night. The Baal Shem Tov told the man to go home.
The man protested. “How can I trek through that forest alone?”
“A Jew never walks alone.” said the Baal Shem Tov.
As the boy was on the death march, he began telling himself “A Jew never walks alone.” He felt a new vitality, and he survived.
This young boy’s name is Rabbi Nissan Mangel, and the Tehilat Hashem siddur that we pray is his translation. What saved him? The conviction that we never walk alone; that G-d is with us. And indeed, this young boy has brought the gift of prayer, of a connection with G-d, to countless Jews, and enjoying the Chabad English prayer book!
Rabbi Fischel Schachter told the story of a woman, a Holocaust survivor, who settled in America after the war and was married for twelve years without having children. One day she was sitting in a doctor's office on Madison Avenue in Manhattan, and the doctor, going over her charts, said to her, "Madame, please listen to me. I am saying this for your own benefit - give up. Medically speaking, there is nothing we can do so you can have children. When hair will grow from my palm, that is when you will have a child."
The woman left and boarded Madison Ave. bus. During the ride, she contemplated her life. She recalled the horrors she experienced as a young girl in Poland, when the family had a trap door beneath the dining room table, and they would go and hide under the floor when the Nazis approached. She volunteered to be the one to close the door, put the carpet over it and then hide on top of a piece of furniture. She would sit there, all curled up, and listen in terror as the Nazis searched the house, smashing furniture as they went from room to room. Time and time again, the family was saved. But finally, the Nazis noticed a soft spot on the floor, and they discovered the trap door. This young girl watched as the Nazis dragged her family away. She was the only one who survived the war.
Once she got to America, she desperately wanted to begin a family. And now, after twelve long years, her hopes were shattered.
 She said to herself, "I have no reason to get off this bus." And so, she stayed on the bus, sitting there the rest of the day. Finally, the driver informed her that he was driving the bus to the garage for the night, and she needed to disembark.
"I have nothing to live for," she muttered.
"Listen, lady," the driver said, "I've had a hard day. I don't know what your problem is, but you're not going to solve it by staying on this bus."
She got off the bus and said, "Master of the world, You were with me all along. You saved my life countless times. You brought me here. You let me start my life over, and so it is in Your hands. I have no right to give up. The bus driver is absolutely right - You didn't save my life for me to live on Madison Ave. bus. Please tell me what to do. I won't give up. I will continue serving You no matter what."
A year later, she had a child.
That child grew up, got married, and has his own grandchildren. By the time this woman passed away, she had enough great-grandchildren to make that doctor's hair stand up dozens of times.
Rabbi Fischel Schachter added that he heard this story firsthand from the woman herself, whom he knew quite well. She was his mother. He today has 14 children and many many grandchildren, G-d blesses them.
“Though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me.”

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky



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