Is this the End…or a New Beginning?

Is this the End…or a New Beginning?

I want to start by saying that I pray that all those who need a refuah should have one, all of those who have suffered losses should be comforted and everyone who is at risk should be safe.  

That being said, I am finding this lightening of restrictions rather confusing.   On one hand I really really want school to start for my kids, to have time alone in my house, to NOT have dirty dishes constantly piling up in the sink, to learn (in person) with the amazing women of my community and to be able to have Shabbos guests once again.  On the other hand, I very much appreciate the late(r) mornings, the lack of having to pack lunches, the freedom from (school-induced) anxiety, the laughter that we have shared together and the (rare but there!) precious moments of camaraderie among my kids in the past 7 weeks.

When all of this started, there was a taste of Moshiach in the air.  We looked for and saw so many signs, deeper meanings in the words of the Torah readings, in the Haftorahs and in our davening.  So many places that seemed to point to the imminent coming of the Geula Shlaimah v’Amitis– the True and Final Redemption.  It was a dramatic moment in history that seemed to echo the events of the redemption from Egypt.  It was exciting even as it was scary and painful.  And now?  Now “normalcy”, return to routine, and picking up the pieces of my childrens’ education seems to be the path we are heading down and I’m not sure that I am ready for that.

I can’t help but think about an event that sets the tone for this week’s parshiot, Acharei-Mot and Kedoshim.  Acharei Mot begins right after the deaths of Aharon’s two sons, Nadav and Avihu, who died when they “drew too close to the presence of G-d” (Vayikra 16:1).  The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that Nadav and Avihu’s mistake was in wanting to be so close to Hashem and so holy that they gave up their lives to do so.  They believed that holiness meant separating yourself from the world as much as possible to serve Hashem in a wholly spiritual manner.  They longed to be united with Hashem for eternity rather than be bogged down by the “mundane” tasks that take up the bulk of our lives.

And yet, we know that the mundane tasks are EXACTLY what Hashem wants from us.  Although Acharei Mot does go on to describe the service of the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur, that is identified as an extraordinary event.  The bulk of the rest of the parsha, as well as all of Kedoshim are dedicated to, essentially, a long list of every day mitzvos- mostly bein adam l’chaveiro– between people.  The beginning of Kedoshim also contains the famous passuk: “Be holy for I am holy”(Vayikra 19:2).  It seems then that the way to be holy, the way Hashem wants us to be holy, is not to strive to expire into Hashem but rather to stay in THIS world and make it a better place.

All of this is referred to in Chassidus as ratzo v’shov- the ebb and flow of life.  The high highs of special events are referred to as ratzo.  Those are the times when we experience inspiration that takes us outside of our normal routine: Shabbos, holidays, a birth, a wedding, an amazing shiur or concert, or even 7 weeks in quarantine with all of the signs pointing at Moshiach.  The shov part is the return to reality, the return to the mundane, the return to packing lunches and driving carpools and dealing with the root canal that was put on hold for 7 weeks.  Why?  Because when we return to doing those things we do so with different strengths, different insights and different determination than we had before the dramatic moment.  

The shov is actually the bulk of life.  The shov is who we really are.  The shov is finding joy in responsibility, it is looking for the lessons and trying to grow from them, it is seeing all of this as a process and continuing to walk forwards, it is how we actually make the world a better place.   

We all need moments of ratzo.  Moments that lift us up, change us, show us another dimension to ourselves and others, and inspire us to grow.  But when the ratzo is finished, we are charged with bringing that inspiration with us into our “regular” lives.  We are challenged and urged to “return” to our lives but with new perspective and new purpose.  

I bless us all to have the strength and the desire to look for ways to see the holiness in the mundane, to live our lives with the knowledge that our actions can make a world of difference to another person, to believe in the growth that happened while we were in our homes, and to never ever stop searching for the signs of the Geula Shlaimah….until we are in it.  May it happen speedily in our days.

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