One of the things that made a huge impact on me when I was reading The Unfinished Diary: A chronicle of tears was the author’s comments on why the Jews were suffering so much in the Holocaust. Writing in a Polish barn hideaway where he’d spent the best part of 3 years’ on the run from the Nazis, and as a man who’d already seen his daughter, parents and other family members killed, the diary’s author, Chaim Wolgelertner, certainly had first-hand experience of suffering.
Chaim was a Chassidic Jew who remarkably managed to retain his emuna right up until the end, when he was murdered by the Polish farmer who he’d been paying to hide him a few short months’ before the war ended.
Over months of enforced captivity and bitter mental and physical suffering, he contemplated the notion of Jewish suffering – why do the Jews suffer so very much – a great deal, and this is what he concluded: this world is not the place of the Jews. We are people of the spirit, not people of the flesh.
Our essence is spiritual, our inner world contains a lofty dimension of holiness that is simply inaccessible to others.
But sometimes, we forget that. Sometimes, we think that having a nice life, or a comfortable life, or an easy life is the main goal of being down here on the planet, and so God sends us suffering to remind us that this world is not the main event for Jews; it never has been, and it never will be.
Last Wednesday in the middle of the craziness that is currently life in Jerusalem, I did a long personal prayer session to try to get on top of the fear and stress that had taken hold of me, and was literally making me feel like I was about to crack-up or get seriously ill, God-forbid.
For once, I didn’t actually do a lot of talking, not least because my brain was completely fried by the events of the past week. It was a very quiet, very humble sort of hitbodedut, because I really didn’t have anything to say, or anything much to offer God. But God didn’t mind. In fact, He still gave me an insight that went a long way to starting to unravel the stress I’d been caught in worrying about my family’s safety, and worrying about World War III starting, and worrying about how on earth I was meant to cope with the terrible war of Gog and Magog if a few Arab stabbings were already having this much impact on me.
I want to share it with you now, and this is it: Sooner or later, we’re all going to die.
The point is not trying to stay alive at all costs (although don’t get me wrong that Jewish life, and any life, is extremely precious and must be protected at all times.) But I’d got unhealthily obsessed with worrying about how to survive all the madness being predicted for the Jewish people, instead of focusing on what all the madness was actually for: to help me achieve my soul correction, and to get closer to God.
As long as me and my family achieved our soul corrections, and got closer to God, whatever else happened was secondary.
That understanding was the beginning of me being able to let go a little of the terrible, crushing stress and fear that was literally starting to choke me to death. My job is to get closer to God. God’s job is to keep me alive for as long as He sees fit. Full-stop.
Today as I write this (Friday), people are apparently still being stabbed all over the place. But I woke up headache-free for the first time in a week, and things feel much, much calmer, both externally and internally. It helps that I haven’t heard any sirens today. It helps that I decided to let my kid skip school today (and half of her class also had the same idea.) And it helps that my other kid is having a Shabbat away at her high school, so I don’t have to get into any discussions about seeing friends in the Old City over Shabbat.
All that helps.
But really? Knowing that this world is not the true place of a yid – that it’s all temporary, and a corridor, not the main event – was the key to calming down. As to whether I can stay in that calm, accepting place, who knows? But even if it’s only for today, I’m still going to enjoy it.