So this is what the home stretch looks like a few days before Passover. To be honest, I never paid as much attention to it before; meaning that it has never had the same feel, like time is running out and I gotta do something spectacular to make this the most fantastic year ever. There’s never enough time to really get it right, so I suppose if we asked HaShem to postpone things a little we would only have to search deeper within our souls to cleanse ourselves of arrogance. Thus, we have to make do with the precious little time we’ve got left and cram a whole year’s worth of soul searching in the next fourteen days. It’s like having the last time up at bat, bottom of the ninth inning, trailing by one, two outs, bases are loaded and we’ve got one last chance to hit that sucker out of the park for a grand-slam ending in an underdog winner-take-all scenario.
In any event, I came into the final days, carrying the usual baggage, looking for answers. I wanted practical suggestions on how to improve my situation. I didn’t want to hear any spiritual mumbo jumbo; just some good sound business advice on which activity would be more fruitful. On the other hand we are all like farmers; we can put in a huge amount of physical effort in the plowing and planting and when it’s all said and done we can only pray for rain and wait for the crop to come in. Big surprise, it doesn’t get any more spiritual than that, so it was back to the so called “mumbo jumbo” which actually started to come together and make sense.
However, I still needed more answers so I started looking in the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s letters until I found the practical advice that I was looking for. I just kept reading one after another until I found something relevant to my personal issues. The Rebbe said that when we face difficulties as a nation and as individuals, we usually try to deal with each problem to find relief from that trouble, but it’s never a lasting relief because the problems keep popping back up. For example, as a nation, our leaders in Israel try to make peace with the Arabs and enter into one agreement after another with the enemy using the cease-fire as an opportunity to prepare for the next attack because they will never compromise their goal of no Jews in Israel for the sake of peace.
As individuals, when we have problems maintaining our daily sustenance, we work more diligently or take some action to increase our incomes and we keep coming back to the same problems. The Rebbe compared these situations to a doctor treating the symptoms to stabilize the patient’s vital signs or ease the pain but never diagnosing and treating the underlying cause; so the patient feels good for a while and then gets worse. He also pointed out that our survival has never depended on the good will of the nations; but only upon the Will of HaShem. Similarly, our individual prosperity depends not on market forces or work ethic, but upon HaShem’s infinite kindness. Therefore, the Rebbe told us that as a nation and as individuals we need to strengthen our connection to the Almighty.
Now, the Rebbe’s practical advice was as profound as it was simple, but it left me pondering over “What is this connection to HaShem?” I have heard this mentioned countless times over the last eleven years and I knew it had a lot to do with being more and more diligent in keeping the Law, praying and learning Torah, but I kept wondering, what is this Jewish connection? How do I get myself plugged into holiness? Of course, I had moments like everybody else, but it was never sustainable and most of the time, I still feel like the same ordinary guy trudging along. Then I realized that I couldn’t notice a change in myself because it was gradual – still a work in progress – but a change nonetheless from being totally secular. Thus, the connection to HaShem is, in part, giving up what we like because HaShem said so and always looking for an opportunity to help others.
Finally, HaShem answered all my questions about the Jewish connection last Friday. I was in Publix for last minute shopping about two hours before Shabbos when a man in his mid-forties came running toward me down the aisle. “Excuse me sir, can you tell me if there is any kosher challah for sale here?” I told him to buy Annie’s from the special display in the bread section. He told me that he and his wife had just decided to observe the Sabbath again after about twenty years. This was going to be their first Friday night Kiddush. Then I asked him when he last put on Tefillin and he replied, “A long time.”
Then I suggested to this man that he should put Tefillin before Shabbos and said, “Well I’ll think about it.” I became excited and said in a louder tone, “Nothing happens by chance. Do you think that HaShem sent you to me just to ask me about Challah? Any one of the store clerks could have answered that! You have to put on Tefillin now before Shabbos!” He looked surprised and remained silent. Then his wife showed up and I turned to her and said almost shouting, “Tell your husband he has to put Tefillin now before Shabbos.” I gave him my card and invited him to stop by my apartment.
About an hour later, the Jew from Publix showed up at my door and said he was ready. I didn’t even have to show him how. After twenty years, he donned the Tefillin as if he hadn’t missed a day, put the words over his eyes while reciting the Shema and trembled from head to foot; it was like a quickening. There it was; a Jewish soul reconnecting to HaShem after being lost for two decades. I could see it and feel it like Jacob reuniting with Joseph. I went into Shabbos with a new level of understanding and a Joy as I have rarely experienced before.