Friday, January 10, 2014

A Word from the Director: 1/10/2014

The other day I walked into one of the rehabs that I am involved with and met up with a young man who has spent the last six months in Men’s Central Jail. This was his second stint in that jail. Over the course of our conversation it came to light that he had just been released that very morning. In fact, he hadn’t even known he was being let out until just a few hours before, so there was quite a range of emotions he was dealing with. He was certainly thrilled with the happy news, excited to be a free man again, and so grateful to Hashem for orchestrating the whole thing. We discussed these feelings, and I asked him how long he thought the inspiration, gratitude, and commitment to change in the future would last. I actually gave him an ‘assignment’ to write down the thoughts and emotions he was experiencing on his first day of freedom, so that when his resolve faltered, he would have something tangible to go back to that would remind him of what it felt like to walk out of the gates of incarceration.

In this week’s parsha the Jews had a similar challenge of taking their inspiration and strengthened faith in Hashem into their next crisis. After hundreds of years of slavery and torture they were finally allowed to walk out of the gates of Mitzrayim, only to be chased by their enemies before they could even fully savor their freedom. To make matters worse, they are faced with the Yam Suf looming ahead and nowhere to turn. Even tefilla doesn’t seem to work in this situation, as Hashem tells Moshe that now is the time for action; not prayer. With Nachshon’s brave jump into the sea, an escape route was created, once again, for the Jews. But the Egyptians had followed them in! At the precise moment when all the Jews were safely on the other side, and all Egyptian soldiers were in the sea, the waters came crashing back down drowning them all. As if that wasn’t enough, the bodies were then spit out onto the dry land for the Jews to see and be sure that their enemies were dead and they were safe. At that point it says, “and they believed in Hashem and Moshe His servant.” Why only at that point is the declaration of their faith recorded? What about all the miracles that led to that point? Rav Moshe Feinstien answers that the makos weren’t enough because after each one, the enemy was still there and retracted the Jews’ permission to leave. Even kriyas Yam Suf might not have solidified their emunah, because they were still afraid that just like they came out on their other side, the Egyptians could have emerged as well and still continued chasing them. It was only after having the closure of seeing their captors dead on the sand in front of them that their faith was strengthened and they were inspired to sing Shiras HaYam.

If this was the case, and their faith in Hashem and Moshe was so strong, then how could they falter only a short time later when the food runs out and they want to go back to Mitzrayim. How could they possibly have forgotten all the years of fear, pain, and suffering there?! The answer is that no matter how big the miracle, or how strong the inspiration, the effect doesn’t last unless you find a way to concretize it and keep it real in your life. That’s why we have so many mitzvos that are “zecher l’yetzias mitzrayim.” As big and powerful as that experience was, we would have difficulty fulfilling the commandment to remember it everyday if we didn’t have tangible reminders like tefillin, kriyas sh’ma, Kiddush, and more. And that is why I had this young man record his feelings on that first day of his release. We would like to think that the burst of excitement he felt upon hearing that he was being let out of jail, and then the exhilaration of exiting the gates, would be enough to deter him from making the same mistakes again that got him there in the first place.

But those feelings fade and we return to our daily lives, unfortunately losing the motivation to stay in a growth-oriented mindset. The reminders need to be concrete. That’s why some people make a seudas hoda’ah every year to commemorate events in their lives. The benefit of holding onto the memories of times that Hashem saved us from a challenging situation, is that the next time we are in crisis, we can hopefully maintain our strengthened emunah that Hashem will save us this time as well. We must recognize that the flashes of inspiration that Hashem send us are a gift to carry us through the next dark time in our lives.

A huge yasher koach to Rabbi Chaim Kolodny for committing to sponsor one night of dinner from Chick N’ Chow every week for our boys!

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Have a good Shabbos!

Rabbi Gavriel Hershoff

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