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Message of Support

Rosh Hashana 5774

Dear Friends,

After two glorious months of long, lazy summer days, the first hints of autumn bring us up short. There is crispness in the air and briskness in the breeze, whispering an introduction to newness and change.

You think about that word “change” but this year, it does not evoke any multi-hued images. Instead, you find yourself gazing into a dark, black tunnel of disappointment and loss. So many things were supposed to be different this Rosh Hashana. You planned to be home, singing snatches of the tefillos to an audience of one. You planned to sit at the table with drooping eyelids, after waking up for your precious little one throughout the night.

Instead, you are alone. Your hands hang limply at your sides, and in the place where your heart usually sits there is nothing but emptiness. Change?! What has changed, you may be thinking. Things were supposed to be so different this Rosh Hashana…but nothing has changed except the date.

At times, the dreams come back in vivid detail. You remember the plans you had woven and the names you had chosen. The baby was a part of you; a part of your life and a part of your future. Suddenly, that part has been snatched away and in its place there is a raw, bleeding wound.

You think about the tefillos of Rosh Hashana, but your soul remains blank. How can you once again daven and beg for that little bundle of joy, when it has just been snatched away from you unexpectedly? How can you go back to the drawing board after suffering such a devastating loss?

Dovid, a young man of twenty-two, could tell you how.
It happened when I was an eleven-year-old boy who enjoyed a good laugh, a good ball game, and a good conversation with friends. I was sitting in class that day, listening intently while Rebbe discussed a medrash that I had never heard.
“Since the time of creation, what does Hashem do every day?”
It was a good question. I put down my pen and leaned forward to hear Rebbe’s answer.
“Amongst other things, Hashem plays with the Livyoson, the big fish.”
I was shocked and slightly amused at the explanation. I mean, of all the great things I expected to hear, playing with the Livyoson was definitely not even close to the bottom of the list.
So, I laughed.
“What is so funny, young man?” Rebbe asked sternly.
I could barely get the words out amidst the gales of laughter.
“Oh..I…I don’t know. It just sounds odd, doesn’t it?”
Rebbe’s eyes scrunched up like they did when he was really, really angry. His fists were clenched and he glared at me with red-hot fury.
“Get out!”
I gaped at my Rebbe, too shocked to move.
“Get out of my class, Dovid! A boy who laughs at the Midrash does not belong in a Jewish classroom!”
I stood up shakily and walked out of that classroom, smarting from the public humiliation. Standing in the corridor, I stewed in my anger and resentment. By the time I was allowed back into class, with a signed note from my parents and a detailed written apology, I was not the same Dovid.
I was Dovid, the cynic. I was hurt by Rebbe’s extreme reaction and the pain followed me for many long years. Though I cannot blame Rebbe for my steady decline in Yiddishkeit, I know that on that fateful day, the seeds of rebellion were planted.
I’ll fast-forward several years, to the time when I worked in an upscale restaurant as a waiter. I was nearly eighteen years old, and I hadn’t seen the inside of a Yeshiva classroom in nearly five years.
One week, the restaurant was used by a frum family for their Shabbos simcha. It was Friday night, and I was industriously serving the traditional chicken soup. I concentrated on my work, as our manager constantly exhorted us to do.
However, when the speaker stood up, one of the family members asked us to wait patiently before serving the next course. They didn’t want to disrupt the speech.
So there I was, leaning casually against a wall and listening dispassionately to the speaker’s words.
“The midrash explains that following the world’s creation, what does Hashem do every day? He plays with the Livyoson.”
I startled. I looked closely at the speaker, but it wasn’t Rebbe. What were the chances of hearing that same midrash again?!
Though I quailed at the thought of approaching a Rabbi in my strange, decidedly un-frum getup, I felt compelled to act upon the seeming coincidence. When the guests started leaving, I hurried over to the speaker.
“Excuse me, Rabbi. Do you have a minute?”
He nodded pleasantly and I forged on before I lost my nerve.
“That midrash you quoted about Hashem playing with the Livyoson…”
Again, the Rabbi nodded.
“It sounds mighty strange,” I blurted out. “Is that really what Hashem, the King of kings, is doing all the time, for thousands of years?!”
To his credit, the Rabbi did not appear flustered by a secular waiter’s pointed questions. He motioned to a chair near him and I reluctantly sat down.
“After the six days of Creation, Hashem took away the Livyoson’s partner. Thus, the Livyoson stayed alone, saddened and hurting. Hashem did not ignore the Livyoson’s sadness. Rather, He continues to play with it for all time, in order to minimize its pain.”
The Rabbi smiled gently at me and then he left. I stayed behind in the darkened restaurant, pondering his words.
If Hashem remained with the Livyoson to assuage its pain, how much more so must He be involved with me, His child? True, He sent messengers to hurt me and humiliate me for reasons that I cannot fathom, but He certainly remained close to me in order to ease my pain.
I won’t sugar-coat the next few months of soul-searching. Change doesn’t happen overnight…but with time, I slowly made my way back. After all, Hashem was at my side all along. I was not alone.

My dear friend, you suffered this year. You buried a child though no one necessarily knew about it. You buried a dream that was so much more than just mere wisps of imaginings. It was a life; a hope; a future. It was your precious bundle of joy…and now it is no more.

The pain comes in spurts, catching you unawares with its piercing intensity. Now, with Rosh Hashana approaching, you feel pain clawing at your heart. You feel alone and abandoned.

But He is with you in your pain. Our Tatte is looking out for you, His beloved child. He feels your pain and experiences your angst.

Think about the beautiful tefillah we recite on Rosh Hashana with its haunting melody. כבקרת רועה עדרו… – Like a shepherd who takes his flock to pasture…

Have you ever seen a devoted shepherd leading his flock? Have you observed the tremendous love he feels for his frolicking sheep? He ensures that each one has enough grass to eat and enough water to drink. He keeps his eyes trained on them throughout, constantly checking that none of them are wounded or endangered.

At times, the shepherd must rein them in to prevent them from straying too far. Some sheep require medical attention while others may need to be fed less to help them recover from an unidentified illness. The sheep don’t understand the shepherd’s ministrations yet they follow him blindly. He is there for them throughout.

This Rosh Hashana, when you sit at the table, surrounded by the simanim portending a good and sweet year, allow yourself to feel that Heavenly embrace. This year, the Shepherd has done things which you cannot begin to understand. You feel hurt and betrayed.

But the Shepherd is there for you. He does not abandon you to seek sustenance on your own. He does not leave you on a hillside and expect you to find your way home.

The Shepherd remains at your side, especially in the hard times. The Livyoson merits Hashem’s closeness for eternity specifically because of its pain and loneliness. You are in pain…and our Shepherd is experiencing that pain with you, every minute of every day.

You are not a lone sheep, my friend. You are a member of Hashem’s beloved flock. We are here for you, waiting for you to reach out so that we can cross this chasm together. At times you might feel that no one could understand the depths of your pain, but there are many who have traveled the same path. We have been there before you, stumbling over the ditches and climbing over obstructions. Don’t force yourself to chart a path alone.

Now, as we stand before the threshold of a new year, it is our deepest hope that we will all merit feeling that sublime connection of Hashem Ro’i lo yechsar. Hashem is my Shepherd and I will not want.

Kesivah V’Chasimah Tovah,
Mrs. Malkie Klaristenfeld

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