There are moments when the heart feels as if it is melting with a love for Hashem and all His creations that transcends beyond the mundane everyday. It’s a soft, gentle feeling that runs into your soul and rises through your entire being. Usually such moments seem all too fleeting, but if you try, you can capture them in your heart forever and then summon them up when needed.
Yesterday I was at the tziyun of Rabbi Meir Baal Haness in Teveria and found myself davening with a small group of sefardishe Yidden. The minyan was being led by an elderly chacham, and most of the congregation was modern-looking folk who were barely able to follow the service. After we had finished, the chacham went over to the tziyun and started to say Tehillim. In the midst of his quiet recital he motioned to one of the group to approach.
The man came closer to his teacher, and the chacham put his hand around the younger man’s shoulder and turned him to face Rabbi Meir’s grave. They both stood there, Rabbi and uncertain congregant, bonded with the elderly man’s arm and something that was beyond the physical. The old Rabbi started to recite, Tzama lecha nafshi koma lecha besari, “My soul thirsts for You, my flesh longs for You….” The old man cried softly; the young one, yarmulke slipping around his head as if it was a seldom-invited visitor, wept as well. The sage then hugged his student, whispered that it was all right to cry, and held his shoulders as the tears rolled down the young man’s face….
Tell me that Yisrael is not holy! Come to Rabbi Meir and you will see the truth. Miracles don’t have to be written in huge letters; in fact, the greater the nes, the quieter it is.
I don’t know what heavy burden that Yid unloaded by the ancient stones of Rabbi Meir, nor do I wish to know. One thing is certain; we all have our pekalach and we each need to let them go. We can’t hope to be positive if we allow ourselves to be weighed down with all the difficulties we encounter along life’s highway.
The Piaseczne Rebbe, zt”l, once wrote that the greatest tragedy is when people kill their lives. He bemoaned the sadness of those who live empty days, adding that for such people, living and dying are one and the same. He explained that this comes about because their self-esteem is eroded and destroyed to the point that life, death, heaven and hell all become meaningless. Sometimes a person finds himself in a spiral of pain that creates a vortex that leads to low self-esteem. Just as a drowning man grasps at a lifeline, we too must reach out to Hashem at whatever level we feel we have fallen. The young fellow at the grave of Rabbi Meir may not have learned in any yeshiva, but he realized his need for Hashem’s comfort and allowed his teacher to connect him to it.
This kapitel speaks of this essential, and does so with all the searing power of the hurt and lost souls who suffer.
Mizmor leDovid bihyoso bemidbar Yehuda…, “A song of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah.” David sings out to Hashem even in the desolation of the wilderness. Our wilderness need not necessarily be a place far from the Jewish experience; we can be alone and frightened in Judah, in the heart of our community, yet cut off spiritually and in great need. The psalmist indicates that even in such tenuous times we must “sing,” for the bond to Hashem can always be found through the spirituality of the raised voice of song.
Elokim Keli ata ashachareka…, “O G-d – You are my G-d, I seek You. My soul thirsts for You, my flesh longs for You; in a land barren, and weary with no water.” In times of distress we realize with a new clarity that only Hashem can truly help us. Hashem is the Creator of everything, yet He is our personal fountain of salvation as well. The passage speaks of thirst rather than hunger, for although man can go through days without food, his need for water is much more profound and the sense of thirst is much more insistent.
The Stoliner Rebbe, the Rebbe Reb Asher, zt”l, used to say that no word in Scripture expresses the yearning of the heart as intensely as the word koma. Its translation, “longs,” doesn’t really come close to the deep-felt wanting of the broken Jewish heart.
As a youngster, I had the merit of being in Lubavitch on several occasions, during which I heard the Rebbe, zt”l, lead his congregation in singing these words. His voice reached into your very center; his cry of shattered need touched every participant in the packed shul. In Bobov they would dance to these words, raising their need and spiritual thirst to higher levels through the gift of holy joy. Many were the times I saw the Rav, zt”l, standing at the door, eyes locked in the heavens, arms apart as if encompassing every Jewish woe, singing these sweet words with his heart aflame with desire. His was a gift of total Jewish love for his people, and at those moments one could see that he was attempting to reach each of us with the gift of Hashem’s healing balm.
These passages speak to the essence of Jewish understanding. They can be expressed in as many ways as we are a people (remember my friend, the chacham in Tevaria) yet the same yearning is there, constant and alive. We may be in a “land barren,” a place of spiritual desolation, we may even be “weary with no water,” without the living waters of Torah, yet we call out and find salvation.
Dear reader, please accept that there are moments when the written word just fails in describing a deep-felt experience. The soul is a delicate thing; its needs are so eternal, its joys so awesome, that words suddenly become a stumbling block. You really can’t express the feelings that overcome the thirsty soul when it connects with the Source of all nourishment, Hashem.
Ki tov chasdecha meichaim…, “For Your kindness is better than life; my lips praise You. Then I shall bless You all my life; in Your Name I shall lift my hands.” A life without an awareness of Hashem’s kindness is no real life at all. It is an empty exercise that withers the core of one’s being and makes it unfeeling. These are the dead and empty days the Piaseczne spoke of, days to be bemoaned for their lack of true life. The Pnei Menachem, zt”l, was unique in his awesome service to Hashem. He would walk about during the davening, physically in shul with the community but emotionally far from where we exist. He would be lost in other worlds, other existences. Often he would caress the paroches of the huge aron kodesh in the Gerrer beis medrash as if to calm the torment of those in pain, then in a wondrous moment he would raise his holy hands to the heavens, and we would glimpse for an instant the clear beauty of Hashem’s love for His people.
We did, we really did.
Text Copyright © 2008 by Torah.org.