Going through a fliegelach period?

Thursday, 18 August, 2022 - 11:53 am

“Hi, good evening, did the fliegelach period last a year? Two years?”

So surprised me last night a friend whom I coached a few years ago, helping him along with listening and advice. 

It took me a moment, but pretty quickly I understood that he was referring to something I must have told him in one of our talks – about a certain period in my past during which our means were very limited and because (or thanks to the fact that) there is no option of an overdraft in Switzerland, we went through a period of austerity. Among other things, for our Shabbat meals we had chicken wings, as they are the cheapest of all chicken parts.

I understood that Shabbat is fast approaching, and that he would be having to make do with fliegelach this week. “It was a time of austerity,” I replied. “You eat what you have.” “Actually, you eat what you cook,” (the Hebrew equivalent of “As you sow, so shall you reap”) my friend answered wittily, expressing a certain degree of self-flagellation, or of taking account, but certainly blaming himself: How did I reach such a state?

“Hashem cooked with us,” I replied, and tried to remember whether that is what I thought at the time as well, or whether that thought was just after-the-fact wisdom and faith.

And so, the following words are intended for you, my friend of last night’s correspondence:

I am not worried about you. I know you and your abilities. You have taken some brave steps, and brave steps naturally involve risk, otherwise they don’t demand courage. You endured a few blows, but in my opinion, at least, they were just a slap on the wrist (or wing?...). Another bit of letting go of the self-blame, and the fliegelach will become your wings, as you spread them and soar. 

I don’t remember clearly what I felt when I had to cut down on expenses, but I do remember clearly a courageous two-way discussion with my wife, in which both of us decided to face reality. We agreed: Right now, we must tighten our belts, but with Hashem’s help we will learn the situation and rise from it. I clearly remember that we did say that it was a lesson that we must go through.

On this Shabbat, we will be reading parashat Ekev, which includes the passuk describing the mann that the Jewish people ate in the wilderness as a form of suffering and test.

“He (Hashem) afflicted you and let you hunger, and He fed you the mann that you did not know, nor did your forefathers, in order to make you know that not by bread alone does man live, rather by everything that comes from the mouth of G-d does man live.”

And a few psukim later, Moshe Rabbeinu emphasizes once more: “He Who feeds you mann in the wilderness, which your forefathers did not know, to afflict you and test you, to do good for you in your end.”

One can think small and say: Yes, such a way of thinking is a fool’s consolation; it’s just the resistance felt towards accepting responsibility and so on, if you want to beat yourself up and heap blame upon yourself. But one can also look at it from the viewpoint that the purpose of the fliegelach that Bnei Yisrael received in the wilderness was to give them a lesson for life.

And it doesn’t have to be one or the other; it could be both:

To understand that Hashem is cooking something with you, together, to make you know that man lives by everything that comes from Hashem’s mouth, and at the same time not to remove from yourself all responsibility, and to continue to create vessels that can receive heavenly blessings.

To view the fliegelach as a test that will “do good for you in the end”, and at the same time to invest effort to reach that good soon.

It is not easy, but it seems that that is the way.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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