Friday, 13 October, 2023 - 7:28 am

“So-so.” That is the response I get from many people these days when I ask them how they are doing. 


I also feel so-so. 

On the one hand – sorrow, pain, fear, lacking air, tearful. 

On the other hand – Strong belief in the cause, resilience, a clear awareness that we are strong and that the Jewish People lives - Am Yisrael chai.

On the night of Simchat Torah, when the reports about the horrors had been verified, we felt we couldn’t dance in the shul. How can one sing under these circumstances? Be happy? Dance?


On the other hand, should we give up? Not dance? How can we allow them to take our Jewish spirit from us? After all, we are the living Jewish People. So we danced and were joyful and then we went on to sing “Vehi she’amda” and when we got to “for in each and every generation they try to destroy us,” we felt a tightness in our throats, and then we danced again. 


My brother-in-law, Rabbi Benny Kali from the Chabad House in Merom Naveh in Ramat Gan, was called up rather quickly as a reservist. He is a military rabbi and for the past five days has conducted several funerals per day. Oh, and that includes identifying the victim and being with the families in their moments of pain and wailing.

I asked him yesterday: “Where do you get the strength and the ability to be around death all the time? How can it be done?”

Benny gave me an amazing answer: “On the one hand you meet people in the most horrendous moments that any man or woman, father or mother, can be in. They are expressing their extreme pain, and the heart constricts. On the other hand, when they start to speak and eulogize and tell of the courage of the son or the daughter, they suddenly express hope and power, belief in the cause and in Am Yisrael chai, and the heart expands again.” 


It is 2:52 am. I can’t fall asleep. It’s been this way for the past six nights. It is so hard to fall asleep when one thinks about the families living unending horror on the one hand, and about the 360,000 drafted soldiers and the thousands of volunteers, each one doing whatever he or she knows and can do, on the other hand. The power of pain coupled with the power of faith and a robust spirit. And I then remember something wonderful that I read recently. I don’t remember the details. I do think it was written by Rabbi Chaim Navon. He told of a military psychologist who was in the Golan Heights during the first days of the Yom Kippur War. The psychologist described the soldiers who returned from battle exhausted; most of their comrades had died in front of their eyes and some in their arms. And they, who had come back to refresh themselves a bit, were getting reorganized while fixing the treads of a military vehicle. 

The psychologist, whose name I don’t remember, said then, “I said to myself. If they, battle-fatigued both physically and emotionally, who saw what I am afraid even to imagine, if they are going back to fight, I can forget everything I ever learned in the psychology books, because it contradicts everything in them.”

And they went back to fight. Of course they did – again and again. Like the heroes who, last Shabbat, returned again and again to the inferno to save lives. 

I think of that story all the time. What is there in this nation that cries and dances, mourns and stands erect, cries out bitterly during a funeral and immediately expresses hope and faith? Is it possible that this “so-so” goes against all psychology literature? Well, perhaps only pre-1970 psychology, because contemporary psychology actually encourages the idea of crying for a while but dancing as well. Isn’t that so?

Chassidut teaches us about the point of Yechidah in the soul. The most personal and powerful point, our spiritual foundation, the spirit of the devoted Jew, which nothing and nobody can overwhelm. It is known also as the point of mesirut nefesh. And when it shines in a Jew it comes from a depth that has no logic and reaches a point that also has no logic, not even psychological logic.

Because if you ask the person: Why are you going back again and again to this horror and endangering your life? The answer won’t be reasonable and logical. I think it will consist of one word: Because. 

This point of mesirut nefesh comes up whenever someone threatens us, threatens our Jewish existence. When someone murders us because we are Jews, when beasts murder babies only because they belong to the Jewish nation. 

And that provides something of an explanation for this “so-so/kacha-kacha

”, I think. 

Shabbat Shalom, 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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