Thursday, September 1, 2011

Over-Reaction or Wake Up Call

by Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

That which transpired during these last few weeks should have shaken us all. To be sure, traumatic happenings have been pounding away at American Jewry for years now ... as a matter of fact, from 9/11 on. But very few of us have taken them to heart or even blinked an eye to somehow indicate that we heard “the message”. Something was happening and is happening in the world, but we react as if we are blind and deaf. We choose not to see; we choose not to hear. It’s easier to attribute everything to natural causes, because in that way, we can go on our merry way and indulge in “business as usual”.

But this time, things were different – that which transpired during the past several weeks must make us all stop and ponder.. First, we were witness to the roller coaster stock market. For three consecutive days, the market plummeted and each day, at its closing, the numbers differed, but on each day, totaled “26", which in Hebrew, the Holy Tongue, equals the Name of G-d.. If you recall, at that time, I wrote about it at length. People smiled – they found it curious. Some put it down to “so much hype” but few took it seriously. Only a very small number considered that it might be a message from G-d telling us that at the end of the day, it is He, and only He who is in charge. If He wills it, all our speculation, our best laid plans can come to naught, and in a matter of minutes, our money is gone.

We try to place the blame for our financial downfall on this or that, but only to an exceptional few has it occurred that this might be a warning from the Almighty to stop worshiping the “Golden Calf” and re-examine our lives. We refuse to listen, so the wake up calls became more intense. New York, the bastion of strength and finance, Washington the symbol of power, shook and trembled....tremors of an earthquake rocked our very foundations. To be sure, it lasted only a few moments, so the experience made for good conversation. “Did you feel that?” we asked one another. “Where were you when it happened?” “Wasn’t it amazing?”, etc. etc. Once again, we failed to heed the call. It all flew over our heads and we went on with “business as usual”.

But G-d keeps knocking. The wake-up call becomes louder and louder. “Irene”in all her fury comes to visit. We hear the warning – an historic hurricane, the likes of which New York has not witnessed. The mayor takes to the airways and warns all citizens to be on guard. Hundred mile an hour winds are predicted, swells from the ocean might go 10 – 15 feet, all public transportation is shut down, communities in low-lying areas close to the shore are ordered to evacuate. Once again, many people dismiss the warnings and attribute them to overreaction. But then, the warnings become more urgent and can no longer be ignored..

I myself reside on Long Island and it was on erev Shabbos, that we were told to evacuate.

But since it was almost Shabbos, we were even more conflicted.. What to do? Where to go? How would we make it before Shabbos.

Panic broke out. Frantic calls were made. People tried to get reservations in nearby hotels, only to be told that they were all fully booked.. Many decided to leave their homes. I and my two children who live nearby were caught in a dilemma. What should we do? To be sure, we had many invitations. My children who reside in Brooklyn urged us to come to them. Hineni friends who have studied with us for years and live in areas that were not threatened, offered hospitality with generosity and heart felt concern. But where to go remained a major problem.

What if we encountered a traffic jam and couldn’t make it to our destination before sundown? Every highway had its own perils, so we decided to stay put together in the home of my daughter. The knowledge that we would all be together was comforting and strengthening. B’li ayn hara – Baruch Hashem, with all the kinderlach, we are a large mishpocha. My children decided that we would all sleep on the same floor so that we might watch over one another and, if the electricity failed or some other crisis erupted, we would all be there to help.

Of course, we did not have beds for so many people, so the children would sleep on the floor. If you are mishpocha, there is always place for everyone. 

Shabbos was calm, but the announcements became more ominous. The eye of the storm was expected to hit with full force in the middle of the night or at dawn. Once again, we were told to evacuate. However, the same problem which we encountered just before Shabbos still prevailed. This time there was no fear of desecrating the Sabbath, but the possibility of being stuck on the road with babies and small children was frightening, so once again, we decided to stay put. The little ones kept everyone busy. One of my grandsons learned the entire night, my daughter recited tehillim until the break of dawn, we all davened with full heart. As for me, I was in a strange place. The word “evacuation” evoked ominous memories. It took me back to a different time. I will never forget the sound of their voices – “All Jews must evacuate!” And there were other painful reminders – the question of what to do – where to go?... the dangers we might encounter on the road, all served to recall the past.

My father, HaRav HaGaon Avrahan HaLevi Jungreis, Z’tl was the Rabbi of our city. I remember the meeting in our home – “Where is it safer? The shtetlach? The city? The forest?” No one had an answer ... no one knew .... but we did know for certain that all roads were perilous. The Nazis and the Hungarian Zsandars (Gestapo) were everywhere, ready to slaughter us.

Oh, I know. I know my thoughts were totally ridiculous. There was no comparison – this was totally different, but just the same, you, my readers must understand that those of us who went through that gehenom remain forever scarred and can never forget. Even as these recollections crowded my heart, our Torah teaching of the flood in the days of Noah also came to mind. I asked myself a simple question that we must all ask – Are the heinous sins that brought about the flood still a part of us? Over the thousands of years that have since transpired, have we really changed? Of course, we cloak our transgressions in sophisticated 21st century garb, but the question remains, Have we changed? Are we living by the laws of our G-d?

We Jews who are the custodians of the Torah, have to understand that there are no accidents in this world. Nothing, but nothing happens by coincidence and that which happened these past few weeks are wake-up calls that we dare not ignore, that we dare not attribute to happen stance.

Ayn yisorim bah l’olam eleh bishvil Yisroel....” Tribulations are not visited upon the world but for the Jewish people...” is a teaching of the Talmud. Yes, all these events are wake-up calls urging us to act before further tragedy strikes, and we have seen many of these calls unfolding in recent months – the passing of three Torah sages in the U.S., Europe, and Israel within a period of two weeks; the barbaric, unfathomable slaughter of little Leiby, the savage murder of a great Torah Sage in Israel — and sadly, I could cite many more. But as much as we mourned and wept, as much as we united in expressing our sorrow, we have yet to make changes in our lives, and banish the jealousies, the mean spiritedness, the strife and hatred that have become part and parcel of our lives.

As these thoughts dominated my mind, the sound of the fierce winds and torrential rain could be heard from outside. Suddenly, it became dark – we lost power, and in the darkness of the night, I made a silent prayer, “Ribbonoh Shel Olam – Almighty G-d, Creator of the Universe... In the parsha that we read this Shabbos, You told us that we were Bonim L’Makom – Your special children, chosen from all the nations of the world to be Your treasured people. So. Almighty G-d,” I pleaded, “You are not only the Creator of the Universe, G-d our King, but You are our Father, Who chose us to be His.

“Surely, as our Father, You will forgive us and spare us from any further tribulations. Let none of Your children come to any harm in the fury of this storm. Protect us, guard us, even if we are not deserving”

“As for me, I give You my word that so long as You allow me, I will not stop, but will remind myself and all Your children of who we are – Bonim L’Makom – Your special children who have a mandate to live by that awesome calling. It is to that end that, B’ezrat Hashem, I will devote my next few columns. It is to that end that I will speak. True, I have always tried to achieve that goal. It was in that spirit that I founded Hineni so many years ago when outreach was virtually unknown. It was in that spirit that we called for a Jewish awakening in Madison Square Garden.

So what is different now, you might ask. Haven’t you been doing this all along?

The answer to that is “yes” and “no” -

Yes, Hashem did grant us the privilege of being among the first to start a kiruv – outreach movement, but now, in these pre-messianic times, our thrust cannot be directed to secular Jews alone, for the sin that is at the root of our destruction, the sin that has enveloped us in dense darkness for almost 2,000 years is not limited to a small segment of our people, but is sadly, very much a part of all of us, even our own Torah community.


Dov Bar-Leib said...

Rebbitzen, dear Rebbitzen, my heart aches for you. If you are thinking about 26, please remember that Yehonatan Pollard is being tortured in an American prison by American prison guards for almost 26 years! Now that is a 26 to take to heart. From the cracking of the Washington Monument to massive flooding in the Catskills and in Vermont. From the crashing of the Dow Jones on Tisha B'Av when it was Tisha B'Av in Eretz Yisrael to the fires that burned down London on Tisha B'Av, G-d is screaming one word and then two words. The first word is "LEAVE!" The second two word phrase is "COME HOME!"

joshwaxman said...



Devorah said...

Wake up call


Leah said...

If Rebbetzsen Jungreis is saying it's a wake call, I'm with her.

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

I'm with Josh.
History is lived forward and understood in reverse.
How many times in the past 2000 years has the world convulsed? And we're still waiting for Moshiach.
The Black Death, the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Soviet tyranny, etc., etc., etc.
Ours is not to make calculations but to be as good as we can be and hope in God.

Leah said...

True, Garnel, yet ther are many issues that have been written about that are for our generation. There are (just as one example) the 15 signs of the generation before Moshiach. A multitude of rabbanim here and abroad are in agreeance (and vioce this) that we are in that generation. There are other areas too numerous to write here, and I understand that no one should say that Moshiach will arrive on such and such a date, yet in looking at the signs of the times and their relation to the neviim's writings one would have to be in denial (in my opinion) not to believe that we are getting very very close. How close? What day? What hour? Hashem knows.