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  • Writer's pictureRachel Shifra Tal

Tuning into wisdom in times of turmoil

I haven't written a post in a while because I have been giving the world the space to speak. I have just been listening.

There are such powerful emotions circling the world right now. They have needed space.

Speaking to loved ones overseas, I have been hearing about death and desperation, sadness, and grief, sickness and fear of being sick, and lots of anger and rage. Anger and rage seem to be the overwhelming feelings. Or maybe its the feeling of being completely overwhelmed.

The statements I have hearing are that it’ too much, too hard, too scary. and too painful.

Living here in New Zealand where we have been relatively untouched by the pandemic, the feelings have been of guilt, relief, and then guilt all over again. People have just needed to talk, to feel, grieve, rage and cry.

Being in the middle of the three weeks between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av, the hardest and most collectively painful time in Jewish history, is just adding to the intensity.

The world feels so heavy to me these days. My greetings to people start with, “besides overwhelmed, how are you?”

What words of wisdom does the Torah have? What words can give us comfort, support and energy to keep hoping for a complete recovery, health and economically to the world?

How can we support each other to keep our hearts open?

I often struggle with turning to G-D in prayer. For many it looks so easy, in Israel people regularly pour their hearts out to G-D on busses, at the Kotel ,and in shul. One day, it just hit me. That feeling of tremendous discomfort, that energy, that feeling, needs to be poured into prayer.

You know that feeling; that one more pressure, one more painful experience, one more challenge and your cup will overflow and overwhelm you. Interestingly challenges seem to come in pairs and smack you upside the head just when you aren't looking.

Tehillim (psalms) are extremely comforting. It always is amazing how much turmoil is in the poetry of the words. The writers of the Tehillim, they get it, they understand the intensity of life.

Rav Noah Weinberg zt’l used to say that we need to examine our beliefs so closely that we know them like we know the five fingers on our hands. He called it having “five finger clarity.” Your beliefs should not depend upon your moods, changing based on whims, fads, or upon the culture around us.

Here is the comfort of the Torah.

When I am struggling, I walk and walk and walk.....I can find myself on the other side of the city before clarity or peace comes to me. During the lockdown and since then I have walked off 20 pounds....pounding the pavement, helps me clear my heart.

On my walks there is a giant tree I pass often, this tree has such deep roots it has pulled up the sidewalk around it. This tree is strong, deep, grounded and constant.

This is an analogy for Torah, עץ חיים the Tree of Life. Even a Torah scroll is held with wood. There is a subtle yet powerful message here.

Trends come, they go. Viruses come, they go, seasons come, seasons go. The Torah is a timeless, stable continuum. Unchanging, yet endlessly adaptable. This 3333 year old wellspring of life is our constant.

The same with praying to our Creator. One of G-D'S names stands for, “I was, I am, and I will always be.” Focusing deeply on this name of G-D during prayer can bring grounding and peace to the supplicant.

Keep feeling, keep getting up, keep going. We are timeless just like our Torah. Our soul given to us from our Creator continues even as our bodies fade. The eternal GD, Torah and Soul.

I give us a blessing that we can find and give comfort to each other. 

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