I recently heard a story of a survivor who was liberated from Auschwitz. He was fed, given clothing, he was told that he could go wherever he wanted; he was free. Many survivors were in shock, others were in a state of jubilation, and many cried. This man was in that last category. He was sobbing uncontrollably.
A Jewish chaplain who saw him came over to him and put his arm around his shriveled shoulder. Was it a loved that he lost? Was he scared about the future? But it was none of those. The man kept crying.
Finally, he caught his breath and turned to the chaplain: “You cannot begin to imagine what I witnessed these past few years. I lost most of my family, I witnessed unspeakable atrocities, and suffered in ways I can’t even describe. But one thing kept me going. One thing kept my hopes alive. The only way I could understand what was happening was by believing that it would end with the great Shofar, that it would end with Mashiach, the End of Days. There was no other way to make sense of it.”
“And yet,” he continued and turned to the chaplain, “here you are. An army, Americans, Russians. And we’re just going to go back to normal.”
Now by the furthest stretch of the imagination, I am not comparing 2020 to 1945. But the story brings home something I have been thinking about a lot these past months. Will we really just go back to normal? After all this? After all the suffering, all the pain, all the questions, theological questions we had; will G-d once again hide Himself behind his thick cloud? There’s only so much we can take. There’s only so much injustice we can witness before our belief crumbles. There’s only so much pain we can endure before our sense of direction is forever lost. Where’s the geulah? Where’s the grand finale that we’ve been promised? Where’s world peace? Where’s universal prosperity, education, goodness? Where are you G-d? It’s getting mighty dark in here. You can’t really just let things go back to normal.
And I imagine if G-d were to respond to my challenge, He would say the same thing to me. He would ask me, Sruli, are things really going to back to normal? Will you really just throw your masks in the trash when this is all done and with it all the lessons you’ve learned? I’ve been yelling and screaming at you through these past few months to wake up! To start living! To start caring! To start growing! You can’t really just let things go back to normal.
And so allow me, at this holy moment, the most precious moment of the year, when we all stand together, in the Holy of Holies, directly before our Father, our King, and instead of addressing you – please excuse me, as I direct my words to G-d.
Ribbono shel Olam, Master of the Universe,
Let’s make a deal. Please, I beg You, do not allow things to go back to normal.
We will look out for those who are all alone, we will call them, we will invite them, we will say hello to them, there will be no more invisible people. But can You, G-d, let them know how precious they are? How much You love them? Because they don’t know.
We will try to support those who are in financial need. We will give more to Ahavas Yisrael, to scholarship funds, and just look out for our friends who can use a little help. But can You, G-d, just be done with this curse of poverty? It’s so overwhelming. How do you expect people to live good lives with the crushing burden of not knowing if they can pay their monthly bills?
We will pray more for those who are ill, we will check in on them and ask them how we can help. But G-d, please, enough with illness! Enough covid, enough cancer, enough mental illness! Enough sickness! It’s just too much!
We will be kinder and more understanding with our spouses, we will be gentler with our children. But please, G-d, fill our hearts with forgiveness, reverse these trends of hatred and impatience. These are Your children, not only ours! Doesn’t it hurt You to see their pain?!
We will pray more, we will study more, and we will fulfill more of Your mitzvos, but please G-d, help us see You. It’s so much easier to not believe these days than to believe, how can you blame us? We need Your help; open our eyes. We want to believe, we do, but we can’t do it on our own.
Please G-d, we want the redemption. We’re so tired, we’re so worn out. I don’t have to tell You what we have been through, this year, this century, these past two thousand years. It’s just too much. And G-d, there’s nothing we can do about this one. Only You can save us.
We’re about to begin Neilah. We will pray to You, we will sing Your praise, we will cry out to You. But at the end of the day, we’re so small, we’re so insignificant, we need You today more than ever. We will do what we can to ensure that the world does not go back to normal. Please G-d, help us, and do the same.