R Eytan Feiner On Simchas Yom Tov Amidst Tragedy

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The Vilna Gaon was once asked by his talmidim what he felt was the most difficult mitzvah of all the 613 to fulfill properly. His answer? “Simchas Yom Tov,” the mitzvah to truly rejoice and feel elated throughout the duration of the Chag.

Simcha…the joy of Yom Tov…Now?? Hashem Yerachem A’leinu. This Yom Tov of Pesach, Z’man Chei’ru’seinu, began with one of our esteemed member families sadly losing a precious three-month old grandson on Seder night. And many of you just joined me as we sat in silence with broken hearts, wet with tears and surrounded by heart-wrenching sobs, at the tragic Levaya of a young Chosson v’Kallah taken away from us so suddenly…so tragically…There really are no words.

So what does HaKB”H want from us as we journey into the last days of what is meant to be one of the happiest times of the year?

We rewind to our very first journey as a newly-formed nation, as we commenced the long-awaited trek out of Egypt. The Belzer Rav zt”l pondered how it was possible for the Jewish People to break out in unbridled song, in beautiful Shira- the melodious Az Yashir- when we had just lost four-fifths of our population in the midst of makkas choshech. To sing in such fashion is a manifestation of pure simcha, something we might deem impossible while bereft of so many loved ones.

And yet, the heilige Rebbe explained, we never lost our faith in the benevolent HaKB”H Who never stops loving us. We knew wholeheartedly that one day there will surely be a Techiyas HaMeisim, and that hope and sincere belief kept us marching onward. “Az yashir Moshe…”- a song of the future- expressed b’lashon a’sid- from which Chazal infer: from here is a remez to the miracle of one day HaKB”H reviving the dead (Sanhedrin 91b).

We sang b’lev vi’nefesh as we experienced Divine revelation like never before. And yet, the celestial angels were enjoined from joining us in our heavenly song. Chazal (Megilla 10b) relate that such is improper when G-d’s handiwork is drowning at sea. If so, we must wonder, why then were we granted the license to break out in song?

Rav Eliyahu Meir Bloch, the Telsher Rosh Yeshiva, explained (as did his ancestor, the first Telshe Rav), that a Yid is capable of feeling and expressing more than one emotion simultaneously– something an angel is simply incapable of doing. Yes, indeed, even diametrically opposed human emotions can be experienced at the same time, and it is not an existential contradiction. We are empowered by a loving Hashem with the innate ability to put our emotions into just the right compartments; to store each feeling and emotional response into its own unique box; and ready to be tapped and evoked at the appropriate moments in time.

And Rav Bloch certainly knew. At least as much an anyone. For the Rosh Yeshiva was informed of the tragic deaths of his dear wife and all his children in the Holocaust shortly before his first Simchas Torah in the Telshe Yeshiva on American soil. And he danced with the same joy and radiant glow as he had for many years while surrounded by his beautiful family back in Europe.

When asked how it was feasible, he responded that all of us have been endowed with the same capability. No, he never forgot the pain and immense anguish for even a second. But on Simchas Torah, he carefully and gently stored that pain away into a separate compartment, in order to properly fulfill the Ratzon Hashem on the joyous Chag. Simchas Torah was a time to celebrate with the greatest gift G-d has bestowed upon us, the eternal Torah with which we constantly yearn to sing and dance.

If we could feel the pain of Hashem while His handiwork drowns at the sea- even while we are fully immersed in unfettered song and praise- then it is because we are blessed with the unique ability to compartmentalize our disparate and, oftentimes completely opposite, human emotions and faculties.

So yes, we are now feeling inundated by a recent cascade of tears, intense pain and anguish for families in our midst for whom we care deeply, and with whom we share the indescribable pain of such tragedy to the extent we can. But as we head into the remaining days of Yom Tov– indeed as we get set to re-enact and re-experience our journey into Yam Suf years ago, let us not forget that G-d–given ability to put each respective emotion into its own compartment, and do our utmost to still feel the incredible simcha a’mitis of knowing that Hashem will continue to carry us through the trials and tribulations- and tragedies- of life…

And never lose hope for even a second that one day soon we will merit Yi’mos HaMashiach and Techiyas HaMeisim– a miracle that will restore our loved ones to us forever, as we will dwell together with Hashem Yisbarach Who has and always does what He alone knows is always for our best.

Get ready to carefully store away the pain and tears in a safe place in your hearts and minds. They will come out at the right times. But now Shevi’i shel Pesach and Shabbos Kodesh are fast approaching. Hashem wants you to truly enjoy them and allow yourselves to be happy and uplifted. To enjoy the heartfelt davening, learning, and quality time spent at festive meals with family and friends.

And so do the special young child a”h…and the special Chosson v’Kallah a”h…From their vantage point in Gan Eden shel Ma’alah, they too want you to go vaiter and enjoy the remainder of the Chag. And before this month of miracles comes to a close, IY”H we will sing and dance together with them- and all our deceased loved ones- like never before…B’Nissan nig’alu u’ bi’Nissan a’sidin li’ga’el (Rosh HaShana 11a)…

Very best and warmest wishes for a most meaningful and uplifting Yom Tov and Shabbos,

Kol Tuv always mi’kol ha’lev,

R’ Eytan Feiner

5 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you Rabbi Feiner for allowing me and my family I will IY”H repeat this at the Yom Tov tisch) to be chogeig the Yom Tov Hashem has given us with the proper perspective.

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