**NASA astronauts have a special word to describe how re-entry feels, and it isn’t heaven. I wrote this during the 72 hour ceasefire this week in which Israel and those who care deeply about her experienced a re-entry into a small semblance of quiet and normal. Though Hamas has resumed launching rockets and Israel has been forced to respond, my concerns below remain deeply relevant for when this will please God finally be over in a lasting sustainable way and are worthy of consideration and thought now, even before this is over.
For nearly two months, we have been drawn to the news 24/6 to follow what was happening in Israel, even reaching for the phone in the middle of the night to be updated in real time. For nearly two months, we have showed up at rallies, vigils, and gatherings, and put our differences aside to join together in ways that made us feel more united than ever. For nearly two months we have mourned and grieved for people we never met as if they were our family or closest friends. For nearly two months we have limited our posts on social media to links about Israel: we didn’t care how our sports teams fared, we weren’t obsessed with how our portfolio performed, we weren’t in the mood to show off our children or pet or gloat about the delicious new recipe we prepared.
For nearly two months we have minimized our own personal challenges and we have refused to feel hurt or injured by the small things that might normally debilitate us. For nearly two months we have been more forgiving, more compassionate, kinder and more generous. For nearly two months we have watched countless videos and clips and alternated between crying from sadness to crying from being uplifted. For nearly two months our davening has been more sincere, more personal, and more real. For nearly two months we have been magnetically drawn to the land of Israel and the people of Israel like never before.
To put it simply, for nearly two months our souls have been alive as we felt meaning, purpose, transcendence, and peoplehood, as participants and witnesses to the very unfolding of Jewish destiny.
What will happen when thing go back to “normal?” Will our souls go back to sleep, back into hibernation, back to a place where we struggle to touch it, to nourish it, and to feel it pulsate within us? I am fearful of the vacuum that will be created and the void we will feel in returning to mundane conversations, reading meaningless posts, and longing with desperation to have up-to-the-minute updates about events in Israel.
Don’t get me wrong. I am neither happy that Israel had two months of agony, nor am I sad at the prospect of it ending. I am, however, devastated and distressed at the thought of moving on and returning to our state of affairs before this all began.
How long will it take before Jewish factions begin fighting, bickering, and dismissing one another? How long will it be before our davening becomes rote, the utterly insignificant feels critically important, and the feeling that we have nothing in common with those that are different than us returns? How long before, for too many, Israel returns to the place they go for Sukkos, send their children for summer programs or a gap year, or make a bar/bat mitzvah, rather than feel be the physical and spiritual center of the universe?
One of the most popular questions I am asked, and one of the most elusive goals for many, is how can we be more spiritual? “Spirituality” is a buzzword not only in general society, but among observant Jews as well. We have conferences, conventions, programs, speakers, and journals all dedicated to how Judaism can yield greater spirituality.
As we approach Shabbos Nachamu, the Shabbos of comfort and consolation, perhaps we can find solace in the past two months by looking back and realizing that in fact we gained the secret to what makes our souls feel alive and the keys to feeling spiritual. Our soul is nourished with a healthy diet of peoplehood, unity, sincere prayer, kindness, generosity, connection with our homeland, meaning, and focus on that which truly matters. We knew it intellectually beforehand, but we hadn’t experienced it at this level and we couldn’t necessarily describe what it felt like.
Now we can, and though it is only natural that these feelings will dissipate, it is up to us to make sure they don’t disappear altogether. Now we know that when we crave spirituality, we should seek to truly empathize with someone else’s pain, to dig deep and graciously give, to connect with the condition of the greater Jewish people, to daven like our words truly matter, and to focus on pursuing meaning and purpose, rather than just happiness and pleasure. Now we know that we don’t have a soul; we are a soul, and nothing in the world feels better.
The last two months have brought great confusion. Why can’t Israel live in peace and harmony? Why do so many insist on hating us, targeting us, judging us unfairly, and seeking to annihilate us? How could so many sophisticated, intelligent, informed people be so backwards when it comes to evaluating this conflict between Israel and Hamas?
Sometimes, it takes utter confusion to gain clarity. In the last two months among all of the confusion, we have felt a clarity of purpose, of belonging and of mission.
Nachamu, nachamu ami, Yeshayahu Ha’Navi speaks to us today, after the last two months, as we so desperately need his message. He says be comforted, be comforted my people. Explains the Slonimer Rebbe, when will you find nechama, comfort? When you function like ami, my people.
Though we long for rockets, conflict, and war to come to a truly peaceful and lasting end, let’s not let the feelings we experienced and the levels we reached during this period end anytime soon. We now know what spirituality feels like. We have no excuse not to do what is necessary to achieve it more regularly.