Tag Archives: disappointment

Rediscovering Awe

WonderThe presence of Mashiach is revealed on Acharon Shel Pesach, and this revelation has relevance to all Israel: Pesach is medaleg, “skipping over” (rather than orderly progress), and leil shimurim, the “protected night.” In general the mood of Pesach is one of liberty. Then Pesach ends, and we find ourselves tumbling headlong into the outside world. This is where Mashiach’s revealed presence comes into play – imbuing us with a powerful resoluteness that enables us to maintain ourselves in the world.

-from Torah lesson: Chumash: Acharei Mot, Revi’i with Rashi
Compiled and arranged by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, in 5703 (1943)
from the talks and letters of the sixth Chabad Rebbe
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan

This is very much what I said in yesterday’s morning meditation, so why am I repeating myself? I don’t feel like it’s time to let go of this theme and move on. I am still passing from one state to another, like the season passing from winter to spring.

I mowed and edged my lawn for the first time this year just the other day. Thanks to my previous application of fertilizer, the lawn, especially in some areas, had grown quite tall and green. Things were a little “out of control,” but nothing my trusty lawn mower and I couldn’t handle.

But I find that I’m not ready for spring yet. I still want to dress in warm sweaters and heavy coats against the winter’s chill. I’d just as soon Persephone stay with her husband Pluto in the underworld for a month or two longer, rather than rejoin her mother Demeter in the world above (if you’ll pardon my momentary lapse into Greek mythology). I suppose having “failed” Passover this year, I’d just as soon not have to surrender the commemoration of redemption and hope, for leaving it behind is like leaving my sense of renewal undone and incomplete.

But time and the will of God does not bend to the desires and laments of man, and so spring has come, Passover has ended, and it’s time to mow the lawn, again. As I “tumble headlong” into the world after Pesach, I can only hope and pray that the “revealed presence” of the Messiah will indeed imbue me with “a powerful resoluteness that” enables me to “maintain myself in the world” beyond.

In my elementary attempts at learning acceptance and reaching for the “peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension” (Philippians 4:7 ESV), I find that I have no choice but to surrender myself to not only the Almighty, but to whatever circumstances He allows in my life. But in the end, surrender is part of what He wants from me…and perhaps from all of us.

With this preparedness to surrender his soul to G-d, one should begin to recite the morning benedictions: “Blessed are You…,”

Now, all one’s intent in the surrender of his soul to G-d through Torah and prayer, to elevate the spark of G-dliness therein — in the soul — back to its source, should be solely for the purpose of causing Him gratification, like the joy of a king when his only son returns to him, after having been released from captivity or imprisonment…

-Likutei Amarim, end of Chapter 41

It seems that being released from captivity does not necessarily require a “feeling” but only the act and the will to surrender to God…to study…to pray…and to move on beyond failures, real or perceived. It requires that I find the ability to reach inside and to discover a new or renewed service to God apart from how I may feel about anything else.

If you are serving the same G-d today as you served yesterday, who are you serving but yourself?

Can G-d be frozen and defined? Does He get older with each day? Does He eventually, then, become of a relic of the past?

Where there is love and where there is awe, each day brings a discovery of endless wonder.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“No Repeats”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

With each dawn, God is new, and so is my potential for the discovery of awe and an endless wonder in Him.

The Uninspired Passover Seder

All in all, this year’s Passover seder in my home was pretty lousy. There are a lot of reasons for this, most of which I am not at liberty to discuss. It’s wasn’t anyone’s fault. No one burned the roast, or behaved poorly, or arrived abysmally late to the event. But it certainly wasn’t the joyous occasion of freedom that I usually anticipate…at least not on the surface.

But I was disappointed and sundown at the end of Shabbat and the first full day of Passover was a sad relief. At least it was over.

I had anticipated a simple but happy affair. It is true that we were all busy for the past couple of weeks and there was no elaborate preparation for Passover, as there has been in years past. My wife and daughter (the principle authors of our family seder) were incredibly busy in the weeks approaching the first day of Pesach, so there wasn’t an opportunity to plan an elaborate meal. I had once suggested to my daughter that my sons and I do the actual planning and cooking this year, but her disdain for our “male” abilities in this area became immediately apparent. I actually thought at one point that we wouldn’t have a seder at all.

As the head of household, the responsibility to lead our family seder falls to me. This is when I become acutely aware that I’m a goy and while reading the Leader’s portions of the Haggadah, I tend to become more than a little embarrassed. This year, I was also the only Gentile present in a family of Jews, so my chagrin was even greater than usual. I also hadn’t had time to even look at the Haggadah prior to the start of the seder, so I could feel myself stumbling over the words and wondering if it was such a good idea to even hold the seder.

But it was my idea.

My wife, son, and I actually talked about not having the seder earlier in the day. True, all the food had been prepared, but perhaps, given the circumstances, we should just have a “Passover-themed” meal and call it good. But then, I had to shoot off my big mouth (and remember, I’m the only goy in this conversation) and say that Passover has been observed by Jews in all sorts of difficult circumstances but it has been observed. It’s important (in my humble Gentile opinion) to not give up the celebrations and commemorations of Judaism when faced with adversity. If a little difficulty was all it took to stop a Jew from celebrating what is Jewish, then probably there would be few or even no Jews left by now, or at least, no Jews who remember how to have a Passover seder.

So we went ahead and had our seder.

I won’t describe the grizzly details, but it wasn’t joyous. It wasn’t hideous or outrageously bad, but it simply fell rather flat. It lacked “pizzazz.” Whatever makes a seder an experience rather than just a meal with some reading just wasn’t there.

It was sort of like praying to God in a time of need and then feeling worse after praying then you did before entering His presence.

And it’s over for another year. Next year in Jerusalem? I’d be satisfied if it’s next year in my dining room, as long as at the end of the seder, we all felt, as a family, as if the Passover had been observed and not mangled or abused.

So for the next week or so, I’ll be dining on dry matzah and ashes and trying to remember that holiday expectations are not the same as a relationship with God. Events can be messed up for many, many reasons but it’s what God experiences with us that matters. Since I’m not Jewish, I am not strictly commanded to observe the Passover, but my family is. If I’ve done anything to prevent them from observing the mitzvot associated with the Pesach meal, then I’ll bear my guilt and whatever consequences that go along with it alone.

It’s not particularly my fault. It’s no one’s fault. But this being the first year I’m not affiliated with any congregation or religious organization, I somehow feel that I’m to blame. I’m looking for the good among the bad; the flower among the weeds, but so far, it hasn’t bloomed.

It is hard to describe the dire poverty that afflicted the citizens of Yerushalayim eighty years ago. The scarcity of food was so extreme that children sometimes went to sleep without having tasted a morsel the entire day.

One child was was walking along on a Shabbos afternoon when he noticed a very valuable gold coin. Of course he could not pick it up, since it was muktzeh. But he figured that he could stand on it, to guard it and take it after Shabbos. Unfortunately, an Arab youth passed by and he noticed that the boy remained stationary. Understanding that it was the Jewish Shabbos and that the boy might be guarding something to take after Shabbos, he threw the child to the floor and spotted the valuable coin— which he immediately pocketed.

The child was overwhelmed with grief. Not only had he endured being thrown violently to the ground, he had also lost a coin which could have fed his family for quite some time. He went into the Rachmastrivka shul and began to cry bitter tears.

When Rav Menachem Nochum, zt”l, the Rachmastrivka Rebbe, heard a child crying copiously in the beis haknesses, he immediately went to see what had occurred. When he asked the child and was told the entire story, he comforted the child. “Today is Shabbos, so we can’t speak about money, but please calm down for now. Come to see me after Shabbos.”

After Shabbos the rebbe took out a coin—exactly like what had been taken from him— and showed it to the child. “I am happy to give you this coin if you will sell me the merit of having endured great pain for the honor of Shabbos. To keep the halachah you were thrown onto the floor and you lost a fortune of money.” But the boy immediately refused. “No. I will not relinquish the reward for this mitzvah for any money in the world!”

Later the boy recounted. “I left the rebbe’s presence with a conviction that the treasure I had gained through my suffering was much more valuable than any mere coin!”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“The Golden Treasure”
Kereisos 20

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. –Matthew 5:3 (ESV)

The “poor in spirit” is looking for the golden treasure among broken crumbs of matzah. When a celebration of God dedicated to joy and freedom is anything but joyous and free, what then?

NOTE: I didn’t post my usual “meditation” Sunday morning because, outside of Israel, both the first and second day of Passover are considered “Sabbaths.” For that reason, I refrained from making any comments on the Internet during these special Shabbatot. Thank you to those who contacted me behind the scenes asking if everything is OK. I appreciate it.


Rabbi Yisrael Reisman describes on a tape entitled “Great Expectations” his recollections of an incident that occurred when he was yet a young Yeshiva student. He had positioned himself in his dorm room so his bed would be adjacent to the sink for some strategic purpose. The sink, he soon discovered, had a constant drip which he promptly reported to the powers that be. Understanding that it was just a matter of a washer or some such nickel or dime item he assumed it would be taken care of pronto. The next few nights he lay awake tossing and turning to the dripping faucet becoming more upset, frustrated and resentful.

Finally after a couple of days, the janitor arrived. It was a loose washer. The whole thing took a few moments and cost next to nothing. The dripping was finally was over. That very evening there was huge rain storm and as he lay there in bed ready for a good night’s sleep he became aware of the dripping from the roof to the window sill below- the same constant drip- drip and it didn’t bother him a bit.

He wondered why one drip sound stirred him so and the other had zero effect. He concluded that the dripping sound was not what was actually annoying him. The proof is that the water from the rain didn’t wrinkle his psyche at all. What bothered him about the sink? The answer is that he assumed somebody would do something about it, it would be done right away, that his request would be fulfilled and honored swiftly etc. And it wasn’t…it wasn’t true!

I once heard from Rabbi Yitzchok Kirzner ztl two words that he called “the secret to happiness”. Admittedly, at the time I felt it sounded rather negative. Over many years, though, I have grown in appreciation for the wisdom of his insight. I share it often with my children and myself too. It’s a hard pill, “Expect Nothing!”

-Rabbi Label Lam
“Expect Nothing!”
Parashas Mishpatim

It is true that expectations can lead to unhappiness, especially if those expectations are unrealistic or simply mistaken. A few days ago, I commented on my own expectations in a blog post called Nothing’s Perfect. Over the past year or two, I set a series of actions into motion based, in part, on what I felt was the right thing to do and what I expected should happen as a result of those actions. What I did was rather dramatic in the sense that, after many years at one congregation, serving on the board of elders and doing some writing and teaching, I gave my resignation, not only from my formal leadership position, but from membership within the congregation.

This horrified just about everyone, including my wife (her response kind of surprised me), since I was generally well-regarded in the congregation and many in the community of faith felt that difficult things would happen to me if I had no fellowship among the body of believers.

Needless to say, I felt I had compelling reasons to make such a decision and still believe my reasoning was sound. I also had expectations about what was to happen next, maybe not in the immediate sense, but over a period of weeks and months.

Guess what?

My expectations did not pan out. Like young Yisrael Reisman enduring the dripping faucet, I had an expectation about what was supposed to happen after a while. He expected someone to come fairly quickly and to fix the leak. I expected a certain response from my spouse and from God. Both of us didn’t get what we wanted in the way or the time frame that we expected.

But Rabbi Lam’s story (actually, Rabbi Reisman’s) story missed something. Here’s a clue.

Understanding that it was just a matter of a washer or some such nickel or dime item he assumed it would be taken care of pronto.

Rabbi Reisman, as a young Yeshiva student, knew the problem with the faucet could probably be fixed by replacing a cheap washer. All he needed to do, if he was tired of waiting, was to purchase this inexpensive item and repair the faucet himself. Maybe he was concerned that he shouldn’t perform this task it was supposed to be done by the janitor, but it was within his abilities (apparently) to fix the drip if he really wanted to do so.

What about me?

Fulfilling my expectation isn’t that simple, but it isn’t that difficult either, at least in principle. It depends on how I choose to look at my situation. If I feel that I have the ability to fix my own “dripping faucet,” I can choose to seek fellowship within a community of faith. It would be a matter of generating the effort to seek one out (which might involve visiting a fair number of Christian communities) and begin attending. This isn’t without its problems, as I’ve already stated in another of my “meditations,” Why I Don’t Go to Church. Nevertheless, it’s not like I am without options.

On the other hand, I could choose to look at my situation as Rabbi Reisman did when the rain started falling and dripping noises came from the window sill of his room. I can decide that there is nothing to be done. The rain is the rain and it makes all sorts of sounds, some of which are quite soothing. I could simply follow Rabbi Reisman’s example, allow the situation to be what it is, and do nothing. Here though, Rabbi Reisman did not explain the whole story. It won’t rain forever. True, we never really know how long a rain storm will last, (barring a report from the weatherman) but we know it will end at some point. We also know that God knows when the rain will end.

When Rabbi Kirzner advises “expect nothing,” it is true that if you expect nothing, you will be disappointed by nothing that happens or doesn’t happen. On the other hand, it’s difficult for most people to plan out even a trip to the grocery store without some small set of expectations. If such is true for a small task like shopping, how much more so should we have expectations when we plan out our walk on a lifelong path of faith?

It is unreasonable expectations and inflexible expectations that often get us in trouble one way or another. We expect a raise so we can afford to go on vacation, and we don’t get it. We expect our spouse to cook dinner one night and she decides to go out to see a friend instead. The result of these inflexible expectations is usually feeling resentment toward the person who disappointed us. Rabbi Reisman felt resentful toward the janitor for taking so long to fix his faucet. There are people who are very resentful of God for also not meeting expectations.

But it’s not like we can’t expect to depend on God. If we could not rely on God for our daily food, our shelter, our livelihood, and our comfort in distress, we would truly feel lost in a chaotic and random world. Fortunately, such is not the case.

He is my God, my living Redeemer,
Rock of my pain in time of distress.
He is my banner, a refuge for me,
the portion in my cup on the day I call.
Into His hand I shall entrust my spirit
when I go to sleep — and I shall awaken!
With my spirit shall my body remain.
HASHEM is with me, I shall not fear.

-from Adon Olam

Adon Olam or “Master of the Universe” is a blessing sung in synagogues all over the world on every Shabbat. It is also the last blessing recited during the bedtime Shema by a Jew right before he retires. It is an expectation that when he goes to sleep and in some small sense, enters the realm of “death,” that he will awaken the next morning, with his spirit returned to him by God. It is true that some people go to sleep and do not awaken and ultimately, as mortal beings, that awaits us all. However, we rely on God and depend on Him to preserve us and to protect us. This is why, upon awakening, a Jew recites Modeh Ani.

I gratefully thank You,
living and existing King,
for returning my soul to me with compassion;
abundant is Your faithfulness.

While I have no idea what will actually happen after I go to sleep or what each day will bring when I first wake up, I expect that God will be there during my sleeping and waking. Near the end of his life, David composed a final Psalm in which he expects that the work he has left unfinished as King will be continued by his son Solomon. It could also be read as a prophesy of the Messiah’s coming and how he will finish the work of tikkun olam; repairing our broken world.

My his name endure forever, may his name connote mastery as long as the sun endures; and all the nations will bless themselves by him; they will praise him. Blessed is Hashem, God, the God of Israel, Who alone does wondrous things. Blessed is His glorious Name forever; and may all the earth be filled with His glory. Amen and Amen.

Psalm 72:17-19 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

I don’t know what is going to happen, today, tomorrow, or next week, but I do know that whatever happens, God will be present in my life. If I were to expect nothing, I would have no reason to be disappointed, but I would also have nothing to hope for, and without hope, what is life? The future is a great mystery to human beings but it is not an entirely dark unknown. I know that God is there, my rock and my redeemer and regardless of the direction my path of faith takes, around each bend, at the bottom of each ravine, and at the top of each height, I expect God.