On October 7th, my world fractured, and since then, I've straddled two distinct realities.
In one, I’m still me. A mom, a Rebbetzin, a member of the community. I live a life of joy and gratitude, laughing at my kids’ silly jokes, celebrating simchas, investing inordinate amounts of time into planning our next sensory play adventure and cherishing the ability to rock my babies to sleep as I watch them grow up far too quickly. In the other, I am stuck in deep and unyielding grief. I am unable to move on or look away from the pain, the trauma, and the loss that started on that terrible day. Comfort eludes me.
This part of me connects deeply to Yaakov Avinu in this week’s parsha. When Yaakov is shown Yosef’s torn and blood-stained coat, he completely succumbs to grief:
“He recognized it, and he said, "[It is] my son's coat; a wild beast has devoured him; Joseph has surely been torn up." And Jacob rent his garments, and he put sackcloth on his loins, and he mourned for his son many days. And all his sons and all his daughters arose to console him, but he refused to be consoled, for he said, "I will descend on account of my son as a mourner to the grave"; and his father wept for him.” Bereishis 37:33-35
The horrific loss sends Yaakov into a pit of despair. Rashi, quoting a midrash, explains that Yaakov could not leave his grief, for there is no consolation while the person is still alive. Somewhere in the recesses of his neshama, Yaakov knew that Yosef was still alive and therefore he could not, and would not leave that pain. And so, he inhabited that space for the next twenty-two years until he was reunited with Yosef.
Knowing that there are still hostages in Gaza, there are still babies in Gaza, innocent people are dying and there are soldiers fighting every day to protect our freedom and our home, giving their lives to ensure the safety of everyone within the Land of Israel and by extension the safety of all of the Nation of Israel, how can I find comfort?
Yet, I am simultaneously tethered to Chanukah’s message. When the Maccabees stepped into the Temple, the war was far from over. They were still under Greek rule and had three more years of intense fighting still to come. The Temple they got back was tattered. Its holiest and most core components, the altar and the vessels, lay broken and defiled. Yet within the rubble they were able to find this critically important, yet often overlooked component to the holy service, the Menorah.
Lighting of the Menorah in that moment did not signify a complete victory, but rather, a place to start. Start making new oil, start rebuilding the structures, the nation, the hope and the future. We are still here, and for as long as we are, we will bask in light and we will build, together.
Over the last few years I’ve been working with people experiencing trauma and grief. I have seen first hand what loneliness and isolation, especially in times of loss or challenge can do to our body and our spirit. Deep connection and intentional communities are critical components not just to our mental health, but to our physical wellbeing. I’ve been fascinated by the work of interpersonal neurobiology. Our brains are wired with mirror neurons. These neurons enable us to emotionally engage and empathize with others by essentially allowing us to experience their feelings. It indicates that HaShem built us to coregulate. We need each other to process, the Jewish people know this instinctively.
The secret of Jewish resilience lies in our incredible capacity to unify in times of adversity, offering each other boundless grace and empathy. We choose to nurture and strengthen our communities, we create a shared space where we can hold and honor each other’s grief, and much more importantly we allow ourselves to feel each other’s joy. By turning towards our fellows with love and compassion we reflect G-ds light onto the world. Through unity we don’t merely survive, we heal and flourish.