An Illuminating Message

April 20, 2009
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photo credits: Rebecca Kowalsky. View Slideshow

It started slowly, mere wisps of pink painted upon a deep blue sky. Then a golden glow suffused the horizon, getting brighter with each passing moment. And suddenly – she was there. She slid above the rolling mountains, first the tiniest sliver, then a half circle, and finally, a huge, glowing orb of fire. She seemed to pulsate, throbbing with the power and force our Creator has given her.

Clutching my laminated Birchat Hachama card, I began saying the perakim of tehillim that precede the once in twenty-eight year blessing I was about to recite. I said the words slowly, fervently. And then – Baruch ata Hashem, Elokeinu melech ha’olam oseh ma’aseh bereishis. Thank you Hashem for creating this beautiful universe, for creating the incredible sun which provides us with light and warmth and life, for creating me. I closed my eyes and tried to make the moment mine.

Just half a mile away, at the very top of Beitar, an awesome gathering was taking place. Thousands upon thousands of people had joined the rabbis of the city to make this blessing in unison.

Just half an hour away, at the holiest spot on earth, over one hundred thousand people were standing in the shadow of the kotel, the Western Wall, watching the sun rise above our only remnant of Hashem’s dwelling place upon this earth. They were making the bracha of birchat hachama together with the greatest sages of our times.

And I? I was standing on Kaf Hachaim street, fifteen feet away from my own front door. I was reciting the bracha together with a handful of women, right near the forty men from our shul who had chosen to make the bracha close to home. It would have been easy to feel disappointed.

But I glanced at the sun, and I was comforted.

* * *

For months, I had been caught up in the excitement of Birchat Hachama. I’d read and accepted a wonderful book on the topic for the publishing house I work for. I’d researched the bracha – when we say it, how we say it, why we say it – and written an article about the topic. I’d listened to lectures about the meaning of the bracha, its connection to Pesach, the lessons it teaches us. I was eagerly anticipating the opportunity to do this rare mitzvah.

But there was one small detail I had chosen to overlook. This year, April 8 fell out on the fourteenth of Nissan, erev Pesach. We were home for Pesach, making our own Seder, and there were a frightening amount of work that still needed to be done before we could usher in the holiday. I had meat and chicken defrosting in the sink, piles of vegetables that needed to be peeled, lettuce which had to be washed. We needed to burn our chometz, sweep the yard, throw in yet another load of laundry, bathe the kids, feed them lunch, wash the floors, set the Seder table – the list seemed never-ending.

When we’d discussed it a week earlier, my husband and I had agreed that it was simply impossible to recite the bracha at the kotel. But we were holding out for the huge gathering taking place in Beitar itself.

“How many times will we ever have this opportunity?” I told my husband. “It comes only once in twenty-eight years. We’ll wake the kids up early and all go together.” But I had failed to take into account the fact that my kids were on vacation schedule – falling into bed close to midnight and sleeping until ten in the morning.

One day away from B-day (bracha day) I had to make some tough decisions. I very badly wanted to make the bracha in the best way possible, among a multitude of people all praising their Creator together. Yet that same Creator had given me the mitzvah of destroying chometz, of eating matza and maror, of rejoicing on the festival. That same Creator had blessed me with five young children, most of whom were too young to appreciate Birchat Hachama, yet old enough to resent being hoisted out of bed at some unearthly hour and schlepped across town.

I asked myself the most basic – and important – question of all: What does Hashem want from me? And I knew the answer. When my husband came home from shul and told me that the men in our community would be davening vasikin right down the block and making the bracha just two minutes from my home, I smiled and said, “I’ll be there.”

The Jewish nation is compared to the moon. The moon waxes and wanes, constantly changing. So too, each Jew should be continuously growing, always stretching his spiritual muscles and becoming more than he was the day before.

That’s an important lesson to learn. But the sun has a message for us as well. The static, never-changing sun teaches us the importance of consistency. For the past 5,769 years, the sun has circled the earth every twenty-four hours. It beat on the backs the Jewish slaves in Egypt and it danced off the shimmering waves of the Yam Suf. It glowed upon the walls of the Beit Hamikdash and rose above the barracks of Auschwitz. Hashem has given it a mission and it has fulfilled it faithfully every single day under every possible set of circumstances.

And I must attempt to be a spiritual sun. I may feel more uplifted when attending a Torah class than when peeling carrots, but if my family needs supper, my place is in the kitchen. I may yearn for the connection to Hashem that I can obtain in shul on the holidays, but if my young children need me, there is no better way to connect to Hashem than by caring for them. I may wish to recite Birchat Hachamah at the kotel, but if there are other mitzvot that need my attention, it’s not where I belong. My task is to rise anew each morning, ready to do my Creator’s will – wherever that may be. And then my soul can shine.

Bassi Gruen is a licensed social worker, a professional writer, and the Editorial Director of Targum Press. She’s published hundreds of articles in numerous Jewish publications and is the author of A Mother’s Musings, a collection of articles taking an honest look at the challenges and joys of motherhood. She lives with her husband, her children, and her dreams in Beitar Illit.