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“With Recompense Before Him:” a Reflection on Chukat


“You will become a person of feeling, which is so vital to achieve--for in this practice you are not only contemplating thoughts but thoughts filled with feelings of holiness, love, awareness and yearning for HaShem, which inspire you. You create a platform for your soul where the feelings that you draw out of yourself will be revealed to you.”

--Rebbe Yiscah

“ ‘Kriah’ is a Hebrew word meaning ‘tearing.’ It refers to the act of tearing one’s clothes or cutting a black ribbon worn on one’s clothes. This rending is a striking expression of grief and anger at the loss of a loved one.”

“Going to a river bank or sea shore is also awe inspiring as we contemplate G d's mercy in preventing the waters from flooding the dry land. The realization of G d's omnipotence inspires us to repent.”

“The word ‘והמצפה’ and ‘the Mizpah’ must refer to some well-known place bearing this name (for there are several places named Mizpah). It refers to the Mizpah which is in Mount Gilead — as it is written (Judges 11:29) ‘and he passed over Mizpah of Gilead.’ Why was it also called ‘Mizpah’ (in Genesis)? Because each of them said to the other, ‘The Lord watch (“יצף”) between me and thee that thou shouldst not violate this covenant.’”

On both a global and individual level, the past few years have been hard (no one word or many words could hold this sense). For one reason or another, tears have fallen and fists have clenched and stomachs have churned. While I do not need to enumerate these grievances and unspeakable (yet we must speak them) evils here, saying grief is a common thread amongst us all, especially as of late, seems a fair statement.

Along with grief, I feel anger…over the financial problems, the inconsistent practice of my Judaism, the frustration with others, the chaos of the world around me, the lack of certainty about my future, the knowledge I have caused or made worse the pain of others knowingly and unknowingly… Again, none of these things are unique to me.

At evening Shabbat this past Friday, the new Rabbi at my temple gave a D’var on the week’s Parsha: פָּרָשָׁה/Chukat. He emphasized anger as a primary stumbling block in the text—something when uncontrolled potentially was what kept Moses out of The Promised Land—and while I cannot speak to all that came up for me as I listened to him, I remember rolling my eyes (hopefully just the internal ones) over the notion of being told once more letting go and moving on is the only true option we have.

And yet, perhaps in an instance of באַשערט/Bashert/Divine Synchronicity I had emailed Rebbe Yiscah about the emotional aspect of Davening after the most recent session of “Receiving the Torah Afresh Everyday” about bringing our whole selves before Adonai.

As someone living with depression, I bring many feelings to the mitzvah, and my question for the Rebbe was whether this was appropriate—to bring it all (grief, anger sadness) along with gratitude and humility, instead of attempting to fool myself and The All-Knowing with a false peace.

Rebbe Yiscah replied,

When you express to the Divine whatever you truly feel at any given moment, I strongly believe that this is an acceptable offering of self, of heart and of presence to the Divine....actually even greater than "acceptable," is what the Divine desires of each of us, so it's sacred, elevated and long as it is a true expression of the heart.

In turn, I find no value in ignoring my anger or any negative emotion. If we are a revelation of Jah’s nature in contracted form, anger is a reality, even if our concept of justice is only a pale imitation of what comes from אֲצִילוּת/Atzilut/The Highest World; moreover, we are expected, if not ordered, to bring the truth of ourselves before The Source of Compassion. So, receiving the permission to feel whatever I am feeling, I am left to wonder how to find peace again in the wake of anger.

Anger only leads to death, and I do not want to be dead anymore…

This reflection began with grief, and as I worked my way from that, I believe the connection between anger and grief is inarguable. We grieve because loss reminds of how hard living in the world can be and how little control we have as individuals. While this can obliviously lend itself to sadness, the stages of grief allow us to move into other feelings, anger being part of them.

Acceptance comes at the end of the cycle(s), and though the frustration still is, moving on really is the only path forward. But is this חָכְמָה/Chockmah/Wisdom enough when letting go seems as if we are giving approval to whatever has hurt us or leaving behind the hope that we will ever be whole again? How do I take Chockmah and turn it into בינה/Binah/Understanding?

While not perfect or a complete exegesis, I find benefit in the practices of אֲבֵלוּת/Avelut/Grieving.

Minhagim/Customs such as

  • Keriah/Rending garments upon the loss of a loved one

  • ‎Tashlich/Casting Off/Throwing stones at Rosh HaShanah as a symbol of casting away sins at the start of a new year

  • Mizpah/Laying of stones as a “witness” to remain after a parting between people or groups

speak to me because they are not an erasure of what we have been through. They are ritual honoring of how living changes us, and perhaps in some aspect, they take on the weight of our emotions, reminding us even if we do not find תְּמוּרָה/Temurah/Recompense for whom or what was taken from us, Adonai remembers and will bring wholeness in due time for the ones who continue trying to Love their Almighty and their people.

“Behold, Adonai comes with strength…wage (recompense) before Him” (Isaiah 40:10).

Thus, finding restoration for ourselves by ourselves is not only unnecessary, but aberration. The command for recompense is Adonai’s, and our work is to “prepare the way” within ourselves to receive what will come.

Do I feel certain that any and all things can be “made right?” I hope to never presume such a hubris from my own limited vantage point.

Personally, I am still angry and hold all my other feelings while I write this, but knowing that I do not have to bear witness to my losses forever (lest they be simply glossed over), at least not without the help of רֳאִי אֵל/El Roi - The God Who Sees, makes lifting my head less of a seeming impossibility.

Perhaps then I can breathe a little easier, just take breath after breath as long as Jah sees fit to give it to me, until I might be alive again.

Or, if nothing else, allowing for more than just anger makes it possible to experience the good things still available alongside the bad ones.

Besiyata Dishmaya/With the Help of Heaven, may this הַבְטָחָה/Havtacha/Promise give us even the slightest of release we need inside to let go of what only The Almighty might redeem and will always bear witness to on our behalf.


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