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Responding To Mumbai
by Simon Jacobson
No words.

We are left utterly silent, overwhelmed by the unfathomable massacre of innocent lives in Mumbai, India.

Go explain how a good G-d could allow His messengers of peace to be brutally executed.

Explain that to Moshe’le, the two year-old child, covered in his parent’s blood.

When we are left with no words and just tears, we can either sink, forget or turn to forces beyond us which offer us some comfort and resilience. As one maimed victim of terror once told me: You appreciate faith only when you have nothing else left but faith.

Judaism – which has empowered the Jewish people to recover and rebuild through the harshest circumstances – teaches that there are three steps to dealing with tragedy.

First: We can and must cry out to each other, to G-d and to the heavens. Faith dictates that we do not remain passive and accepting. Instead, we must challenge G-d and demand that He live up to His promises of justice and fairness.

Second: Silence is the ultimate answer to the biggest question of all: Why? Our minds simply do not have the ability to explain or justify the suffering of the innocent. Indeed, it would be an act of arrogance and vulgar for any human to attempt to understand these mysteries. A mind, no matter how brilliant, cannot speak to a bleeding heart.

Third, and above all: We don’t ask why but what. What will we do about the tragedy? We must learn to harness and channel our blood-boiling anger and outrage, our shock and trauma, our grief and agony, into a powerful passionate revolution of good. The angrier you are, the more emotional your reaction, the more energy you have to act. These negative feelings are potent fuel to create true change. Grief and outrage are like fire: Unchanneled it will consume you. Channeled it will transform you. And everyone around you.

An unprecedented awakening is rippling across the universe. A deep chord has been touched in people’s hearts and souls. Our cries are now joined by the cries lining the corridors of history. Jacob shed tears, as did Rachel, tears for every loss and tragedy of their children till this very day (read on).

And, we are not consoled.

But we now have the power to act. Today, one thing we are not is complacent. Now is the time to take all our feelings and convert them into actions – real and permanent commitments that will last far longer than our pain.

Yet, we must know that this window will not last. People will go back to their regular lives, things will gravitate back to the silent, illusional status-quo, and equilibrium

If nothing else, we must honor the souls of those torn away from us, by immortalizing their lives through our positive deeds.

Choose a commitment, a mitzvah that speaks to you, and commit to it. Start a study group. Give charity. Light a Shabbat candle. Pray daily. Get married. Have children. Observe Shabbat. Eat Kosher. Join a cause.

You feel different today due to Mumbai. Then think different and above all, act different.

Create a revolution. Big or small, revolutions always begin with one step in a new direction. 

* * *

When there are no words, one place to reach back to is our ancestors. We gather strength from those who have suffered before us and remained to tell about it. If they didn’t remain, their children did. We are those children.

Let us open the book of books and read together; let us soothe each other with words of the soul:

Jacob left Beer-sheba and headed toward Charan… G-d promised Jacob: I am with you. I will protect you wherever you go and bring you back to this soil. I will not turn aside from you until I have fully kept this promise to you.

Jacob set off briskly, and headed toward the land of the people of the East.

(He came to a place where) he looked, and behold, there was a well in a field. Three flocks of sheep were lying beside it, since it was from this well that the flocks were watered. The top of the well was covered with a large stone. When all the flocks would come together there, (the shepherds) would roll the stone from the top of the well and water the sheep. Then they would replace the stone on the well.

“From where do you come, brothers?” asked Jacob. “We are from Charan.” “Do you know Nachor's grandson, Laban?” “We know him.” “Is he at peace?” “He is at peace! Behold, here's his daughter Rachel, coming with the sheep.”

“But the day is still long. It's not yet time to bring the livestock together. Why not water the sheep and go on grazing?” “We can't until all the flocks have come together. (All of us) then roll the stone from the top of the well. Only then can we water the sheep.”

While he was still conversing with them, Rachel appeared with her father's sheep. She was the shepherdess. Jacob looked at his cousin Rachel who was with his uncle Laban's sheep. He stepped forward, and rolled the stone from the top of the well, watering his uncle Laban's sheep. Jacob kissed Rachel and wept aloud. He told her that he was Rivkah’s son, and thus related to her father. She ran to tell her father. (Genesis 29:1-12).

What does this episode mean? Why are we told all these seemingly irrelevant details?

Explain the mystics:

Jacob's journey from Beersheba (in Israel) to the land of Charan in the East to build a family reflects every soul’s journey from the sublime heights (of the spiritual “seven fountains”, Beersheba in Hebrew) to the darkest depths of this cruel and wrathful world (Charan). The purpose of the soul’s radical descent is to build a family and transform the material universe into a Divine home. It’s not enough to survive through life’s hardships; we are charged with the mission and given the power to transform the darkness and turn it into light. To plant seeds in the material soil and compel it to yield beautiful fruits and wonderful children.

The first thing Jacob saw in the East was a “well in the field.” And this was a sudden and unexpected realization – “behold, a well in the field.” Even the fields of materialism, as concealed as they may be, contain within a well of water, symbolic of the saturated Divine sparks, of pure knowledge and of connection. Jacob’s spiritual eyes were not deceived by the layers of wrath; no matter how sudden it seems – and it is truly unexpected to find spiritual water in the deserts of materialism – Jacob did behold a well. Not merely water, but the source of water, and he understood and was consoled knowing that despite the aridness and emptiness around him, wellsprings were not far beneath the surface, waiting, anticipating to be released and water the flocks.

But the “top of the well was covered with a large stone.” The hard stony hearts of a world driven by self-interest, the insensitive, selfish universe posed many hardships, challenging us with many questions and dilemmas that block us from accessing the water within.

A large stone indeed. Oh my, how each of us knows how large this stone can be.

But the problem doesn’t end with the stone. The three flocks of sheep represent the nations of the world who control the well-waters. The Divine sparks embedded in the material universe are trapped; their powerful energy is most often used not to refine the universe, but for personal interests and immediate gains, and sometime for far worse: to destroy life. All the gifts of life, the forces of technology and human creativity are blessings to be used for bettering our world, not just for self-interest. And this self-interest of the “flocks,” only when they “come together” and see the mutual benefits of working together, controls the energy of the world. Because they are driven by their own personal gains, none of them has the power to lift the ego-driven “heavy stone” on their own. And then, after they lift the stone and draw water, they would “replace the stone on the well,” not allowing others to benefit.

Thus, Jacob was confronted with a double challenge: the heavy stone and the shepherds of the three flocks who control the process.

To confirm this fact, Jacob asks the shepherds: From where do you come, brothers?” “We are from Charan,” they reply. Ah, Charan – the place of wrath. What can you expect from people who identify themselves with anger? Angry people will use their energy (water) to harm others.

Jacob continues: “Do you know Nachor's grandson, Laban?” The shepherds reply: “We know him.” “Is he at peace?” “He is at peace!” And Jacob sadly understands that his uncle Laban is quite comfortable and doing well in this corrupt world. It will not be easy to confront Laban and his cohorts, who control the well and the stone concealing it.

But then Jacob is consoled: The shepherds continue: “Behold, here is his daughter Rachel, coming with the sheep.” Rachel represents the spiritual beauty of the soul which is concealed in the material world like a “rose among thorns.” In Kabbalistic terms, Rachel is the supernal attribute of malchus, dignity, which remains hidden within each of us, waiting to be released and revealed. And here again, the world “behold” is used. Suddenly, unexpected in this G-d forsaken place, behold, Rachel appears, leading the sheep.

Jacob then asks the shepherds of the world: “The day is still long. It's not yet time to bring the livestock together. Why not water the sheep and go on grazing?”

Jacob is prodding the shepherds to nourish their flocks, to direct their energy toward spreading good and kindness in their environment. “The day is still long.” Day is the time of light. Night is the time of darkness. If it was night and you were overcome by darkness and confusion, it would be quite understandable why you can’t water the flocks. But we are in middle of the day, the light is shining and we live in a world of freedom and prosperity. Why not use these gifts to “water the sheep?”

The shepherds, however, reply, to Jacob’s dismay, “we can't until all the flocks have come together. Only then can we roll the stone from the top of the well and water the sheep.” Even during the daylight, in good times, these materially-driven leaders cannot remove the “large stone” that blocks the spirit within, unless they are joined in common and mutual self-interest.

But not all is lost. “While he was still conversing with them, Rachel appeared with her father's sheep. She was the shepherdess. Jacob looked at his cousin Rachel who was with his uncle Laban's sheep.”

When Jacob sees Rachel leading her father’s sheep, his spirits are lifted. He sees that Rachel is the true shepherdess (none of the others are ever described as shepherds in these verses) – the soul (malchut) is alive and well (albeit concealed and trapped in Laban’s home), and she is leading the sheep to the water.

Seeing her trapped in Charan by Laban evokes the profound empathy of Jacob. This in turn empowers Jacob to “step forward and roll the stone from the top of the well, watering his uncle Laban’s sheep. With deep compassion “Jacob kissed Rachel and wept aloud. He told her that he was Rivkah’s son, and thus related to her father. She ran to tell her father.”

Tanya (chapter 45) explains it thus: Every soul on earth begins its journey in the spiritual realms and from there it is thrust into “exile” in a physical body and universe that conceals the soul’s presence and all things spiritual and sublime. The Divine spark of the soul is in effect trapped in the narrow confines of our mundane existence, causing a profound state of spiritual and existential dissonance. How much more so is the spiritual exile when we become enmeshed in our narcissistic behavior and destructive patterns, which further displaces the Divine soul, and, by extension, the soul’s Divine source, causing, what is called, the esoteric doctrine of the “Exile of the Shechinah.”

Rachel manifests and identifies with this spiritual exile of malchut. She therefore paid the price by dying in childbirth, and then dwelling in a lonely wayside grave in order to bear witness to the suffering of her children. As long as her children are wandering and oppressed Rachel cannot find any final rest and remains with them “on the road”. “Rachel weeps for her children and refuses to be comforted.”

And what is Jacob’s role in this process? Jacob represents compassion (tiferet), arousing empathy for the soul’s traumatic descent into the material universe – a potent method to awaken the exiled soul (and Shechinah) from its displacement.

This is the meaning of the verse, “And Jacob kissed Rachel and lifted up his voice and wept”: “Jacob — with his supernal attribute of Divine mercy — arouses great compassion for Rachel, the source of all souls. “And he lifted up his voice” — upwards, to the fount of the Higher Mercies, to the source of the Thirteen Divine Attributes of Mercy. “And he wept” — in order to awaken and draw from there, from the boundless Divine Mercies, abundant compassion upon all the souls and upon their source, to raise them from their exile and to unite them in the Higher Unity of the Divine infinite light, at the level of “kisses”, which is “the attachment of spirit with spirit,” as it is written, “Let Him kiss me with the kisses of His mouth,” which means the union of the word of man who studies Torah with “the word of G-d, namely, the Halacha.” So too, through thinking Torah thoughts, mortal thought is united with divine thought, and so too, mortal action is united with Divine action, through active observance of the mitzvoth, and, in particular, the practice of charity and loving-kindness.”

Simply put, Jacob’s cry and kiss is a method that we can all employ when are faced with terrible tragedies, which has the power to awaken us from spiritual slumber: By pondering on the radical descent of the soul into a cruel world we can arouse a profound sense of compassion for the trapped soul. How sad it is to see a gentle soul, descend from its loftiest heights, to the nethermost depths of selfish existence, and sometimes be destroyed in the process.

How much more so, when we witness how innocent souls have been brutally ripped way from us by inhuman terrorists.

This compassion (of Jacob) empowers Rachel to stand strong with her exiled children. And ultimately Rachel’s tears prevail: Your work will be rewarded, and they will return from the land of the enemy. There is hope for your future. Your children will return to their own borders.

* * *

We all must travel on Jacob’s journey to the East.

A young couple embarked on just such a journey five years ago. They traveled, and traveled briskly, with enthusiasm and joy, to a land in the East to do exactly what their forefather Jacob did: Build a family, spread light, transform the farthest corners of the Earth into a Divine home, offering warmth and comfort to all those living and passing through their land.

And they did indeed build such a home, called the Chabad House of Mumbai. The many accounts being currently documented tell the story of a loving couple who removed many a stone, freeing the wellsprings of many a soul that entered their sphere. Their unwavering belief – and total devotion to their shlichus (mission), as emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe – empowered them to remain undeterred and remove the “large stone,” not just by day but also by night. Just like their father Jacob.

They revealed the “Rachel” within many people, and the “well” within many aspects of life in Mumbai. Just like their father Jacob.

But for some incomprehensible reason they were not blessed with the protection promised to Jacob by G-d: “I am with you. I will protect you wherever you go and bring you back to this soil. I will not turn aside from you until I have fully kept this promise to you.”

Why this loving couple – and the guests in their home – were not accorded this promise – we may never know. But no one can doubt, above all G-d Himself, that they embraced the mission they were given and took the same journey as their grandfather Jacob did, and paid the prices as Jacob did, if not more.

Then tragedy struck. And now we have another son of Rivka (this time he is two-years old and his name is Moshe’le) weeping aloud, mamme, mamme…

Rivka’s son wept for all the tears Rachel would cry for her suffering children through all the generations.

And now we are left weeping with him. Can we transform these tears into compassion that will evoke an unprecedented flow of Divine blessings? Will we become more compassionate people, kinder, gentler, nicer to each other? Will we do away with our petty rivalries, envies, insecurities and plain inertia which divides us? Will we lift ourselves to a higher standard? That is our challenge today.

The leaders of the world, driven by their own interests, have allowed a climate of terror to destroy and drive fear in the hearts of the world’s citizens. Large stones indeed are covering the beauty within this world. Even when lifted, it usually is not to free the spirit, but for personal gain. And now, the agents of destruction have annihilated a light that arrived in the East – leaving us with a heavier stone than we can have ever imagined.

We are left with no option but to revive the Jacob within us all. Despite the heaviness of the task, it is only the power of Jacob’s faith – and his ability to perceive the beauty of Rachel and the potent wellspring beneath the earth – that will allow us to eliminate these new and unwelcome large stones.

The Arizal says, that the large stone covering the well refers to the big questions and dilemmas we struggle with. The biggest of these questions have now, tragically, resurfaced with the Mumbai massacre. Jacob’s rolling the stone off the well represents the indefatigable resources of the soul that lifts and shatters the greatest questions with its persistent pursuit of clarity and truth, which will mark the end of days (eikev, ikvesa de’meshicha).

May that day be now.

May “The Space” (G-d is called “space” in this traditional consolation) console all those grieving amongst the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

And may we all transform our tears into a revolution of goodness.



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