I’ve had two experiences recently that I want to share, with the second stimulating the first.
In the second season of Shtisel there is an episode in which Tzvi Arye is offered the chance to sing with a band. You may remember that in the first season, he cries on his father’s shoulder, regretting never having been able to sing with a Pirchei choir. So now he gets his chance and sings a well-known song, V’afilu b’hastarah, a song which was totally new to me. It reached deep into my heart in this time of uncertainty and anxiety, a time when I find it hard to discern the hand of God as collectively we resist dealing with climate change and instead, feeling powerless, are led on paths of confrontation and denial. I found the clip on Youtube, learned the words and melody and I confess to crying nearly every time I hear it. Then I looked to see what other versions there were, not only to hear how others sang this but also to learn where the words originated, since they sounded like something that Reb Nachman would have said. Sure enough, Yosef Karduner has a version and his printed text makes it clear.
The Torah in D’varim (31:18) says that “Yet I will keep My countenance hidden on that day (וְאָנֹכִי הַסְתֵּר אַסְתִּיר פָּנַי בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא).” And Reb Nachman explained, “Even in the hidden within the hidden, certainly even there can be found the Blessed Name.” And further paraphrasing his words (in Likkutei Moharan 56:3), “Even behind all the difficulties which happen to you, I [God] stand.”
Some time ago I agreed to undertake a difficult task. While still in the middle, I desperately wanted to be able to call Reb Zalman. I felt that every skill and piece of wisdom I had accumulated in my life thus far was being tested and I wanted, no I needed my rebbe to listen to me and either confirm my direction or help me adjust it. It was hard to accept that I am now the elder and, here too, I wasn’t sure that I was truly following guidance or fooling myself.
Suddenly, (I think I was washing dishes), I heard him singing a niggun, one that I recognized but didn’t really know. So I looked it up, listened to him singing it, paying attention to the words from Song of Songs: “There he stands behind our wall, gazing through the window, peering through the lattice.…I have come to my garden, my own, my bride; I have plucked my myrrh and spice…Hark, my beloved knocks! Let me in, my own, my darling.” (1:9; 5:1-2).
I heard these words as: God is just out of sight, guiding and shining through the cracks, encouraging me to stay open and trusting. I’ve been singing this niggun ever since.
And now I have a second one.
It’s true that I couldn’t call him, as I had so many times in the past. It’s also true that I wasn’t being guided by Reb Zalman directly. It was, and is true, that the Holy Blessed One is somehow just out of sight but still present during these difficult times, both those that are personal and those that are global. It was that to which Reb Zalman pointed me, may his memory be even more than a blessing.
Lag ba’Omer 5779
PS: In a similar vein, there was a powerful column in the NY Times, “Surviving Despair in the Great Extinction” by Margaret Renkl (which appeared on May 13th of this year).