Close to 1000 viewers joined the Associated Talmud Torahs on Motzaei Shabbos, November 28, 2020, to participate in the 34th Annual Rabbi Isaac Mayefsky Memorial Lecture and the launching of the ATT’s annual campaign and week of community-wide inspiration and virtual learning. The annual parenting program, sponsored by the Mayefsky family in memory of Rabbi Isaac and Mrs. Florence Mayefsky, featured the captivating speaker and renowned scholar, Rabbi YY Jacobson.
The presentation, entitled Keeping Positive in an Age of Uncertainty, focused on strategies for dealing with the effects of the current pandemic.
Rabbi Jacobson opened with a tribute to the ATT and Rabbi Isaac Mayefsky, z”l, as he explained the importance of leaving no child behind. The attitude to children has to be: “I believe in you and I will not let any child fall through the cracks.” This is a testimony of Achdus in a community with the goal to let every child continue to sit in the laps of our forefathers and matriarchs with Yiras Shamaim, Ahavas HaTorah, hope, dignity and inner confidence that defines the eternity of the Jewish people. He quoted the Ponevezher Rav, the Steipler, who noted than an orphan is a child without parents. But an orphan generation is a generation without children. Children are the “anointed ones” – each child has the power to change the world and every child can find his/her place in our people.
So how does one stay positive in this age of uncertainty and insanity – one that has created fear and anxiety that has overwhelmed all of us. Rabbi Jacobson suggested the following ideas:
1) One needs to be upbeat for the immune system to operate on a level of optimal health. One must eat well, sleep, exercise, and maintain a positive attitude for the physical immune system to do its part.
2) Everyone is going through so much with the lockdowns, job effects, quarantines, etc. To combat this, one needs to keep a spirit of simcha in the house.
3) Maintain an environment of connection – the Lekovitcher Maggid says: Hashem told Noach (Bereishis 7:1) You and your household should go into the “teivah.”The word teivah means Ark but the Baal Shem Tov says it also means “word”. The Lekovitcher Maggid teaches that when there is a flood outside, all of you have to enter into dialogue – conversation. When there’s a flood – a pandemic – and uncertainty outside, make sure there is communication between husband and wife, between parents and children – talking AND listening to the best of our ability. This will enhance relationships which create emotional connections.
4) The Sefer Beis Aharon, a commentary on Chumash, written by Rav Aharon of Karlin says on Parashas VaYeitzeh: (Bereishis 28: 10,11) “And Yaakov went out of Beer Sheva and went to Charan. And he encountered the place (“makom”) …and he slept at that place.”
The Medrash Rabbah says that the word “makom” – place is a euphemism for Hashem – the Omnipresent – for He constitutes the space of the universe. In fact, this is the first place in the Torah where Hashem is mentioned in this way. So why doesn’t the posuk just say that Yaakov met Hashem? Why is this reference of “space/place” made at this point in the Torah? Rav Aharon of Karlin explains: In Shma it says: (Devarim 6:5) “And you should love Hashem with all of your heart.” Rashi explains there: “all of your heart” means that “your heart should not be divided or at variance (in a fight) with the “space” (Hashem).” You must always be at peace with G-d. A person might think – “If only…” this or that conceptually, existentially, or emotionally, things would be different. Those two words do not allow us to make peace with our situation. We need to remember that G-d is always present in our reality – you are never a victim of your reality. This, in fact, is where Hashem has placed you and you will find your purpose if you allow yourself to rise to the occasion. It is easy to surrender to a place/circumstance. Don’t! Hashem sent you there – embrace it with your tools even when there is pain and there are tears. This will be the place where you can find your deepest self. Don’t squander the opportunity – flex your muscles and bring out the best in yourself. It is an opportunity from Hashem.
So, in our present age of uncertainty – one place to start is to develop one’s relationship with one’s spouse and children. All of our lives have changed and we are living in difficult circumstances. We need to see ourselves, not as victims, but instead in a position to encounter G-d emotionally, physically, and psychologically. We need to say to ourselves, “My purpose is here.” The worst thing about a crisis is to squander the opportunity to rise to the occasion and grow. These are times to create our best marriage, intensify relationships with children, relate to Hashem one-on-one in our Tefillah, the way for us to connect to Him. We can take the challenges of today and the pain and change them into opportunities for self-awareness, extraordinary growth, deeper relationships with loved ones, maturity, and self-discovery. How can we become ambassadors for light, love, and hope? This is a time to be there for each other. We must ask ourselves, “what can I do for my community, for others, for my family?” It can be a gesture – a text, a phone call, words of encouragement to a spouse, a child, a neighbor, a relative, a principal, a teacher. Be a source of love, strength, and inspiration. You must always be at peace with G-d – make peace with every situation and accept the challenge. “Carpe diem” – “seize the day,” suck the marrow out of the “space,” and you will find your real self and make true meaning out of the situation.
This lecture is part of the ATT’s expanded program designed to address the challenges of creative teaching and rewarding parenting. Over the years, it has become an excellent resource for parents of children of all ages. Rabbi Isaac Mayefsky was a gifted educator who, in the course of more than 40 years of communal service, developed many key programs within the Associated Talmud Torahs, including the Russian Transitional Program and the Oscar & Bernice Novick P’TACH Program. The ATT’s annual campaign and week of community-wide inspiration and virtual learning will culminate in a lecture by Rabbi David Fohrman on Sunday December 6, 2020 entitled “The Unfinished Story of Jacob’s Ladder” sponsored by the Tanielle Miller Foundation.