It’s been a strange week here in Alaska. The sun has been retreating more and more. A friend’s son committed suicide. The Shabbat RV continues to have electrical issues that kept us stranded at home for Shabbos. The weather has not cooperated for a planned hiking trip to climb Flattop Mountain. All this on top of the rush of school beginning and all our ups and downs with the conversion process had me feeling run down heading into my weekly Tanya class this morning.
As usual, the class brought exactly what I needed.
We’ve been studying Elul and the nature of this season and how it differs from the High Holidays. In the High Holidays, Jews are filled with awe. We meet Hashem in all his glory, as the King of the Universe, upon his throne, ruling with justice and judgment. Now, though, is the time when Hashem is most accessible to all. He is still the King, but He’s left behind His royal garb for common clothes and He comes to meet us in the field, where we are. Like a parent who knows that His child has something serious on their mind, He clears His schedule, gives us His attention and comes to us, to help us feel safe and comfortable to meet Him.
Before Shabbos, we took food to the couple whose son had died. She is Jewish, but he is not and the child is his from a previous marriage. So, it’s a complex situation to begin with. I sat with the man while my husband talked with his wife. I think he wanted someone to listen and was more comfortable with me seeing his tears. He had found his son as he died and the trauma was fresh in his mind. He needed to talk about what he’d witnessed as well as his regrets. He’d tried to help his troubled son and rushed to his side the moment he received his son’s suicide note…a group text to his family.
There are no words for this kind of pain, nothing that could be said to make it any less. It was all that I could do just to listen, to be witness to this man’s pain. As I did, I was reminded of the time of year, that the King is in the field. I wondered if this might also be true for this man, although a non-Jew and probably some form of Christian. When we returned home and I lit Shabbos candles, I included their family in my davening, asking that Hashem be close to them now, to offer them what comfort can be had.
“Does faith make times like these easier?” He had asked.
I thought a moment and finally answered, “Yes, maybe, and also harder, too.”
It didn’t seem right to be anything but bluntly honest with someone who has faced something so awful. His eyes told me he understood. Faith means that yes, I believe that things all have some reason for happening, some goodness that is hidden, sometimes so deep that our human minds just can’t comprehend it. It also means that I have to face the reality that this also comes from Hashem. The merciful King in the field allows a young man the free will to take His own life and this too, somehow, is part of some larger plan.
This morning, we learned about the face of Hashem, that He greets His people in Elul with a pleasant countenance and when we come to Him in teshuva, He laughs with joy.
My mind swirled with thoughts of mercy versus justice, with kindness versus judgment.
I glanced at the weather forecast and saw that tomorrow should be a good day to climb a mountain and I thanked Hashem for this mercy. I think a change in altitude is exactly what we need to clear out some of this clutter within. I am seeking the King in the Field and I am so ready to do teshuva and be closer to Him.