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Not for Naught – Hope Amid Crisis


One of my children left us a note last week that tugged at our hearts. The following is a quote pulled from the note, written in pencil with big, uneven lettering and flowers drawn all around: “Can I do anything else for the war besides daven or take a small thing away from my day? I want this to end. And I don’t see how my davening is helping. I want to see it so I can know for shure [sic] that it is actually happening.”  

I think we all feel this way to one degree or another. There is a cloud hanging over our collective heads. When people ask how I’m doing and I answer positively, I feel a silent asterisk hanging in the air. We so desperately want the war to end victoriously. But if for some reason Hashem doesn’t make that happen now, we at least want to see that our efforts bear fruit. So how can we remove that dark cloud? Or at least feel more light in our lives on such a cloudy day?  

It is interesting to note that the very first miraculous sign that Hashem gave Moshe and Aharon to perform before Pharaoh is also the very first miraculous sign that Hashem gave Moshe to perform before the Jewish people. They were to take a staff and cast it down to the ground, whereupon it would turn into a snake. However, when it came to the miracle performed before the Jewish people, there was another step: Moshe grabbed the snake by its tail, and it once again became a staff. The sefer Be’er Moshe by the Ozharover Rebbe explains, based upon the Zohar, that a deep message is being conveyed here. Throughout the Torah, a staff is depicted as a source of stability and strength, whereas a snake symbolizes evil and weakness. Pharaoh and the Jewish people are being given mirroring messages. The message to Pharaoh is this: that which you depend on, your source of strength, will turn into your source of weakness, your downfall. One of many examples of this is that Pharaoh’s own palace became the very home where the Jewish savior was raised.

The opposite message being delivered to us, the Jewish people, is this: the thing that looks like the very source of evil and weakness may seem like a hopeless encounter with a frightening snake, but in reality, that snake is the source of your staff—your strength. The slavery of Egypt must have been the darkest of clouds for us. Yet we know from several verses in the Torah and countless commentaries that it was the kur habarzel, the fiery furnace used to purify metals in a process known as smelting, in which metals are pushed past their melting point to extract the base ore of the metal. It was this process, and only this process, that allowed us to become who we were destined to be, to reach our potential as a nation. It wasn’t a cloud that just darkened the day; it was a rain cloud that brought forth untold bounty after the ground had been properly tilled.

This message was transmitted to the Jewish people not only in retrospect. Given in a time of darkness when they were still in the throes of catastrophe, it was the first step in their process of salvation. Hashem was conveying to them: Your hardship is not for naught. I know it’s hard; I know it’s pushing you to your limits—that’s the point. As you undergo this process, you will find that pushing those limits will show you the limitless nature of your potential.

The thing that looks like the very source of evil and weakness may seem like a hopeless encounter with a frightening snake, but in reality, that snake is the source of your staff—your strength.

There was once a G-d-fearing Jew with a pure heart who came to seek guidance from the Chozeh of Lublin, the Chassidic master known far and wide as “the Seer.” After sharing some of his weighty suffering, he declared, “Despite all my challenges, I have just one request. My business exposes me to the unbridled vulgar speech of low, unmannered people. While I am at work, I can’t daven properly. I just want this terrible atmosphere removed so that I can daven!”

The Chozeh sympathized with his plight and his simple, earnest request, and he promised to see what spiritual strings he could pull. The fellow returned home, and after nothing changed, he came back a few weeks later to see if he could hope for some forthcoming salvation. The Chozeh replied, “I’m glad you returned. Hashem is not going to remove this obstacle from your path right now. He wants you to serve Him and do your best from where you are.”

There is so much we don’t know, so much we don’t understand. But one thing “we can know for shure” is that change is “actually happening.” We must not run away from the snake. Grab ahold of its tail. Let us hold on to our resolve in tefillah, hold on to our Torah, hold on to each other in ways we have rarely seen in our lifetime. And as we maintain our firm grasp, we must take pride in knowing that the transformation is that of the snake into the staff. We are being transformed into bigger people, stronger avdei Hashem, a stronger nation that will soon reap what it has sown—once the clouds have passed.


Rabbi Dov Foxbrunner is the associate rabbi at Beth Jacob Atlanta in Georgia. 


More in this Section

The Tenacity of Our Nation by Michal Horowitz

Bitachon During Crisis by Rebbetzin Dina Schoonmaker as told to Barbara Bensoussan

How to Build Hope by Rabbi Larry Rothwachs

The Psychology of Hope by Rabbi Dr. Dovid Fox

Responding to Crisis: A Historical Approach by Dr. Henry Abramson

Celebrating Life in the Face of Pain: One Son Married, One Son Missing by Toby Klein Greenwald

Of Faith and Fortitude: How Devorah Paley Energized a Nation by Yocheved Lavon

A Laughing Matter by Carol Green Unger

This article was featured in the Spring 2024 issue of Jewish Action.
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