| Voice in the Crowd |

The Fire Inside

Rabi Shimon saw deeper, finding the hope under the despair, the smile beneath the pain. As we dance to his songs, we are just reflecting that vision.


Last year, just after Shavuos, I was at a wedding. Deep into the second dance, when seasoned musicians know they have to take it up a notch or lose the crowd, the bandleader nodded to the orchestra and they shifted into the never-fail set, the Meron medley.

Bochurim who had taken a break to get a drink, or those sitting on the side, were pulled back by an invisible string, their bodies responding to the call of L’kavod haTanna ha’Elokai.

It was less than a month after Lag B’omer 2021 and the people in the hall, like the rest of Klal Yisrael, were still reeling from the worst national trauma our generation has experienced.

The pull of the music was counterintuitive; songs associated with the place of trauma were lifting people above the pain. In the large circle, in the waves of joy that rippled through the hall, one sensed just how unbreakable is this bond: the people and Rabi Shimon, the people and Meron.

But he did it first. Rabi Shimon saw deeper, finding the hope under the despair, the smile beneath the pain. As we dance to his songs, we are just reflecting that vision.

The frum community is remarkable: Jewish resourcefulness, Jewish creativity, and most of all, Jewish compassion have combined to establish so many organizations that better the lot of others. (Even in the panic about baby formula shortages, you just know that some sort of gemach will spring up, and it will be more efficient, more generous, and better run than any government authority charged to deal with the crisis.)

It’s how we roll.

Many of these organizations are vital and life-saving to those they service, while remaining virtually unknown to others. Take, for example, Kesher Nafshi, an organization that provides support and direction to parents of children struggling with Yiddishkeit.

It’s holy not just because the good, kind, insightful, experienced Yidden who have been encouraging and guiding others for so long took this mission public, opening doors to hundreds, if not thousands of parents thirsty for help; but in the fact that Kesher Nafshi parents embody the most Jewish traits of all — patience, faith, and the realest sort of love for their children. For there is no love like love that has been tested and endures nonetheless.

I have a close friend who regularly attends the convention. He and his wife have a remarkable, sensitive, hartzige, struggling son. They have been walking this journey together — parents and their beloved child — for several years, with their heads held high. My friend’s voice carries an extra layer of excitement and enthusiasm after the Kesher Nafshi events, and the lessons he’s learned on site shape his and his wife’s approach to parenting.

Now, we’re still lucky to have with us a generation of people born in Czechoslovakia, Poland, or Hungary, the generation of authentic Babis and Zeidies with accents, striped short-sleeved shirts, and Kangol caps. There are some things the older set doesn’t mamesh get, like “Im Eshkachech” under the chuppah, how cash advance/  real estate people seem to be making money even though they never go to the office, how anyone normal can get behind the wheel of a Tesla. And they also don’t quite understand the current shift in parenting struggling children.

My friend and his wife are blessed to have parents who belong to that generation. Recently, when Babi and Zeide announced that they were coming for Shabbos, my friend, eager to help his parents understand his new approach to parenting, asked them a favor: Would they go on the Kesher Nafshi website and watch the videos? Would they drop the old way of thinking and realize that, just as one wouldn’t expect a wheelchair-bound paraplegic to jump up and dunk the game-winning shot, different neshamos have different abilities, challenges, and realities, and so the expectations are different as well?

Yes, his parents said, they would try.

Gracious people, but probably not very convinced, right?

Then they arrived for Shabbos, and my friend made another request. He looked at his own father, born in Europe at a different time, and explained that the young man wouldn’t come to shul, and he might not show up to the Shabbos table. Also, he had stopped wearing a yarmulke.

My friend made another very 2022 request. “If he is talking to you, and he’s not wearing his yarmulke, try not to look above eye level, so that your body language doesn’t convey disappointment or shock,” he said.

Okay, Babi and Zeide agreed.

Later in the day, Zeide told my friend that he’d had a pleasant conversation with his teenage grandson. Curious, my friend asked if his son had been wearing a yarmulke or not.

The Zeide — old school, old world, all why can’t everyone be an accountant and do daf yomi — reacted with to the question with surprise. “Ich veis nisht, ich hub nisht gekikt, I don’t know, I didn’t check if he was wearing a yarmulke or not,” he said.

Our generation knows not to look, but while we’re not looking, we’re still noticing, categorizing, concluding, and patting ourselves on the back. That Zeide, though, looked into his grandson’s eyes, and there, he saw whatever he had to see. He had no reason to look anywhere else.

Those are the eyes of Rabi Shimon bar Yochai, he who was able to see our inner selves, to perceive the purity, the hope, and the holiness that burns in the penimiyus of every Yid.

When you see penimiyus, then chitzonius is not just irrelevant — it’s false.

The secret of a relationship is in what you don’t see — by design.

That’s us and Rabi Shimon, master of the secrets of Torah, master of the secrets of Yidden. We will keep dancing to your song, Reb Shimon.

Ashreichem Yisrael. Outside, it’s sometimes confusing, but inside, it’s fire.

Ashreichem, ashreichem, ashreichem. 


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 911)

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