By Miriam Julie Hauser
This summer, I experienced three unusual animal encounters which, to me, were filled with the theme of rachamim (compassion) and Hashem’s embrace.
Rav Shimshon Dovid Pincus z’tz’l taught, “There are two ways to come out winning in the fearful judgement of Rosh Hashana. The first is Teshuvah (return)…and the second way is to be in the ’embrace’ of HaKadosh Baruch Hu” (p. 171, Moadei HaShana, Elul and Rosh Hashanah, Feldheim).
My first animal encounter is no Mother Goose tale. She attacked me. That’s right. Two of my sons and I were almost finished biking around a nature loop, when we were about to pass a family of geese positioned close to the side of the path. Not sure how to proceed, I just forged ahead, continuing at a normal pace, unaware that I looked so threatening to Mama goose (was it the umbrella sticking out of my backpack?).
To the horror of my children behind me, she jumped up at me, honking and squawking and whacking me multiple times with her spread wings while I continued to ride. I am not sure what she thought she could accomplish by whacking a human lady dressed in multiple layers from head to toe, including helmet and sunglasses.
Next story: One evening I was watering our plants in the garden when my nine-year-old son came running over to report a fat rabbit had just jumped away but left behind another one behind our back door. I rushed with him to see a tiny a newborn rabbit, rapidly pulsing, burrowed just under the grass no taller than it, fuzzy as a caterpillar.
Finally, one Shabbos afternoon I was saying Tehillim on the couch with one son reading nearby. Detecting an odd sound behind me, I said, “Doesn’t that sound like quacking?” though I could barely believe the possibility. We do not live on a farm, nor in the country, nor near any field or lake.
“Yeah, it really does,” he answered, with the same surprise in his voice. We went to look out the back window, and there were three female mallard ducks strutting around our backyard. They stayed through shalosh seudis!
What message did these animals bring for me? They were all mamas, and mamas represent compassion, rachamim. (The root of “rachamim” is rechem, womb.)
If I can remember and internalize, that even if I am not (surprise!) perfect, I struggle, or I’m not always strong, Hashem can and does hold me, unconditionally, with great compassion. I have also recently learned to have compassion toward myself, which opens up a space to feel it from Hashem. And this message is not only for this time of year. It is an all day, every day thing. Challenge: Try to say Shemoneh Esrei of Shacharis or Mincha and not notice some form of the word rachamim so many times! It’s in there 10 to 12 times!
School started; the weather is beginning to fluctuate. This summer of rachamim has marched into the Jewish month of Elul. The month of Elul has sometimes been described as a time of trepidation, of awe, since it is the month prior to the new year, which approaches with its judgements and opportunities. Yet every last moment of the month of Elul is also characterized by rachamim, a time loaded with compassion, when Hashem, God is so accessible, approachable. As it is said, “The King is in the fields.” We are not yet perceiving Hashem as the judge, on a high throne.
It is up to us to use the time prior to Rosh Hashanah to initiate that connection, while it is so freshly accessible, and to prepare ourselves for a fresh, new start, which Rosh Hashanah and the yomim tovim of the whole of the month of Tishrei offer.
Renew and Restart
When we see, know, and feel how beloved we are by Hashem, in no matter what state or stage, then we can be ready to renew and restart. We can go forward and coronate the King, and see ourselves new and fresh, yearning for change, requesting Heavenly help to grow.
I love what Rav Shimshon Dovid Pincus z’tz’l says about Rosh Hashanah: “[a person] should know that on Rosh Hashanah he has the ability to create faculties and powers in himself that until now he did not have at all…On Rosh Hashanah, a person can create in himself something that didn’t exist before. He has the power to create new receptacles” (pg 67-68 Moadei HaShana, Elul and Rosh Hashanah, Feldheim).
You can have it!
A Chazak Inspiration Line speaker (who prefers not to be named) said, “Life is a ladder. You’re never ever, ever, ever done. There is always the next rung to reach.” She mentioned how the children of Korach did teshuvah at the last second, when they were tumbling down, and theirs is the chapter of Psalms we say as a congregation just before the blasts of the shofar. “The only thing a person needs is the desire. You don’t need money, you don’t need intelligence, you don’t need to be married, you don’t need to be a parent, you don’t need to be talented, you don’t need anything! You only need the desire! If you want spiritual growth, you can have it…And don’t look at yourself as a loser or a failure! Hashem is telling us, there is always hope! And we say this Psalm seven times to drum it into our heads: if the sons of Korach could do it, so can I.”
Every Split Second
Likewise, Rebbetzin Tehila Jaeger shared a teaching about renewal from Rav Moshe Shapiro z’tz’l: “When a child looks at the flame of a candle, the child thinks it’s the same flame every moment. But as adults, we know the intrinsic nature of fire is that it’s perpetually consuming itself, so every split second it is a new flame.” Rebbetzin Jaeger teaches, “Every split second Hashem vivifies us, He outfits us with tools…He gives us tools every day: physical, emotional, spiritual tools with which to wage the battle called ‘today.’ Because in galus, every day is a battle.“
May we merit the compassion, the desire, the hope, and the tools, to enjoy a sweet new year, in the embrace of Hashem. And may everything that appears like a problem turn into a blessing and a salvation. L’shana tova.
[The quotes in this article, except for the Rav Pincus quotes, are excerpts from my new book, Making It Mine, which contains Torah snippets mixed with interview snapshots to make Torah personal.]
Julie is an occupational therapist, photographer, and author of several books including her newest, titled Making It Mine. You may recognize her as the author of Pesach While You Sleep, or one of her other titles available here. Julie lives with her husband and children (who wonder which occupation is her ‘real job’) in Detroit, Michigan.