A 5th question – when will this end?

I wanted to share a topic that is likely pressing on everyone’s mind. I know it has been on mine, weighing heavily; yet thinking about it helped put my mind into a different perspective and shifted my mindset from one of despair and anxiety to one of trust and appreciation. Arguably, the hardest part in life is “uncertainty” – not knowing. Like, not knowing when something will end.

Such a notion can be seen in my reborn routine of working out, trying to avoid the dreaded COVID 15 (15 pounds of weight gain.).  I have been doing it alongside my General Studies Principal.  It’s actually mostly my school’s basketball coach barking orders, and us doing our best! But, often — and especially — while under distress and struggling to hold the position of doing a 30-second plank, the hardest part for me is not knowing when it will end. To soften the challenge and pain, both physically- and mentally-speaking, I have asked Coach Ryan for a 15-second warning and 5-second warning until I can collapse to the ground in the puddle of sweat of my own triumph.

As humans, we can make it through almost ANYTHING — when we know it will end. Think about the hard things you do in life; If you know where the finish line is, you can push through the pain and exhaustion because you know it’s only temporary and will be over soon. On the flip side, NOT knowing when it will end — or if it will — makes it so much harder to withstand and endure.

Many, if not all, of us have been asking ourselves, repeatedly: “When will this end? When can we resume our normal routines again? Get back to seeing our friends and colleagues (in person)? When can we do our grocery shopping without gearing up in protective equipment?”

With Pesach here, we can imagine, perhaps with greater clarity, how the Hebrew slaves must have felt while enslaved in Mitzrayim. As the Midrash teaches us, our ancestors would go out every day to build storehouses, only to see them sink into the swampland. Waking up every morning to return to the same stressful and forlorn situation.

This is certainly not the first time the Jewish people have asked this question: “When will this end???”

Let’s take a look at the end of Breishis, where Yaakov gathers his children around him to give them their brachot:

וַיִּקְרָ֥א יַעֲקֹ֖ב אֶל־בָּנָ֑יו וַיֹּ֗אמֶר הֵאָֽסְפוּ֙ וְאַגִּ֣ידָה לָכֶ֔ם אֵ֛ת אֲשֶׁר־יִקְרָ֥א אֶתְכֶ֖ם בְּאַחֲרִ֥ית הַיָּמִֽים׃

And Jacob called his sons and said, “Come together that I may tell you what is to happen to you in days to come.”

What days is he talking about? What days to come?

Some, including the Ramban, say this refers to the times of Mashiach, the end of days.

But Rashi and others suggest something different: “He wished to reveal to them the end of Israel’s exile but the Shechinah departed from him and he began to speak of other things (Breishit Rabbah 98:2).”

The brothers knew that the Jewish people were exiled from the land of Israel. They felt how painful it was to not be able to go about their regular routine, to be stuck in a place they didn’t want to be. But, still, it was the uncertainty of it that killed them. Their father Yaakov knew that their lack of foresight would be too much to bear, so Yaakov wanted to tell them – to help them see the finish line and know it would only be temporary.

Exactly what all of us want right now: To know when this will end.

What is so wrong about Yaakov telling his sons the answer to their question? As Yaakov was going to reveal that answer to his children, why did he lose the ability to do so? Why did Hashem remove His presence, and Yaakov then spoke about other things? It would have given his children hope.

Allo me to share the following form Rav Yaakov Moshe Charlop, author of the Mei Marom and Rosh Yeshiva of the Mercaz HaRav. He is a man who saw the horrors of the Shoah and the miracle of the modern state of Israel. (translation is mine)

The depth of Yaakov our father z”l wish and desire to reveal the end was not to reveal the timing of the end, rather his intent was to reveal the redemption within the exile since the exile is at the root of the redemption, that is, the redemption is hidden within the exile, which to our eyes is concealed, it sees and is not seen, and that is what Yaakov wished to reveal. However, since the exile is at the root of the redemption, it was davka necessary that the form of the exile be in all senses an absence in materialism and spirituality. The Divine Presence left Yaakov because had he revealed this to his sons, the potential of the exile would not have been so deep as to bring the complete and true redemption, therefore secrecy was necessary.

Rabbi Charlop teaches us an incredible lesson that has such profound meaning for all of us: Sure, knowing when this will end will make it easier; but Yaakov wasn’t going to tell his sons when this situation would end. That is not what would truly help his children get through the tough time; and it would not help us through the challenges and uncertainty of this time, either. What Yaakov was going to tell his sons was that this exile, the slavery, was all part of the eventual redemption. However, once they would know that the challenges were, in fact, opportunities, that would defeat the purpose of the exile.

What really allows human beings to make it through difficult situations is not simply knowing it will be temporary or over with at X date; it is knowing that the difficulty is what will lead to the ultimate redemption that implores us to “keep on keeping on,” because the challenge has meaning.

Having the insight into when this situation we are currently facing will end for us is clearly only a short-term fix. Sure, it would make it a bit easier to weather through the storm, as we could “see the light at the end of the tunnel,” so-to-speak. Yet, there is incredible holiness and meaning in this “exile” from our daily lives. This time period of pain, challenge, and darkness can, and likely will, eventually lead to a personal and communal redemption.

If we allow it.

Unlike the actual galus of mitzrayim and the eventual redemption of the Jewish people, where it was necessary for the Jewish people to suffer without knowing that this was a step in the eventual redemption, I am hoping that Hashem doesn’t mind if I reveal the ultimate secret: This is all happening for a reason. There is a greater purpose to this madness.

  • Please God, in a year’s time, may there be a rise in small businesses because all the entrepreneurs had a moment of stillness and creativity to come up with new ideas. May the children remember a time when Mom and Dad spent time playing games and hanging out with them engulfed in pure, quality bonding time.
  • May we remember that we all stopped worrying about the small (and big) differences between us and started caring about each other.
  • May we Zoom with our friends and family who are far away during happy times and during sad times, knowing that our connection to one another is grander and much more possible than just in our physical surroundings.
  • May we remember and mindfully appreciate, all over again, the amazing heroes in our society: the doctors, the nurses, the teachers, the delivery and janitorial personnel, etc., who work harder than we may have realized or considered, prior to this event.

I believe these experiences and memories will profoundly change our world moving forward.

“L’galot et ha’keitz,” there will be an end of this; not just a date on the calendar but my hope is for a fundamental and systematic change for the better. That the challenges and disappointments of these weeks and months will serve as the foundation stone and building blocks of a brighter redeemed future makes this all worth it and endurable.

Truthfully, the only real shame I can see in this whole experience is if we don’t grow through it. If we are the same person after this as we were before, then we have missed out on a massive opportunity.

Chag Sameach

About the Author
Rabbi Ari Segal is Head of School at Shalhevet High School, in California.
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