Vayeitzei: Day and Night

Last week, I attended a wedding of an 83-year-old man and his 73 -year-old bride.  I’ve known this man for a few years now.  He’s Russian, with one child who’s intermarried, and lives in Germany.  He was a "proud Communist" throughout his life, but has becoming more religious over the years, realizing where he went wrong.  He doesn’t speak a word of English and his Hebrew isn’t the greatest, but we understand each other well enough.  His wife passed away two years ago, and he has suffered terribly from it.  One of the members of the kollel, the unofficial Rabbi of a group of elderly Russian men, pushed him to marry his wife’s sister, who is completely religious, since he already knew her, and she herself was a widow.  Thankfully, he agreed, and they were married in the shul.


I’m friends with this kollel member and he told me that when the bride was a little girl, her father made a joke about the government.  It landed him a 25-year sentence in Siberia, and her mother was no longer able to find work since her husband was officially labeled a traitor.  Thankfully, Stalin died five years later, and he was released.


When people, especially now in America, complain about certain presidents or government officials being terrible and like Stalin or Hitler, it’s good to have a reminder that said people have no clue what they are talking about.


Anyhow, this past Shabbos, I walked out of shul with this kollel member and watched the "young couple" walk down the stairs, supporting themselves so they don’t trip.  He, rightfully, took a  lot of pride in his "young" student.


I’ve uploaded part of the chuppah.  It’s in Hebrew (and Russian), but it’s nice to see, even if you don’t understand:


Throughout life, there are days and there are nights.  There are times when it’s full of light, and one can see the beauty of life around them, and there are times when it’s dark, and one has no understanding of where they are going.  Both are an integral part of life, and life cannot go on without both.  I just heard from Rav Yaakov Leonard that we see hints to this in the fact that we say Shema both during the day and at night.  And the brachos after both of them, reflect the "mission" of that time.


In the morning, we say, “True and certain . . . established and enduring, fair and faithful, beloved and cherished, delightful and pleasant . . . .”  Here, in the morning, everything is light.  All the beauty of Hashem’s world and how it’s run is clear to all.


Yet, at night we say, “True and faithful is all this, and it is firmly established for us that He is Hashem our G-d, and there is none but Him . . . .”  Night, the time in our lives when we cannot see the “hand of Hashem,” is the time of “true and faithful.”


What is faith?  Many religions around the world say it’s the same as “blind faith.”  “We know that so-and-so is a god, why?  We have faith!”  For us, faith is different.  Faith is used specifically in the time of darkness.  Faith is taking what we know, what we see during the day as “true and certain,” and holding on to that during the period of darkness, hence we say at night, “True and faithful is all this, and it is firmly established for us that He is Hashem . . . .”


We learn (Talmud Brachos), that Yaakov established maariv, the evening prayers.  While his father and grandfather, lived comfortably in Eretz Yisroel, were wealthy, and made treaties with kings, Yaakov’s life was much different.  He grew up with Eisav; Eisav tried to kill him; he had to flee to outside of Eretz Yisroel without a thing and live with Lavan who did everything to steal from him.  From there, he returned to Israel, had to battle with Eisav, had the episode with Dina, followed by the loss of Rochel, and then the loss of Yosef, only to be brought down to Egypt.  Yaakov lived his life in the night.  Yet, when we speak of the Jewish nation, we use terms like, “The nation of Israel,” and “The Children of Yaakov.”  We use Yaakov’s two names to describe us, not that of Avraham or Yitzchok, because while they taught us how to live in the day, Yaakov taught us how to live in the night.  Whether it be the night of exile, or the periods of darkness that we live through in our lives.


In the end, he held on tightly to his faith by remembering the “day” when things were clear, and in the end, he persevered. 


Rav Yaakov Meir Shechter , one of the leading figures of the Breslov community in Yerushaliyim, wrote, regarding the times of darkness:


“We need to know how to act in these times, to pass through them peacefully and derive from them their full benefits.  The best advice is to perform simple acts of goodness with honesty and sincerity: reciting a chapter of Tehillim, for instance, or studying Torah on a lower level than usual, according to one’s ability at the moment, or doing acts of kindness as one encounters them.  The principle is: if you cannot do what is required of you, do what you can.  Often, that little bit of good a person does will immediately lift him back to his proper place, and he can again serve G-d with all his strength.  Even in the worst of times, one can still refrain from committing improper action, and this alone will yield great benefits.” 

With that, I wish you all a great Shabbos!

Michael Winner