Tranquility Doesn’t Mean A Strawberry Daiquiri On A Hammock in the Bahamas

We are living in a time when raising a family is, sadly more difficult than ever before. True, we don’t have the financial hardship of our parents generation, or the need to run for our lives as our grandparents generations but we have our unique set of challenges that can only be ascribed to the birth pangs of Moshiach.

I am talking about challenges of raising a healthy well balance family, where the the values are ones of Torah observance, while combatting the growing epidemic of mental health challenges, large and small, (anxiety, depression, bipolar and even more serious) and now the introduction of mind altering substances from alcohol to “lower level” drugs and more serious substances. 

The question is why? How much can we handle? Why is God doing this to us? Most of us have been through the ringer – as Dennis Prager says, the only people I know who are truly happy, are people I don’t know very well – most of us feel like we can’t handle what we have on our plates already, not to mention what God seems to be piling on beyond our capabilities, it often feels like it is just all too much.

Add to that, that we’ve been taught that we are the generation about whom Moses himself was humbled about, that we would be the ones that usher in the Moshiach, since we have certain challenges that seem to be “first world challenges” or having the luxury to worry about what might seem like trivial things, yet it was enough that even Moses was in awe of our generation. What do have that is so special when things are often so terrible?

Surprisingly, we, in our times are not the first to ask this question. Our great patriarch, Jacob asked this question in his time. It went something like this.

(FOOTNOTE – I am taking some liberties in how I paraphrase the Rebbe’s words – this is based on Lekkutei Sichos – volume 30, parshas Vayeishev)

Jacob didn’t have an easy life right out the gate. Twin brother to a rough and tumble womb-mate who was always manipulating and abusing him (complex trauma) and an uncle who tricked him many times both in wages and causing him marry the wrong spouse on and on (abused by those in a portions of power), war with his brother (family dischord), his only daughter was kidnapped and raped (extreme guilt) suffice it to say he was exausted. 

The Torah tells, that Yaakov wanted to rest, he was over 100 years old at this point and he just wanted to live in tranquility. The Midrash tell us, that “he wanted to live in tranquility, so the crisis of Joseph is brother leapt onto him” and he was forced live nearly the rest of his life (minus the last 17 years) mourning and grieving the loss of his favorite child.

The question that you must ask is REALLY??? What was his great crime that he deserved to not be able to have tranquility? They way the Midrash phrases it, it is appears, that Jacob’s crime is that he wanted to have rest, and therefore God tells, him “sorry buddy, not happening. No rest for you. You want to rest, I’ll show you rest, boom, here, your sons will sell off one of their siblings and you will think he is dead, there is your rest for you!”

What was his crime? He wasn’t looking to run from Judaism and drink cocktails in the Bahamas, all he wanted was to be able pray and learn in tranquility without the challenging distractions of life?

Many commentary discuss this, but the Rebbe has a most novel interpretation. 

The Rebbe explains, that you need to read the Midrash in a more nuanced way. “Jacob wanted to dwell in tranquility, so God showed him the truest definition of tranquility. That is the crisis of Joseph.” Meaning, true tranquility is not when nothing is bothering you, true tranquility is when you have managed to perfect your own character, rise to the highest levels of what you are capable of accomplishing, reaching your personal max, that is tranquility. 

In the language of Chassidic thought, it is when you can take the world-to-come reality, where truth and Divinity is visible in everything that goes on, and there is no mystery or pain in what we endure because we know the deepest truth in it, and how it is not only good for us, but it is good in a visible way to us, an bring that reality to this world reality. 

The fact is that we don’t operate at that level and we are not Jacob, but if he wanted relatively earthly tranquility it isn’t heresy for us to want the same. The fact that he had to learn the painful way, that true tranquility isn’t restful, but working to reach your personal potential, is just as true for us.


Now, I know you are thinking to yourself that, well, that isn’t very comforting to me and my problems today. I want to relax and let someone else reach their potential, I want live in my comfortable little shallow bubble and not have to deal with the challenges that I am dealing with? Don’t I get to choose?

Sadly, and happily, the answer is no! You don’t get to choose. The Rebbe expands in his talk that even Jacob was not asking for that higher level of revelation and connection, yet he too was told that God has more in store for him that even he thought possible or desirable. 

That said, it might be akin to a child who might tell a parent, no thanks, I’d rather not be vaccinated against smallpox or measles, and I’d rather not be pricked by the needle. To which any responsible parent says, “sorry, you don’t get to make that choice, I am going to help you do what you don’t yet know is what is best for you.”


We can take one final step deeper. In fact, if we can alter our perspective and view this as not simply something that God wants us to figure out how to endure, but rather that we hand chosen by God, cherry picked for this mission that ONLY WE can accomplish. No one else on earth can deal with the specific struggles that we are grappling with. Be it raising challenging children, financial strains, emotional or mental health struggles and the list goes on. 

God in His parental and infinite wisdom see’s that we, me and you, are special and unique and ONLY WE can rise to the occasion being presented before us, and if we can step up instead of collapsing, not only have we reached our personal max, but then we have actually connected with God on the deepest level. We made His dream come true. We have brought a little piece of Moshiach and the world-to-come, down here on this earth.

He hand picked us, and we got it done.


When we can see this, then we truly can live with tranquility. This is what God was teaching to Jacob and to us. When you can realize that this task, while beyond belief and other-worldly in how difficult it is, if we can let go and let God, and realize that this challenge, the most difficult thing on earth is actually the entire purpose of our existence we can end up with two positive results.

A) We can find meaning and strength in our struggle 

B) We can finally attain not only spiritual and conceptual tranquility but we can attain physical and earthly tranquility in the here and now.

As we see, Jacob did in the end find peace here on earth. He told Paarogh, my life has been long and difficult until now, but later he concedes that the last 17 years of his life, in the ugliest and morally bankrupt places on the planet were 17 = Tov = Good.

This is what tranquility looks like. It is the most un-tranquil thing ever, but it is our calling it is what brings us peace.

Excavating the Rubble of the Champlain Towers

Excavating the Rubble of the Champlain Towers

The world, and certainly the Jewish world is reeling due to the story of the Champlain tower collapse in Surfside. I have not shared any public thoughts until now since the words “vayidom Aharon” and “Aaron was silent” after the devastating news of his sons’ premature demise are often the only reaction one can have.

(In Hebrew you can say sheket which means silent, and vayidom – from the root domem – means absolute silence like that of a rock which is domem – inanimate – meaning sometimes you cannot say words, you can only love, hug and pray and not be Gd’s attorney to explain away the pain of tragic life events.)

Today I heard a class by Rabbi YY Jacobson, on the – here is the specific class based on the personal journal entries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe from more than 70 years ago before he was the Rebbe (Reshimos, Pamphlet 15), ideas he shared at an informal farbrengan at the Lubavitch Yeshiva in Riga where he was visiting his father in law – Rebbe Rayat’s. I am going to try to summarize this class as succinctly as possible. 

It is eerie how prescient that talk was, and how it coincides with the “daf yomi” talmud cycle that will be studying these laws in the Tractate Yoma in just a few short days.

The Talmud relates a scenario where there is a “collapse” of a building which creates a pile of rubble, and it is shabbat when it is normally forbidden to touch or move rocks and rubble. May one move the rubble if there is potential life in the rubble?
The Talmud debates and concludes that you may move the rubble on Shabbat:

  • Regardless if you are sure or unsure if there is even anyone buried in the rubble.
  • Regardless if you are unsure if the person that “may” in the rubble is alive or dead.
  • Regardless if the person who “may” be in the rubble and is “possibly alive” is a Jew or a gentile.

Basically, if there is any chance that there is life there, you must focus on the possibility of life over the regulations of Shabbat. It so happens that the rescue workers in Miami are doing just that. (In fact I read that some Israeli rescue workers refused free hotel rooms, choosing to tent on the site so as not to lose a minute of rescue work, only taking the minimal amount of time needed to rest so they can continue their efforts.)

The Rebbe then relates that every law and idea in the Torah has a spiritual, psychological, emotional and practical application. What is the practical application of these ideas? They seem to be dated laws that may have no relevance to the average person. He delves in and explains as follows.

A building represents orderliness and purpose. A structure has a purpose, a place, things belong, they make sense. For building to exist there are strict rules and engineering guidelines that must be followed or Gd forbid the worst can happen. 

A collapsed building – which is a pile of rubble – represents the notion that things in the world are random and arbitrary. That there is not “owner to this edifice” called life and existence. That there isn’t a distinct purpose, reason or rhyme to every single element of life. 

“The world is a mirror of a person, and a person is a mirror of the world.”

Everything on this planet is intentional and by design and serves a purpose (whether we see/know it or not). “This is a fact for anyone honestly who seeks to know this truth” The sun that warms the seas that creates vapor into clouds, and winds that move those clouds so the rains ingested from the seas, pour back onto habitable land. If that sun was just a bit further away, the cooler temperatures would not allow this to be. If they were a bit closer, the heat would be unbearable. Every bit of it is timed to perfection and one slight variation would throw it all off kilter and the world would not be able to exist. This process has many more layers to it, but suffice it to say that there is nothing random or arbitrary about anything on earth. Science confirms what the Jewish faith system beleives.

However, there are those that view the world as random and arbitrary and there isn’t a master puppeteer running every single element of existence. “Those people take this edifice and turn it into a pile of rubble.” A collapsed heap of rubble. A building that has collapsed.

The Rebbe is saying that if you are seeking truth, you will find a building – a world – that is built with the utmost extreme intentionality. If you are intellectually lazy, you submit to yourself the distasteful falsehood that the world is a random and arbitrary pile of happenstance. A pile of rubble. 

This is our job, to sift through the rubble and find the life within it and bring it to it’s truthful awareness that everything is by Divine orchestration and nothing is per-chance. For our own internal rubble and the rubble of those around us. To bring this awareness to ourselves and others.

This is the deeper meaning of the questions the Talmud was asking.

The rubble of life represents what appears to be the chaos of existence and the anxiety and uncertainty that it brings along with it. How do we address this in ourselves and others? We must “sift through the rubble.” The word that the Talmud uses for sifting in this case is “mifakchin es Hagal.” This means more than sifting but like the word pokeach – it means to open the eyes of and enlighten those struggling with the rubble.

When must I do this? Always! Even on Shabbos…:

ONE: “Regardless if you are sure or unsure there is even anyone buried in the rubble.” 

There are people who you are unsure if the “rubble of life” even buries them. Are they impacted by it? This can be either because they transcend it by their spiritual aloofness, or by escaping it with unhealthy distractions such as phones, mind altering substances or simply by ignoring these soul crushing- anxiety-rubble-related- questions. Regardless if you are sure that someone is in the rubble, or you yourself are in the rubble,  you must engage in searching through it, even on Shabbos. 

It is too critical to our existence to ignore the potential mistaken understanding that this world operates in an arbitrary auto-pilot manner.

TWO: Regardless if you are sure if the person in the rubble is alive or dead. 

The verse states “and you who cling to the L-rd, are considered alive.” There are some of us who while physically alive are spiritually dead. We don’t live in accordance with our truest reality. We deny our own truth and attempt to live in perpetual denial. “They might be dead…”  Others are alive but they are struggling. They are overwhelmed by the anxiety and uncertainty of Gd, purpose and existence itself. “They may be alive…” They too need to be sifted for in the rubble.

THREE: Regardless if the person who may be in the rubble is possibly alive is a Jew or a gentile. 

There are those who while they are struggling are perhaps not living in accordance with the holy standards of the “Master of the building” they still are connected to the “source of living waters.” While they are not observing today they haven’t severed their connection and don’t view themselves as disconnected. “Even though they sin, they are (still) a Jew.”

Others are so frustrated and distraught by the struggle that they have severed the connection, they feel completely alienated and out of the family. They perceive themselves as “a gentile.”

Regardless, we have a mission that transcends the holiness of Shabbos to search through the rubble and fan the flames of love and connection even to those souls. To do everything within our power to “clear the rubble” that is attempting to smother their soul.

There are no answers. We cannot attempt to understand Gd’s ways. What we can do, as we have done time and time again as a people and as individuals, is rather than let a life and world that comes crashing down on us threatening to suffocate us, we can instead try to excavate the the lessons buried within and renew our commitment to the Almighty and humbly accept that He is not a deadbeat landlord, but that he is in fact still running this show intentionally. Even when every fiber of our being feels that it is all 100% wrong.

May Gd comfort all those that have perished in this tragedy and make miracles that are beyond our belief. Bring us the coming of Moshiach when our loved ones will be returned to us! AMEN!