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Before Covid with all its societal rules and regulations, this time of the year had its own unique cultural challenges. Those living around us are gearing up for their holidays and this seems to include getting dressed up in costume in many of the shops. For years I lived in an area wherein I was the only silver bearded long coated fellow for miles around. This generally posed no problem but then again during this particular part of the year it could cause some small amount of mix up. Little children would turn their heads and ask their mommies if I am a particular gift bearing fellow of some renown. I have even heard said mommies whisper that yes, I am and that they had better behave for I was checking them out. One time I had cause to enter a large emporium to do some last-minute shopping for Shabbos, as I stood in the queue waiting to pay, I could not help but be aware that a small child holding on to his mom’s hand was giving me the strangest looks. Upon further movement on my line, I realized why, the clerk who was serving the checkout counter was dressed in red and sporting a long silver beard! Now I could tell quite quickly that the fellow’s beard was a stick-on mass of cotton wool, but to the little kid I could well imagine his wariness. Which one is for real, and who is the fake? This cultural mishap got me thinking, do I know who I am and why I find myself on this line?

You can travel a thousand miles and never really arrive where you are meant to be. Life and all its detours are about realizing that Hashem is the entirety of our being, and everything happens by His will. In the turmoil that is everyday life this focus can become blurred and it is all too easy to allow such forgetfulness to become the norm. Remaining true to such truth is no simple matter and it must stand as one of life’s greatest challenges. The Rebbe Rav Velve’le of Strikov Zt”l  taught that “it could take a year maybe two to learn to understand a foreign language but to understand one’s own language of the heart, sometimes even seventy years isn’t enough,” The Chovas Halevovos tells us that the main energy of a positive Jewish life is total acceptance of Hashem into our inner heart.  Often as not we forget this in the hurly burly of stressful times. We may seem to be devout but in the precincts of our hearts we have allowed the calcium of materialism to corrode us. Today true belief is seldom spoken of but that doesn’t mean it should be taken as a given. These are times when there is much that can take us subtly away from our true path, and it is then when we should ask what is real and what is masquerade. The true test of belief does not lie in quaffing cholent or kugel. It lays in the territory in our hearts that face life’s challenges. Knowing Hashem is the only One that we can trust, feeling this in the deepest recesses of our souls, this is the challenge of our times.

In our world of today we can seemingly do anything, we can contact others thousands of miles away with ease, we can make everyday tasks seem like mere momentary inconveniences, technology brings every human new mastery.  So much access yet so little true happiness. Stress is the new killer in a world that supposedly was created to be stress free. We can all too easily get caught up in all this and forget that nothing, absolutely nothing happens without Hashem. The language of our soul can seem obscured by the superficiality of the “selfie’s” we create that are anything but one’s true self.

Parshas VaYechi begins in the middle of a line. Unlike all other readings this one does not have a space to announce its start. Chazal explain that in this last reading in the Sefer of Breishis many deep questions are answered about the future of Klall Yisroel. It’s closed location speaks of secrets that are ageless, with answers that seem hidden but are there for those who trust. As mentioned earlier, the Chovas Halevovos tells us how vital the workings of our heart are to our allegiance to Hashem. His first words are: “Blessed be Hashem, G-d of Israel to whom true Unity can be fittingly ascribed Whose existence is eternal. Whose Goodness is unceasing.” Seems simple enough a statement but even then, the need to be reminded of true devotion was needed.  The author of this holy tract wrote of these basic needs hundreds of years ago and did so for the common man in the street. It was originally written in Arabic so everyone could understand its message.

That focus was to teach us that nothing can be taken for granted, everything is Hashem’s Will, and accepting this is the true test of a Jewish soul. We stand on many a line in life, faced with all sorts of make-believe, yet all is in the Hands of Hashem and there is nothing else. The main question is, are we part of the charade or fully connected to our roots, the answer lies in our heart. Learn the language of your inner soul, allow it to trip off your lips with attentive trust.