Hand of Hashem: Thinking to Connect
OpinionHand of Hashem

Hand of Hashem: Thinking to Connect

Mindy Rubenstein

Mindy Rubenstein is a freelance journalist who lives in Atlanta with her husband and children. She also serves as the publisher/editor of Nishei, a magazine for Jewish women and children.

Lately I’ve found myself disconnected, with my daily responsibilities of children and home and part-time work consuming my time. This column, which is supposed to focus on my relationship with G-d and how that affects me as a mother, would be dishonest if I were to write that it’s truly been part of my daily life and interactions the past month.

So I sit in front of the computer, resting my forehead in my warm hand, closing my eyes. “Where are You?” I wonder. Then I let the words and thoughts in my head dissipate, barely hearing the rattle of the air conditioner in our restored 1940s home or the sweet chatter of my children playing in the next room.

As I silence my mind, even just briefly, I feel tears start to well in my eyes and my chest tighten. Why is it that when I most need to connect — to G-d, to life, to light and to that beautiful goodness that exists — I find it the most difficult?

I look to the bookshelf, and there it sits: Rabbi Zelig Pliskin’s “Growth Through Torah,” which I received years ago as a gift from Lakewood-based Oorah. The hard-bound red book with gold letters on its cover contains insights and lessons into each parsha, or weekly portion of the Torah. Each Hebrew excerpt sits between its translation and an explanation that relates to real life.

I read through this book with a chavrusah (learning partner) for several years, and though we often missed weeks, I’m guessing I have gone through the entire book at least once or twice.

I speak into my cellphone: “What’s the parsha?” and a long list of sources comes up. OK, the parsha is Re’eh.

I find that section in the red book, skimming through the subsections to find something that speaks to me. And there it is. As if the black words on the white page were waiting for me to find them: “No matter how far away you are from the Almighty, you can always come close when you make an effort.”

I read further, with tingles on my neck in disbelief. The Torah uses the word acharai, which denotes “far distance,” but the verse is telling us to follow G-d, so why not use a term denoting closeness?

This teaches us, says the sage known as the Chofetz Chaim, that regardless of how far we may feel we are from the Almighty, we should never give up hope. As soon as we feel we can improve in a certain area, we will immediately find the strength to make improvements, the book says. And if we don’t know how, find people who can help.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, I remember reading, says we must actively fight the yetzer hara (evil inclination). I Google it and find that the root of yetzer means “to create” and that there’s also a yetzer tov. Each is referred to as an angel, one for good and one for evil.

When a person decides to strengthen her good inclination over her bad inclination, the bad inclination, even against its will, says, “Amen.”

G‑d watches in delight, according to Jewish mysticism, as negative thoughts penetrate our consciousness but we reject them. Not inviting the thought in and not judging ourselves for it, but just dropping it and thinking about something else.

With some awareness, we can view the thought as an opportunity to change the momentum. To choose good.

My 4-year-old joins me at the table where I write, playing with a stuffed dog. Then he abandons it, climbing into my lap, giving me a kiss and resting his head on my shoulder. I stop writing and hug him back as the deep thoughts of Kabbalah and Torah suddenly seem so far away.

A moment later one of my children snaps disrespectfully at me. Anger swells within me, and suddenly I’m aware of the negative thought beginning to consume me.

“Push it away,” I tell myself. And it’s gone.

I respond to her, recognizing that she’s hungry and needs to have lunch, and I resist saying something I would regret.

I realize that through the simple act of reining in my thoughts, I have connected, or reconnected, and life somehow seems a little lighter. I have come closer, at least for now.

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