In previous Shabbat encouragements we have pondered the reality of the tension we live in between joy and sorrow in this world, trying to understand the how and why, concluding this is the way of mankind’s life in this realm. As the weeks of battle in the Ukraine have continued, it’s been harder than ever to walk this narrow precipice, the daily joys in our lives sometimes seeming so out of place against the horror of war on civilians.
My maternal ancestry came from Tulchin, Ukraine. In reading of its history as it pertains to Jews, it’s a wonder I’m even here today for so many of my ancestors were deliberately killed over the centuries. As you may know, that part of Europe shifted between Poland and Russia and had a significant Jewish population before its present day status in the Ukraine. It’s a miracle so many Jews are still there, including a large number of Messianic Jews (70 MJ synagogues I’ve heard!). Unfortunately, as was the case elsewhere, the Jews living in Tulchin in centuries past were often left undefended against the Cossacks, many of my ancestors falling victim to their swords.
Perhaps it is this personal connection that has made today’s events in the Ukraine even harder to integrate into my otherwise typical Western life. When horrific events occur in other parts of the world, or even in areas of this country where we have no personal ties, we react, but more as an outsider looking in. In the past, although with great empathy, I have thought of these times as challenges to “fight for the joy”, as reminders to cling fast to our faith. There is value to that approach. Yet maybe we are to work on something even more deepening of our spiritual journey.
People with chronic illnesses, and those who are closely connected with such loved ones, already understand how it feels to live each day with emotional and physical challenges and still try to experience, and be grateful for, the wonderful life that our Abba is daily providing to us. Even our ancestors who experienced the concentration camps of the Holocaust carved out daily Shemas. There are unbelievable stories of survivors who were able to integrate the horrific days with small pleasures that to us would not even seem worth mentioning – an extra piece of bread, a shawl without lice, or storytelling and silent prayers.
As our lives have perhaps become more challenging in the last several years it feels as if we’re also being challenged to grow ourselves as a people, to build our spiritual selves in preparation for an even deeper relationship with our Abba, with Yeshua. Clearly through Covid we have intimately learned that what touches one, no matter where in the world, touches us all. For most of us whether through ancestry, current relatives, or plain humanity, the war in the Ukraine feels personal. As people we are shocked at the killing of civilians and the nature of the war, itself. As we felt during the height of Covid, we are experiencing being in an underlying state of concern as we still endeavor to live our lives, which includes all that this world also has to offer in the way of joyful moments and daily routines.
Our goal in this life is to learn to walk more in the way of Yeshua. We, of course, are not God, but rather were created in His Image and are devoting our lives growing, learning to be more like Him in the way we live our lives. With that perspective, just as our Abba, through Yeshua, at the same time loves us and chastises us, weeps for us and brings us joy, perhaps we are to learn to better integrate the extremes in our lives. It’s not just the either/or, or the tension between the two sides of our lives. Rather, perhaps with what lies ahead, our faith and spiritual muscles are being refined and strengthened to better enable us to live in both extremes simultaneously, fully integrated.
Just as my Ukrainian ancestry has been tugging at me as part of myself, I move in these days whether dancing, singing, or just living, with that very palpable tug. I’m not fighting for the joy, but rather, I’m feeling the joy as a person also feeling the hearts of our Ukrainian brothers and sisters, not either/or, but both/and.
With this perspective we are strengthened as whole individuals, more fully integrated emotionally, and spiritually, better prepared for what may lie ahead. I encourage you to try to live in this space. It’s hard and gives us an even greater sense of awe of our Creator. Yet as life’s challenges seem to be deepening, so too may we be able to strengthen our foundations of faith and fortify our neshamas/souls to live each day in Him. As we do our part to grow in this way, I have no doubt we will be uplifted even higher by He who makes all things right.