Feeling the Galus of the Shechinah

Just the other day I spoke with Rebbetzin Sarah Meisels about the situation in Eretz Yisrael, personal tzaros, and the yearning for Geulah. It gave me so much insight that I asked for permission to write it up for others to read as well…

“I sometimes feel,” Rebbetzin Meisels began, “that something is missing in the way we yearn for the Geulah. There are so many tzaros, and I know — because I get call after call — that we often feel we want the Geulah because we just want all the tzaros to end!

“I want you to know something,” the Rebbetzin continued. “This is not what is meant by ‘yearning.’ We’re really supposed to be thinking about ‘Shechinta b’galusa,’ that Hashem’s Presence in galus is suffering far more than we are. That is called yearning; the desire for Hashem to dwell in His Own House once again.”

To illustrate the point, the Rebbetzin shared several stories…

Sir Herbert Samuel, the British High Commissioner, planned to visit the heads of the religions living in Yerushalayim: the Moslem Mufti, the Greek Orthodox Priest and, l’havdil, the Rav of Yerushalayim, Harav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, zt”l. The Rav, however, was not interested and he refused to fix up his home in any way for the impending visit.

The Rav’s home, a poor hovel of a dwelling, was ten steps underground with only one small window and no proper furniture. Concerned about the very destitute state of his home, askanim wanted to move the meeting place to a neighbor’s house. Reb Yosef Chaim adamantly refused: “This officer can see exactly how I live.” The only thing he did allow was for the askanim to place a simple tablecloth on his one table.

Arriving with his entourage, the High Commissioner was led, step by step, down into Reb Yosef Chaim’s home. The High Commissioner was aghast that a leading Rabbinical authority was living this way!

Sir Herbert asked Reb Yosef Chaim how he could abide in such conditions. In answer, Rav Yosef Chaim showed him the ‘view’ from his one little window that overlooked the devastation of Har Habayis. “You see that?” the Rav asked. “That was once our Temple, G-d’s house. It is in total ruins. If G-d still has no Home and no Temple, then I don’t need a nice home, either.”

“I’ll tell you another story that happened with my father[the Bobover Rebbe, Harav Shlomo Halberstam, zy”a],” the Rebbetzin continued, “which I heard from my brother-in-law, Rabbi Ben Tzion Twerski of Milwaukee.

My mother had hired an Italian man to paint the house. One day my father came home and the painter was there. My father greeted him with a smile and spoke to him. The rest of what happened I didn’t hear until later…

Another Yid in Boro Park had hired this painter; in their house was a picture of the Bobover Rebbe. Handling that picture with reverence, the Italian asked, “Hey, is this your Rabbi?”

Surprised, the Yid replied, “Yes, this is my Rabbi. Why do you ask?”

With a pleased flourish, the Italian showed him a picture of the Bobover Rebbe that he carried around in his wallet! Quite proudly, he proclaimed, “Well, he’s my Rabbi too!”

How does an Italian non-Jew come to have a picture of the Bobover Rebbe in his wallet?

After the Italian had finished the Rebbe’s home, a Chassid hired this same painter to paint his own home. To this non-Jew, any Jew with a beard is automatically a ‘rabbi.’ Before this baal habayis left, he said to the painter, “Listen, I’ll pay you whatever you want but I ask one thing — I want this job to be 100 percent perfect!”

The non-Jew just stared at him for a minute before answering back. “Now I know for sure that you’re not a real rabbi!”

“What?” the chassid choked out, completely taken aback. “What do you mean?”

Looking him straight in the eye, the Italian declared, “I was in Rabbi Halberstam’s house to do his painting and you know what the Rabbi said? He thanked me for my hard work and then asked me NOT to do a perfect job on his home. He said that many years ago you had a Temple and it was G-d’s house, and now that Temple is destroyed and the Jews had to leave their Land. He also said that you are still not back in your Land and G-d’s House is still not rebuilt. Then he told me: ‘If G-d still doesn’t have a House, then how can my own house be complete or perfect?’ So he told me not to make his own house perfect!

“But you, you want me to make your house very perfect, even though you have no Temple. So I know you’re not a real rabbi!”

Then Rebbetzin Meisels continued. “I was thinking a lot about this whole inyan and how we can show some kind of feeling today for the Shechinta b’galusa, to show that we feel at least some distress.

“I realized that this doesn’t have to be a major change; it can be something small. I decided to take out one thing I enjoy and won’t do during the Nine Days. In this small way I could try to show that I feel something for the loss of the Shechinah.”

Pausing for a minute, Rebbetzin Meisels went deeper. “You know, the times that I sat shivah for my children, I guarantee that I was not interested in eating gourmet meals nor did I care if my laundry was fresh!

“Years ago, when my little Duvid, a”h, was in remission, there came a terrible day when we got that dreaded phone call from the doctor with the horrible news that the machalah had come back. There are no words for the enormous pain of such news…

“Totally broken, my husband and I ran to the Kosel that Friday. And I tell you — I didn’t just daven; I was completely beside myself, absolutely weeping. And when I met my husband, his face mirrored mine: red, puffy, swollen eyes, downcast face. Both of us were so sad.

“All of a sudden, from the other side near the ramp that leads to Har Habayis, literally tens of thousands of Arabs came pouring out of the gate. In all my life I had never seen so many Arabs coming from that side. My husband looked at me, we parents who just had such a terrible besorah, and says, ‘You see, Sarah, we should be crying this hard about that — no Leviim, no Shechinah, no Beis Hamikdash, and Arabs pouring out of Har Habayis as if they own the place. If we would be crying about that as much as we just cried for Duvid’le, then we wouldn’t be crying about this. The Shechinah is still b’galusa.’

“I have never forgotten that Friday ever in my life. That is tzaar of the Shechinah.”

May we be able to mourn the loss of the Shechinah properly so that together, we can all merit rejoicing with the Shechinah’s return, very soon.