Since I was in fourth grade and my teacher had me read a story that I had written to the class, I've always enjoyed writing. I kept a journal from the time that I started college until a few years after we made aliyah, when I gradually stopped. I've actually sent pieces to Jewish women's magazines and a few were published. I got into the habit of jotting down notes and ideas on pieces of paper (old fashioned girl that I am). About a year ago I organized all of these notes into plastic sleeves which I then snapped into a three ring binder. So it was a bit of a surprise when I came across a stenographers notebook and opened it to find not only notes that I had forgotten to put into my binder, but a fully written piece that I remember sending to a magazine but which was rejected.
After reading the notes and the complete essay, I was overwhelmed by a confusing array of emotions. Since two weeks ago I have been trying to tease out each emotion and analyze it - and I think I have come to some sort of understanding.
My first reaction to the complete piece that I had written was pleasure. After receiving the rejection I remember consoling myself that the magazine that I had sent it to wasn't really the right place to publish it. Underneath this self-consolation was the fear that it really wasn't any good. Coming across it almost six years later and re-reading it, I had the pleasure of thinking - sometimes I really do write well. It is always a pleasant surprise to me when it comes out right!
The other emotions were not so simple to understand - but I think I've figured it out now. Here is the piece I wrote in November 2000:
I wake up at 4:00 in the morning and I can't get back to sleep, because the events of the past few weeks keep replaying in my brain.
On Rosh Hashana the Arabs start what some call the second Intifada and others call the Yomim Noraim War, rioting and burning forests all over Israel. On Shabbos Shuva (the Sabbath between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur) they destroy Yosef's tomb, razing it to the ground. On the northern border they kidnap three Israeli soldiers, and start a litany of demands for their release. Two army reservists lose their way and are brutally murdered in Ramallah, their bodies horribly disfigured by a crazed mob. Every night Arab snipers shoot both at Jews driving home to their yishuvim in Yesha and into houses in Hebron, Psagot, and the Gilo section of Jerusalem. The Israeli government is floundering, struggling to figure out what to do.
Viewed in one way, a screenwriter couldn't have done it better. The forces of good and evil are clashing again as Israel prepares for another war. One can almost hear the music swelling in the background, enhancing the drama. This would be an exciting suspense movie, if I were sitting in the audience.
At 4:00 in the morning, when the daily running of the household is not a distraction, I have to face the fact that this is not a movie, and I am not just sitting in the audience with my eyes glued to the screen. There are no humorous interludes to break the tension, and a happy ending is not a sure thing, where the main characters emerge with just a bruise or two.
In a word, there are no guarantees. Things change when there are no guarantees - not all of them negative. My kavana (concentration) in davening (praying) has immeasurably intensified. Neilah (the concluding service on Yom Kippur) has a very different feel to it when you know that the women standing next to you have husbands and sons in the army. Tefillat HaDerech (the prayer we say when starting a trip) becomes more than a personal plea for protection against car accidents. Saying Tehillim (Psalms) changes from a daily obligation into a great source of comfort.
On the other hand, no guarantees means that I have had to re-examine my sense of emunah (belief in G-d), and all kinds of questions arise.
If someone asked me today if I believed that all of the events of the past few weeks were part of Hashem's plan, I would easily say yes. Everything that happens is part of Hashem's plan - of that I have no doubt. If someone asked me if I believed that everything that happens is for the good, I would honestly say .....yes, with a bit of hesitation at the memory of the Ramallah killings. I can't help but be overwhelmed by such evil, and wonder, "How can people G-d created act in this way? Why did two innocent men have to die so horribly?"
Then I immediately feel guilty. Does this mean that my emunah is weak? Is there a place for these kinds of doubts?
Is there a way to believe that everything that Hashem does is for the good - but to still fear the pain of what might happen on an individual basis? After all, no guarantees means the possibility of pain.
We all know of families (lo aleinu) where one member is stricken with cancer. Sometimes there is a miraculous cure, thank G-d, and sometimes someone is niftar (dies), seemingly before their time. We all know of couples who are blessed with a child after years of trying. But we also know of those who are not blessed with children and have to live with the endless ache of unfulfilled dreams.
The sun comes up and the house begins to stir. I hear the familiar sound of pajama'd feet scritch-scratch along the tiled floor, and I rouse myself to start another day filled with (blessedly) mundane activities, hoping that my doubts are quieted for at least another 24 hours.
This is what I wrote six years ago - and it makes me feel slightly embarrassed and unbearably sad - for the same reason. I am slightly embarassed because I seemed so naive then. Primed by a diet of short sitcoms and made-for-tv movies, I believed in my heart that what I was writing was the better part of a short story. I thought that any moment the inevitable denoument would take place, and the good guys (the IDF) would take care of the bad guys (the terrorists/rioters). My cursory perception of history (everyone knows that the war in 67 only took six days, after all) led me to believe that the happy ending would be coming up at any moment.
I am unbearably sad - because I wrote this six years ago, and so many tragedies have occurred since then. Suicide bombings and other attacks have taken the lives of so many wonderful people - some that I knew personally. What I wrote then was just the prologue of a long epic, and the happy ending is still nowhere in sight.