On Tuesday evening, September 14, Mrs. Slovie Jungreis Wolff, internationally acclaimed speaker and parenting educator – and daughter of the famous speaker and writer Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis – shared an enlightening shiur at Congregation Ahavas Yisroel in memory of Chayah Brachah bas Chaim Yaakov a”h.
She asked the following: “How do we know what Hashem wants us to do to be ready for Yom Kippur?”
She shared how, when we daven on Yom Kippur, we have the opportunity of our t’filos deciding what will be this year. Will we let this opportunity slip through our fingers? N’ilah means locked. After N’ilah, the gates are locked. Everyone can make a difference for klal Yisrael and for those we love.
She began by summarizing the story of Sefer Yonah. She then shared an interpretation based on the Vilna Gaon that her mother Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis used to teach. The Amitai word that is part of Yonah ben Amitai’s name comes from the word emes. The Next World is the World of Truth. In this world, you don’t see truth. Emes isn’t in this world. In the Next World you will understand everything. Yonah is symbolic of the soul. Hashem spoke to the soul. Yonah is a dove, and the moan of the dove is the moaning of the soul about to come into this world. The soul doesn’t want to go into the world with all the pain and suffering. She taught that you discover the meaning of your soul through challenges. You discover who you are meant to be in this world. The dove is the only bird that stays forever true to its mate. We can go through every exile, the Holocaust, but we remain true to Hashem. The boat is our body. The soul goes into the body. Ninvei means seeing the beauty of Hashem’s creations – seeing the goodness of this world.
The neshamah goes to Yaffo (Jaffa). Yaffo means beauty. Tarshish means glittery gold, diamonds, and luxuries. The neshamah gets lost. It says I want more. It’s never enough. The neshamah gets caught in a storm. The boat (the body) and the soul are in constant conflict. There is a constant pull and struggle between body and soul. So, the neshamah goes to sleep.
The captain of the ship is the heart. It asks: How can you go through life sleeping? There’s a storm outside. Hashem is talking to us. Everything is upside down. There’s COVID everywhere. How are we sleeping?
She then shared that t’shuvah means return. It is not a Jewish idea to translate t’shuvah as repentance. Rather, it means to return to the person you were meant to be when your soul came into this world.
The four stages of t’shuvah are regret, abandonment, vidui, and accepting a resolution. Regret doesn’t mean guilt; rather, I have to regret if I’ve hurt people. Abandonment means to leave a character trait and not rationalize anymore. Vidui (confession) means we say what we have done. “When I speak, I create something. Words are so powerful.” Kabalah, or accepting a resolution, means I need a plan for next time.
In Sefer Yonah, the heart comes to Yonah (the soul) and asks, “Why are you sleeping?” Often, we don’t appreciate the gift of time and people in our lives. She shared memories of her own family when she was young, getting together every Motza’ei Shabbos and how much it meant to her grandfather to see his grandchildren together. “Time goes so fast.” Here we are and we have people in our lives whom we love and who love us. Ask yourself, “Am I sleeping through life?”
After 18 months of the coronavirus, I am not the same person I was 18 months ago. If nothing changed, then I have gone through pain for nothing, and that’s called sleeping through life.
When the sailors ask Yonah what his job is, the question to the “soul” is: What is your purpose? What is your mission? Why are you here right now? “The day you were created, Hashem said, I believe in you. The world needs you.” She emphasized that “as long as there is life, there is purpose. Purpose comes from making a difference in the world.”
Ask yourself before you go to sleep at night, “Whose eyes did I cause to shine today?” If I can answer this question, then I’ve made a difference.
When the sailors asked Yonah where he was coming from, this is asking us: Do you know where you are coming from and where you are going? She shared that the word “Yisrael” has embedded within it the names of all the Avos and Imahos. Yud is Yaakov and Yitzchak, sin is Sarah, reish is Rachel, alef is Avraham, and lamed is Leah.
We come from them, and they all had challenges. “The greatest tragedy is to be a Jew and not feel the passion.”
Yonah responded, “I am a Jew.” What does it mean to be an Ivri, a Hebrew? Avraham was on one side and the rest of the world was on the other side. We need to know that we know who we are, and it doesn’t matter about the craziness in the world. What does it mean to be a Yid? Our wish and prayer are that Hashem helps us to live a good life as Jews and helps us to be a blessing in this world.
The beautiful ideas in this shiur should carry us through the year.
By Susie Garber