The most significant mission of all

I hardly make It to synagogue on the High Holydays anymore, I am more like a "visitor to the sanctuary." I have a more important mission.

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Rabbanit Yehudit Efrati,

יהודית אפרתי
יהודית אפרתי
צילום: עצמי

Every year as the High Holydays approach, I am filled with memories.

I see the synagogue filled to capacity, remember the feelings of spirituality and awe, the emotional prayers, shofar blasts piercing my soul, inspiring melodies, the sincere atmosphere of repentance – how I admitted my sins in all sincerity and committed to improve myself, and all this while praying.

These memories, however, are not last year's, they are from at least 17 years ago.

In the 17 years since I became a mother, I have felt these emotions only partially, and never on the level described above.

During the early years of motherhood, I tried to function on two levels at once –  connect with the High Holydays in the synagogue as I had before and function as a mother at the same time – but all that came of it was that I was constantly being disturbed while praying by nursing infants, boisterous children and crying toddlers. Even when my own baby managed to sleep or when I found someone to babysit for him at home, I could not concentrate because I worried about …my little one.

For the last few years, I have found that the Book of Jonah speaks to me and my feelings as mother on a personal level.  Our Sages chose the story of Jonah for the afternoon Yom Kippur service, the most powerful hours of this awesome day and thus, of the entire year

At the first reading, it seems that the Prophet Jonah thinks he can run away from G-d. G-d chooses him to be a prophet, he flees on a boat that sails from Jaffa and thinks he can succeed in escaping the command to deliver G-d's prophecy.

An in depth reading led me to understand that Jonah considers his running away an important and idealistic part of his mission. He wasn't evading responsibility, he was choosing responsibilily.

Our Sages taught that when Jonah was commanded to go to Nineveh and urge the people to repent, he saw with prophetic vision that the people of Nineveh were already on the verge of repenting.  All he had to do was approach them and they would repent and mend their ways. Jonah feared that this would reflect badly on the people of Israel who do not tend to repent that quickly. In addition, Jonah saw that the armies of Nineveh, Assyria's capital, would conquer, destroy and exile the kingdom of Israel in the years to come. His heart was with the People of G-d, his responsibility rested with all the Jews.
 

Jonah knows that prophecy is received only in the land of Israel or for its welfare. It may not be possible to flee from G-d, but one can flee from prophecy. In order to avoid receiving the prophecy that would cause Israel's enemies to repent and bring about the destruction of the Kingdom of  Israel. He simply left the land of Israel. There is no prophecy outside the Holy land or on the sea, so he now has no mission to accomplish.

There is no question that Jonah felt that his interpretation of what  constitutes moral behavior is the  correct one  Love of the Jewish people was behind his attempts to evade the mission G-d had given him and he set sail for Tarshish, in the opposite direction from Nineveh. Jonah is an idealist, believes in the future of the Congregation of Israel and wants only their benefit.

Everything created has its Heaven-sent mission in this world, one that fills an important part in the Heavenly tapestry G-d has woven for His world and His people, in order to effect their tikun. The process is wide, longterm, incomprehensible to the human eye and even to the prophet. Only G-d knows how and why the task allotted each of us adds to the general purpose of this world.

Had the people of Nineveh harmed the Kingdom of Israel and part of the Kingdom of Judah within a short time span, they could still repent. That is because G-d's ethics have their own rhythm, one in which He decides who will live and who will die, who will have the chance to repent and who will  not. All this is for the good of Israel in the end, for they will repent in exile and realize even more of their potential and essence.

Jonah is absolutely correct, Nineveh is definitely a bitter enemy of Israel. But G-d sees the long view, much farther than man can possibly see, much farther than a prophet's range of vision.  G-d's ethics are wider, more enveloping, much deeper than the ethics of those He created. So is the horizon of Heavenly vision.

Learning this connects me to what G-d taught Jonah.  I understand that it is not right for me to measure things with my limited vision, even if that vision is filled with sacred awe and fear of G-d. To me it seems so much more powerful  and  fitting to pray to G-d and repent within the crowded synagogue! It is easier to connect to G-d from inside a synagogue whose congregation is filled with yearning for Him, and  not on a couch at home surrounded by babies and pieces of Lego.  But I remember that this is my mission at the present time and that it fills me with real joy. It is the task G-d planned for me and it is therefore on a higher plane than the task of praying at length. I am a mother now and that takes precedence over everything else.

I continue to remember the powerful prayers, and in contrast, continue praying in the park or at home with my small children because I have a different mission at this point in my life. Even if I don't have the time to pray for as long as I would were I in the synagogue, I try to instill the messages of the High Holydays at home, and to reach G-d while my arms are filled with the fruit of my womb.

I hardly go to the synagogue on the High Holydays in the last few years, at most I 'visit the sanctuary' (Psalms 27). Most of my time is spent being a mother to my children outside the sanctuary. I envelop my prayers with the sounds of the park and the laughter of children and I am certain that G-d accepts them no less than the prayers I said as a single young woman

The time will come for me to go back to praying regularly in the synagogue, sitting in the women's section alongside my grown daughters for meaningful, long hours. I am eagerly anticipating that day, along with the satisfaction my present mission affords me as a person who prays only part time, but is a mother all the time.