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5778 RH Derasha Talya Simha Fanger-Vexler

10/02/2017 12:19:02 PM


Talya Simha Fanger-Vexler

Shana Tova Everyone,

I didn’t have an easy childhood. I grew up feeling as if I had to be fiercely independent and alone. I felt as if it was hard to ask for anything and tried so hard to solve all of my issues by myself. 

     I learned through my experiences that it was not safe to let others know of my deepest struggles and insecurities. Whatever I went through in the past, whatever I had achieved or wanted, I tried tirelessly to achieve alone and celebrate my life silently and independently. 

I hadn't felt particularly connected to the Jewish community that I grew up with in California. I also didn't feel a strong need to particularly reach out to people within it. 

About 4 years ago the very fabric of my existence all changed in the single instant that my right foot was crushed and I was severely injured in an accident. What was to follow were many seemingly endless years of severe pain, multiple surgeries, extreme isolation and the sudden, absolute need to be dependent on others for even the most basic of necessities-which completely terrified me to my core. 

I spent some years trying to survive in CA until I ran out of the financial ability to remain there any longer. My ongoing struggles have led me to Tucson AZ where things are far more affordable. 

It's so funny how even the most awful struggles that we may face in life also come with their own gifts. Unexpectedly, my move here has allowed me to find myself in a place of warmth and openness that I had yet to experience in my life up until this point. 

I still remember the first time that I walked into Bet Shalom. I felt immediately welcomed and respected. I was terrified, but stuck my arm out to shake people's hands and made my vulnerabilities known. "Hi, my name is Talya and I just moved here. I'm likely going to have an amputation soon, nice to meet you", I said to several congregants, one after another. 

People met my openness with extreme kindness and generosity. I felt electrified to have found a place in which I was accepted and where people seemed to care about helping me, come what may. 

Over the next few months I have had the pleasure of getting to know many of the individuals that are here today. I got to connect to them and was grateful to learn about their dreams, hopes, loves...and even their own vulnerabilities. 

I have found a true community with services that I can participate in. I can choose to read from the Torah, sing as loudly as I want, and sit anywhere I wish. I can also go and share deep philosophical ideas with fellow friends during the lunch and learns on Shabbat. 

Life can be so hard, and I find my constant urge to isolate myself placing such a heavy emotional burden on my heart and soul during such trying times. 

There are some weeks in which I can't physically go anywhere at all, but I still struggle and push myself to somehow get to Shul on Shabbat and holidays because it has become such a fulfilling part of my life. 

Last Shabbat, we read in the Torah portion about how the Torah is not in the heavens, nor is it only for those that can cross the seas. The Torah is attainable to all of us who reside here on earth. That being said, there are many examples within our holy texts that allude to every possible experience that we may face. 

There were several other independent and lonely figures in the Torah and in our Jewish history. Unfortunately, some were unable to forge an eternal relationship with Hashem or a community and were said to have died alone, like in the story of (אלישע בן אבויה) Elisha ben Avuyah. We are told that he once had a strong connection to God and although being a scholar and teacher he was singled out as a heretic. He was called “acher” in the Talmud-someone separate and different. He had a separation from Hashem that we are told, caused him to die lonely.

We do, however, see a lonely woman success story when it comes to Channah (חַנָּה‎‎‎). Channa was the childless wife of (אֱלְקָנָה Elkanah ben yeroocham ha’levi) and felt incredibly bitter and lonely. She turned to Hashem to help ease her loneliness. She used prayer in a unique way to communicate to God as her deepest and closest friend, using God’s name and praying from the heart. The Talmud tells us to follow her example when praying to Hashem. When we form a connection with Hashem through prayer, we give ourselves the gift of the eternal relationship that ensues, allowing us to never feel lonely again. 

Through deep, consistent prayer and conversation with God, Channah finally bears a child Shmuel (שְׁמוּאֵל) which she dedicates to Hashem. Shmuel’s name literally means: God heard me. 

Through her story we learn that prayer is the service of the heart, while service to Hashem is the worship we give through our bodies’. When we offer our services to each other within a community, we find another path to transcend loneliness and connect to Hashem as well. 

Elisha could not find a path to reconnect to Hashem, while Channa found her way to a closeness to God that helped her achieve her deepest desires and to never feel alone again all the days of her life.

In this coming New Year for all of us, we pray and wish for the very best always. However, life will consistently deliver to our doors plenty of struggles and hardships intertwined with gifts and lessons to incorporate in our lives. We can choose whether those experiences will turn us away from the warm embrace of God and the loving hearts of those in our community, or whether we will be able to forge strong and remarkable connections to God and others as a direct result of the challenges we face or even through the urge to help others through their own challenges. 

No matter what is to come for us all, please, allow yourself the gift of opening up to your community. Together we will share in many joys and celebrations and shoulder each other's burdens to lessen the seemly backbreaking loads that life can place upon our shoulders. 

I'm so glad that I have found a place that allows me to flourish and most importantly- No longer feel alone in this life. Remember, no matter what our past choices were in life, as long as we remain on this earth, it is always possible to create new relationships with ourselves, our community, and even with God. We are told to work on Teshuvah during Rosh Hashana so that we can be favorably judged on Yom Kippur. The Hebrew word Tehuvah literally means “to return”. God is asking us to return to a meaningful and eternal relationship that will be a gift to us always, even in the darkest of times. 

We can then follow Channah’s example by using the light gained from our relationship with Hashem, to become a beacon of hope for others in our own communities. Just how you have all lit my own dark challenges with the internal light that you all possess. 

I am grateful to all of you for creating such a lovely and supportive space for everyone around you. 

I wish us all an amazing and wonderful new year full of health, happiness, success, fulfillment, joy and many positive achievements. 

Le Shana tova u’metookah to us all in this coming new year!

Thank you!

Sat, January 16 2021 3 Shevat 5781