Last week, two 16-year girls from Orlando, Florida, went missing over Shabbos. The topic went viral and all my Jewish groups on Whatsapp were busy with people organizing tehillim groups, and giving each other updates. Thankfully, they were found the next day, unharmed.
It was only after that all the lessons from the experience began sinking in, and I thought they were best summarized by my friend Elisheva (shared with her permission):
My friend was in Florida for Shabbos and she said that in Orlando it was cold so the alligators and snakes didn’t come out to where the girls were! That’s insane!!!!!! Hashem [G-d] really watched over them!!!!! Now we have to find the teenagers who are emotionally and mentally lost to Hashem [G-d]! That’s the message I took out of this… Because Hashem [G-d] is calling out to us!!! And to see how one or two people make the biggest difference so when people think they are not important look what the world does when one or two people are missing….!!!!
My absolute favorite line is “now we have to find the teenagers who are emotionally and mentally lost to Hashem [G-d].” There are many ways a person can be lost and the truth is that most of the time, they are not so obvious.
One way we can find “lost” people (whether it is with regards to them being detached to G-d, their families, or even themselves) is simply by being more observant of those around us. A few weeks back, rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein was discussing the story of Joseph sitting in an Egyptian jail cell, and how one evening, his fellow inmates (the cupbearer and the baker) had dreams that baffled and disturbed them. The following morning, Joseph asked them both, “Why are you faces downcast today?” The significant word in this question is today. Why? Because it means that Joseph looked at their faces everyday, and so saw that today, they were different and downcast. It takes a little more effort, but people will appreciate you taking the time to notice their well being, and it’s a step towards making the world a better place.
Another thing Elisheva said that I truly loved was when she said “…one or two people make the biggest difference, so when people think they are not important, look what the world does when one or two people are missing.”
It was from Rebbetzin Esther Baila Schwartz that I heard a beautiful explanation of it: How do we know that each of us is truly important? By looking at the mitzvos (commandments) G-d gave. A Jew who is observant of all 613 commandments has a guideline for every little thing in their life, from putting on their shoes in the morning, to using the bathroom, to the blessing you say before eating or drinking anything. What does this say? That G-d cares about every little thing you do. G-d cares that you eat matzah and not bread this coming Passover. G-d cares about the kinds of clothes you wear, things you watch and read, and cares a lot about things you say and don’t say. Why does He care? Because all of these things are important. Every time someone does a commandment, they bring a little more spiritual light into the world, and that’s no small thing. G-d could have only ordered tzaddikim (righteous men) and/or spiritual leaders to be this “nitpicking,” but He didn’t – He cares about every single Jew. Therefore, every single Jew is important and has incredible amounts of spiritual potential, whether they are aware of it or not.
And lastly, I loved when Elisheva spoke about how it was cold that evening and so the girls were safe from the animals and it was a true sign that G-d was watching over them. This happens to all of us on a daily basis, more than we could ever know. We will never know the accidents and other terrible things G-d spared us from – and may we never know them! But the important thing is simply to be grateful for everything, and hopefully manage to make that our standard perspective. A lot of times we feel we are stuck in a terrible situation (such as lost in a swamp) but if we focused instead on the positive (that no animals were there that night), we’ll suddenly realize how blessed we are, each and every moment.
Pesach (Passover) is coming, and it is typically described as the holiday of freedom. This Pesach, may we all be free from the confinements of being absorbed only in ourselves, of feeling unimportant, and of a default negative perspective on life. To my friends who will be celebrating, chag Pesach sameach!
To read the story of the two girls, here is an article: http://www.theyeshivaworld.com/news/headlines-breaking-stories/405435/breaking-two-high-school-girls-missing-in-orlando-have-bh-been-found.html