No sound is more quintessentially Jewish than “Oy Vey!”/”Woy Woy!” At its deepest, it expresses speechless surrender, a hopelessness beyond words.
The Netivot Shalom (Parshat Ki Tetze) distinguishes between an “optional” war and a defensive one. (Please note that in this drash he is talking about the wars we wage against our own overwhelming emotions and drives towards denying our highest natures.) In an offensive war, when we attack deep-seated issues we’ve ignored up-to-now, we take one tack (which can parallel a number of current therapeutic systems, but that’s not the point here). But in the defensive war, when we’re attacked by and overcome with irresistible emotion or desire for something we know will only, in the end, drag us down, we need a totally different, and much simpler approach.
The archetype of the defensive war, milchemet chovah, is presented in Parshat B’Ha’alot’cha, where is states (BaMidbar 10:9) that when an enemy brings a war into your land (i.e. when an overwhelming emotion strikes us), our first step is to cry out with our trumpets (V’Hareiotem b’Chatzotzrot), but not to merely rally the troops, but to be recalled by The Creator so the He will rescue us. While this is, of course, especially relevant in the current weeks preceeding Rosh HaShanah which centrally features the Shofar, it’s not merely a guide to a single Jewish Holyday but, rather, constant advice to each of us in our lives.
In a personal note, I’m running the “home stretch” of my return to Eretz Yisrael. Having dismantled my home of the last many years, slowly making my way to my upcoming departure to Israel, I’m overwhelmed with fear and insecurity as well as with sweet anticipation. I’ve taken all the measures I can, prepared and pre-planned, packed and re-packed, discarded and regretted, existed in even-more-than-usual limbo for months, culminating in a full month of rootless “couch-surfing” my way across the US. It would be more than understandable to just let it all fall apart at the last moment. And how tragic….
Rather, without quite understanding it until seeing this great insight from the Slonimer, I’ve followed my instinct, an instinct I suspect is deeply ingrained in all of us, and cried out many bitter “Oy“s. My heart and soul have joined together (always a good thing no matter the motivator) to cry out in my own wordless speech, making my breath and voice into a primordial “shofar“, confessing to The Creator and to myself that I have no strength to continue save that which He, in His Infinite Mercy, provides.
Although I will already find myself in Jerusalem for this year’s shofar, I pray that, in my sense of relief and joy, I don’t forget the lesson my experience has taught me.