Vayeilech: Footsteps in the Sand
Raviv couldn't describe the sublime pleasure of that blinding white light, which caressed his soul in a love that defied words...
by Rabbi Lazer Brody
"For the Lord your G-d walks before you; He will be with you..." (Deuteronomy 31:6)
The blast was deafening. The Israeli armored-troop carrier (ATC) was tossed up in the air as it were a toy. When it crashed to the ground, it was upside down and a ball of fire. A Hizbulla roadside explosive device had caught it in a deadly ambush while it was patrolling the Lebanese border. Miraculously, the machine gunner and the radio operator crawled out of the back hatch to safety, before the ammunition in the ATC started exploding. The driver and the crew commander were not so lucky.
Staff Sergeant Raviv, a kibbutznik from the Jezreel Valley, always wanted to be a paratrooper. An outstanding soldier, he was now a platoon sergeant in a unit that was stationed on the Lebanon border. The excruciating pain of the broken bones and the third-degree burns had suddenly left him. For a few moments, he hovered over the charred mess that was one his ATC and his body. Nothing hurt anymore. He was only left with a deep remorse that he placed all the efforts of his 21 years on this earth into that body, which no longer served any purpose...
Then he went through the tunnel and saw, or better yet felt, the white light. He couldn't describe the sublime pleasure of that light, which caressed his soul in a love that defied words. After a few delicious moments, he found himself in a court-room. He was on the witness stand with a spotlight shining on him so that everyone could see him and he could see no one, only hear voices. He recognized the voices of his great-grandparents; the spotlight dimmed and he could now see them. He was shocked – they looked just like those Haredi people in Mea Shearim.
Before Raviv had a chance to digest what was happening to him, he was shown a movie. He saw all the milestones of his life from birth to elementary school, to the time that Arabs from Jenin through a Molotov cocktail at his parents' car, to the time that he nearly flipped over in a tractor when he was 18 and helping out with cotton harvest. He saw basic training, jump school, NCO school and the Gaza War when he also had a flirt with the angel of death.
Something was strange in that movie – it was like one big metaphor. In a fog behind the actual events, he saw two sets of footprints on the sand – one big and one small. Every time he came to a dangerous point in his life, the small set of footprints disappeared. He asked his guardian angel, the one that was faithfully by his side as he sat in the witness stand, "Why at all the critical times in my life, the small set of footprints disappears?"
The angel replied, "The small set of footprints is yours; the big set belongs to Hashem. Every time you had a major challenge in life, Hashem carried You on His shoulders."
This is what the Torah is the above-mentioned passage is telling us – Hashem not only walks before us, but He is always with us.
King David, a warrior who endured every imaginable hardship in life, goes a step further: it's not only Hashem who is with you, it's He who is carrying you in the palms of His hand (see Psalm 91).
The moment the soul leaves the body, there is no longer any concealment of Divine light. The most embarrassing moment of the soul is when it discovers the truth that Hashem has always been right there. The soul is beside itself in shame, recalling all the doubts it had about G-d, emuna and Divine providence. Free from the prison of a physical shell, the soul has its direct encounter with the naked truth.
We always read the above passage during the Ten Days of Repentance and on Shabbat Shuva. Why? The Torah is encouraging us to strengthen our emuna and our personal connection with Hashem right now, while we're still down here on the physical earth. Not only will we attain a life of pleasure in this world, but we'll spare ourselves all the embarrassment of the rude encounter with truth in the next world.
May we all be inscribed and signed in the Book of Life for a wonderful New Year, amen!
Rabbi Lazer Brody was born in Washington, D.C. in 1949. After receiving his bachelor's degree in agriculture from the University of Maryland in 1970, he moved to Israel and joined the Israel Defense Forces regular army, and served in one of the elite special-forces units. He is a decorated combat veteran of two wars and numerous of counter-insurgence and anti-terrorist missions on both sides of Israel's borders.
Rabbi Brody is the English-language editor of Breslev Israel's highly popular English-language website at www.breslev.co.il, and the founder and director of Emuna Outreach. Between Breslov Israel and Emuna Outreach, he devotes his time to spreading emuna and particularly the teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslev around the globe.
"Lazer Beams," Rabbi Brody's award-winning daily web journal, has been instrumental in helping tens of thousands of people around the globe find joy and fulfillment in their lives.