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The Fog of Exile

The Fog of Exile


I’m ashamed to say this: Today, I saw a man on the street, black and elderly, splayed on his back, his cane awkwardly wedged behind his knee, eyes half-open, not moving a muscle, and I just kept walking. I remember vividly the look of horror wash over my face as I took in the scene and thought to myself, “Is he dead?” and then the rush of shame and guilt as the nextI just kept walking thought just as quickly arose, “Well, it’s not my problem.” I stared at him as I slowly walked by, in shock and disbelief, and then even greater disbelief that everyone else was also just walking around him, as though he was an object, mildly disturbing their daily commute. The woman in front of me had the same look plastered on her face, yet she stopped, took out her phone and, I am praying, called 911. But I don’t know that. Every excuse came up in my mind. I don’t want to get involved. Maybe he is just in shock. Someone else will take care of it.

What is Exile? The thick, imposing wall around my heart that convinces me I am so separate from another human being that I can ignore his death? That I can actually believe that getting to work on time or listening to the class on my headphones is more important than stopping and doing something to help? Exile is always putting myself first, even when I am genuinely giving and good (and I hope and believe that sometimes I am).

I do not think I am a bad person. I wish I had stayed with this man, this body, this human being, and recognized his inherent worth as G‑d’s creation, but I’m not actually sure I was able to. I was in a fog this morning. As I tried to daven Shacharit, I felt drugged, my eyes heavy and my heart totally dull to G‑d’s goodness. I dragged my body through the streets, down the subway tunnel, moving through the humidity like I was in a dream. When I walked up the stairs on to Broadway, I was completely sunk in my flesh and bones, complete absorbed with how hard it is to be a soul in this physical reality. And then I saw this man. And then I remembered I am alive. And then I remembered that I love being in this world. To be honest, it took me two blocks to just come out of my stupor before I even could think about all the reasons I couldn’t go back to help him.

I felt sick to my stomach to use this man’s plight to think about what G‑d was telling me—as though I am the protagonist of this story—but ultimately, I must. I must turn this around and pull out the sparks of holiness in whatever way I can. I believe that is what it means to be a Jew, and especially to be a Chassid, to be walking in the path of the Baal Shem Tov. To know everything I see is Divinely placed before my eyes.

I didn’t have some big revelation. In fact, the lack of feeling and thoughts is what is hitting me the most. That I feel almost exactly the same. What is Exile? The impenetrability of my ego. Even now, as I write this, I wonder if you will think I am interesting and articulate. I can’tAren't we made this way? Why is it so bad? escape it. The first-person narrative. But aren’t we made this way? Why is it so bad? It’s bad because it is a lie. The Beit Hamikdash was destroyed because of baseless hatred. You can only hate that which seems so foreign to you that you cannot see yourself within it. I looked at this man as though we came from different worlds, that I operate in another impenetrable sphere. On one level that is true. But a wise friend once told me that everything that rises, converges. If I had been in touch with my soul—with the level of me that is truly a part of G‑d—and had gotten out of the way enough for her to speak, then I would have seen all of the ways that we were the same.

I want to be able to cry for someone else’s pain the way I can cry for my own. To laugh and smile over someone else’s joy as much as I can for my own. I want to know deeply, with da’as, that I am a stitch in the fabric of this world, and the more I can move in unison with it, the sooner G‑d will raise this global flag, this sign, to bring an end to this Exile.

Chava Hinsey is a writer, teacher, and perpetual student. She graduated with her BA in Women's and Gender Studies from Rutgers University in 2014. She attended Mayanot Women's Program and Machon Alta in Tzfat. She worked for over a year as the Program Director at the Chabad at Columbia University. Her writing often focuses on the interplay between Jewish/Chassidic Thought and Feminism.
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S U.K. August 1, 2017

What a tragedy for the poor gentleman, society being so self absorbed. Let us pray that HaShem sent a worthy soul to help him. Reply

Yael UK August 1, 2017

Did you go back to see if he was ok ? Sometimes when this happens to me I walk back & stand around & see if anyone else is doing anything. It's a truly awful thing. I live in the most famous university city in Britain & yet you cant walk a few steps without seeing this. Reply

Juliya Teaneck August 1, 2017

Beautiful, Chava Vera:) This is Juliya from the Waterbury Pesach moons ago. Thank you for sharing your deep-felt perceptions and struggles, which, of course, every Jew shares with you. I was just thinking reading your article--often, I don't think I am even enough in tune with myself to feel joy and pain as I should feel it for myself--all the more challenging it is for me to feel it for others. Very touching writing, thank you. Reply

Joseph Albuquerque, NM July 31, 2017

So beautifully written, Chava, so..I have no words, Thank You* Reply

Bob Cortland, Il, USA July 31, 2017

Recognizing the arrival of Mashiach Not unusual, Chava. In fact, I would say your reaction is common place, and is the reaction that one might expect from most. In fact, may I go a step further to conjecture that that kind of reaction is, and has been for as long as man has inhabited this planet, the foundation of evil??

If that is true then "the Era of our Redemption" will surely arrive with our collective recognition of what you have so eloquently put forth here.

Thank you, Chava Reply

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