A colorful crowd gathered at the Nessah Synagogue, Monday night, March 7th. Hundreds of Jews of diverse backgrounds came to hear Rabbi Shalom Arush. Rabbi Arush is the head of Chut Shel Chessed Yeshiva for serious learners of any Jewish background. He has also written several books, including the best-seller The Garden of Emuna and other titles inspired by teachings of Breslov chassidism.
The lecture, scheduled to begin at 8 pm, started an hour late. Numerous attendees frantically searched for parking, and the non-Hebrew speakers waited in a long line to rent a headset to hear English translation of the talk by Rabbi Lazer Brody, a student of Rabbi Arush (and the translator of his books and CDs into English).
Waiting in that line was an experience in itself, an opportunity to observe many different kinds of Jews getting together in one synagogue. They ranged from visibly secular, with women complaining about wearing a skirt for the occasion and men awkwardly adjusting their yarmulkes, to Breslover chassidim with long payos and black coats. There were Ashkenazim and Sefardim, young and old – even some children.
Rabbi Arush’s talk in Los Angeles was part of a world-wide speaking tour, which also included Toronto, Miami, Las Vegas, New York, and Chile. In Los Angeles, the event at Nessah and another at Erez Cultural Center in the Valley the following night were organized by Junity, an organization which seeks to bring together Jews of all walks of life. Altogether, about 1700 people attended the two local events. About 10-15% was not even Jewish.
The topic of Rabbi Arush’s talk was “Finding Happiness, Peace, and Closeness to G-d through Emuna.” He began with a request, “Say thank you to Hashem for bringing us together, and for the chair you are sitting on.” He spoke about the double happiness that two months of Adar bring this year, breaking into song several times during his talk. He said that human beings need joy more than anything else in life, and true joy can only come from full and complete emuna. After Adam HaRishon sinned Hashem cursed him with sadness, so that he’d have to work on acquiring joy, thus necessitating constant work on emuna.
Complete emuna, explained Rabbi Arush, is the wholehearted belief that whatever Hashem does is for the best, even if it doesn’t seem good to us. The highest level of emuna is not only to accept our troubles, but to thank Hashem for them. “Don’t deny the pain,” he said, “but say thank you to Hashem for the pain.”
Rabbi Arush emphasized the importance of not taking anything for granted, singing, “I don’t deserve a thing, Hashem doesn’t owe me anything.” He told a story of a woman living in Israel today who after ten years of marriage didn’t have any children. Distraught, she went to Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, ztz”l, for a bracha. After listening to her story, Rav Auerbach responded, “Hashem doesn’t have to give you children. But if you do something you don’t have to do for Hashem’s children maybe He’ll do something He doesn’t have to do for you.” The woman took the advice to heart and began volunteering in a local hospital. A year later, she was blessed with a son, and some time later with twin daughters. To this day, she continues to volunteer in the hospital, bringing her now grown daughters with her.
Rabbi Arush told other miracle stories where a person’s troubles got resolved after they consciously decided to thank Hashem for their blessings while in the midst of their troubles. He encouraged his listeners to spread the light of emuna, both to Jews and non-Jews. “Everyone has to learn that there is G-d in the world, and that G-d is only good,” he said. “Mashiach will come when the world is illuminated with emuna.”
The event concluded with singing and dancing. Then many attendees had the opportunity to approach Rabbi Arush privately and receive a personal bracha.
Junity is planning other events where, “Jews of all walks of life can put their differences aside and unite,” says Mr. Ariel Peretz, founder of the organization. They started out with music shows, featuring popular Jewish performers. “Music is an accessible way to reach out to people,” says Mr. Peretz, explaining that he’d like today’s generation to perceive the Torah as alive and exciting. Last year, Junity also hosted a three-day shalom bayis conference with Rabbi Lazer Brody, and is planning to host another one this year. Mr. Peretz was personally impacted by Rabbi Arush’s work and believes it is important to spread his teachings to a wide audience.