The Switch – Turning Mourning into Joy

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Israeli Independence Day celebration at the Western Wall, May 2, 2017 (Photo: Mati Kraw/Wikimedia Commons)

Before Israel leaps into her joyous celebration of Yom Ha’atzma’ut (Israeli   Independence Day), a solemn tribute is first given to those who paid the ultimate price to see this nation of Israel survive. On Yom Hazikaron (Remembrance Day), Israel, as well as the Jewish people in the nations, pause to reflect upon and honor the sacrifice of the heroic soldiers and the terrorist victims who lost their lives so that Israel could continue to live. The mood of the nation is somber, as the people of Israel recount their losses  – mothers mourn their sons and wives grieve for the husbands they will never again embrace.

A few minutes after sundown, however, a radical ‘switch’ takes place. The Israeli flag, which has been hanging all day at half-mast, is proudly raised to the top of the pole at a beautiful ceremony on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.  This is followed by a lively parade by the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) and a speech by the Israeli Prime Minister. Suddenly, the sky explodes with thousands of fireworks in a display that illuminates the heavens and dispels the darkness. The celebration of Israel’s independence has begun! 

The strength to switch from deep sadness to great happiness is very particular to the Jewish people. One minute we are remembering the sad days of our past – our loved ones who died fighting for our country in bloody battles with hostile enemies.  

And then, within a matter of minutes, we are celebrating the incredible reality that ‘Am Yirael Chai!’ – the nation of Israel lives! It is He who keeps Israel who neither slumbers nor sleeps. Therefore we can look forward to our future with hope in faith in Him.

Jewish people are known for remembering both the sadness and the joy, the darkness and the light, the bitter and the sweet together. This is why at the Passover Seder we eat a ‘matzah sandwich’ made up of bitter herbs and a sweet apple and nut mixture together – to remind us that life is a mixture of the bitter and the sweet.  

Until we reach Heaven, there will always be a trace of sadness, even in all of our joyful celebrations (called a ‘simcha’ in Hebrew). Even at the pinnacles of ‘simchas’, a wedding, when the ceremony is completed, the groom smashes a glass, symbolic of the destruction of the Holy Temple.  

This reminds us that our joy can never be perfect while living in this world – for this is not our true home. One can never totally abandon oneself to joy while knowing that another yet suffers. When we celebrate our freedom at Passover, we dip our finger in the second cup of wine, symbolizing the Ten Plagues, and remove ten drops of red wine, letting each one drop onto our plates like crimson drops of blood. For the cup, which represents joy, cannot be completely full knowing that our deliverance came at the cost of the Egyptians’ suffering. 

The ability to both mourn and celebrate must become part of our walk of faith with the Lord. Yeshua told us that in this world we will have trouble, but that we can still be ‘of good cheer’ because He has overcome the world. Job stated that man is born for trouble as sparks fly upwards. Or, as my Mom would tell me in a Yiddish expression, “Everyone has their own tsuris  

We might look at someone else’s life and think, “I wish I had a life like theirs, a family like theirs, a marriage like hers (or his) – they don’t seem to have the trouble I have suffered.”  But we are not seeing what goes on behind closed doors. That ‘perfect family’ living in a ‘dream home’ and driving a new car may be struggling with serious marriage issues, or trying to find answers to dealing with a difficult child that makes their family life a living nightmare.  That ‘model marriage’ we see from the outside could actually involve a drug addicted, alcoholic, or violently abusive spouse. We need to trust that the ‘tsuris’ (trouble/sorrow) God gives us is not more than we are able to bear; and that He will either deliver us or give us the grace to walk through it. We won’t have grace to bear someone else’s trouble and sorrows, but only our own.

The question is, can we be happy, even while we still have serious problems and issues in our lives that cause us pain and trouble? I believe that by the grace of God, we can learn to have a ‘merry heart’ and celebrate life, despite the bitter that is mixed with the sweet.

Sometimes life hurts and we need to cry. We need to be more like little children: we can be honest about the pain, cry as long as we need to, receive the comfort of those who love us, and then forget about it, wipe away our tears and run off to play.  

God promises that Weeping may endure for a night but joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5) We need to keep believing that this joyful morning will truly come and that our mourning will be turned to dancing.  You have turned for me my mourning into dancing.” 

Just like at those moments after sunset, when Israel’s mourning will be turned into dancing, so too will our sorrows be turned to joy. How? Because of God’s amazing love and mercy. He promises to work all things out for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.   

The word used for ‘turn’ in this verse is from the word ‘hafuch’, which means to change to the opposite, or literally to  ‘turn upside down.’  When I have a chance to go to a café in Israel, I always order a ‘café hafuch’ – which means an ‘upside down coffee’ where the milk and the coffee have been switched!  This is what God will do in our lives with our troubles and sorrows – He will ‘hafuch’ them (not proper Hebrew ☺ ). He will hafuch our weeping into joy and hafuch our mourning into dancing. Halleluyah!  

God promises, “…To comfort all who mourn, to console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes,  the oil of joy for mourning, a the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; …the planting of the Lord that He may be glorified.” (Isa. 61:3)

The Hebrew hides a secret treasure within this verse:

The word for ‘beauty’ is ‘pe’er’ פאר

and the word for ashes is ‘efer אפר

These two words use the exact same letters; but the order has been switched! God is going to take the very circumstances that cause us to weep in our ashes and turn the situation into something of great beauty. How? I don’t know how, but God does!  

It was out of the ashes of the Holocaust that the nation of Israel came into being. God took the ashes of the Jewish people from out of the Nazi crematoriums and turned them into the living, breathing, vibrant modern State of Israel! The ultimate hafuch

Now if God can do this with Israel, can He not also turn (hafuch) our difficult circumstances? God can take any situation, any challenge, any injustice and totally turn it around, backwards and even upside down so that it all works for our good – so that we will be even better off than we were before!  We need only believe and trust Him.

Blessed is the man whose strength is in You, whose heart is set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Bacca (weeping), they make it a spring… they go from strength to strength (Psalm 84: 5-7) 

This man is blessed because his heart is set on pilgrimage –  he is set on going somewhere, not settling where he is now. This man is walking through a valley of tears, yes, but he knows he is ‘just passing through’. David said, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I shall fear no evil…”   

David also knew he was just passing through that dark valley; he had his heart set on pilgrimage. When we find ourselves in a Valley of Bacca, a place where we are brought low through tears and sorrow, we need to post a gigantic sign on our wall that says, “Just passing through!”  

We absolutely cannot sit down and set up a permanent camp in our valley of Bacca. We must not make grieving and mourning the place where we settle!  God promises to walk us through the valleys of life and to bring us through, if we will just hold on in faith and trust Him.  

Our tears are not wasted nor in vain; they do not go unnoticed. God keeps each one in a bottle. (Psalm 56:8) The Valley of Bacca (weeping) will be turned into a ‘maayan’ (spring). If we will put our sorrows in God’s hands, and receive His comfort, He will turn these tears into a wellspring of life for others in need of similar comfort. Our mess can become our message to those desperate for hope. 

Tears are the only things I can find in the Bible that we don’t reap what we sow. “Those who sow in tears will reap with joy.” (Psalm 126:5)

If we will sow our tears into the Kingdom of God as seeds, He will, in a miraculous way, bring them forth as a harvest of joy.  The English translation of Isa. 61:3 usually says that God will give us beauty ‘for’ ashes, but the Hebrew word, ‘tahat’, means ‘under’.  Somewhere under the ashes lies beauty, if we will just trust God to do a ‘hafuch’ – to make ‘the switch’.  

There is a time for grieving our losses, for mourning over a painful past; but then we must make the switch from mourning to dancing and from heaviness to praise. Instead of looking backwards in sorrow, we can look forward to the good plan God still has for our life – to give us a hope and a future.  

Yeshua is called a ‘man of sorrows; well acquainted with grief.’ He understands.. but he doesn’t want us to stay in mourning.  May we each invite Yeshua into all our ‘tsuris’ (troubles) and discover the beauty that lies underneath the ashes.  May our sorrows be turned to joy and our mourning into dancing. Amen v’Amen. Chag Sameach!

Love, peace and much joy!