Over the past couple of years, I’ve had the privilege of becoming acquainted with a remarkable woman through her books.
Her name is Esther Jungreis. She was born a Hungarian Jew to a prominent rabbi and was only a child as she watched the darkness of the Third Reich claim her country and those she loved. She spent several horrific months in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Nazi Germany and survived most of her family. After the Holocaust, she moved to Brooklyn, New York, married her husband, and founded Hineni, an organization dedicated to preventing spiritual holocaust—the assimilation of the Jewish people—in the United States.
Esther Jungreis was recognized as “the Jewish soul on fire,” a powerhouse and a visionary. She treated everyone she met with love and deep respect, seeing within each person the “spark of God.” Though she passed away in 2016, her legacy lives on through her family, those who knew her, and her published teachings and writings.
I recently finished reading Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis’ book, Life Is a Test. As the title says, she explores the questions we ask when encountering life’s many tests and trials and offers a fresh biblical perspective. The way she sees hardship makes me appreciate the tests I have experienced, the ones I am facing now, and will again in the future.
Esther Jungreis explains that God, who knows every fiber of our beings, tests us to bring out our potential. I could never have imagined becoming the person I am today. It’s in the trials that God presents before us that we surprise ourselves. We rise to the occasion to pray more fervently, to love with a greater capacity, and to face fears with courage we didn’t know we possessed. We begin to see who we really are as we develop in our journey. The beauty that emerges out of suffering now becomes a permanent part of us and the way we live our lives. Like a good parent, God wants our full potential to be realized—set as a banner not just for us, but for future generations to follow.
Regarding these ideas, Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis writes:
All of our personal experiences—our frustrations and our sufferings, our joys and our celebrations—are journeys designed by G-d to lead us to our own promised land. Our highs as well as our lows—the hills and valleys of our lives—are all part of the journey that G-d has mapped out for us. Moreover, each person’s journey is custom-made, designed specifically for his or her individual needs. If we bear this in mind, then our lives will take on a totally different dimension, for we view all our experiences as opportunities for spiritual growth and fulfillment. And I’m not referring only to traumatic and dramatic moments, but to every aspect of our lives. Our struggles in finding our soul mates, earning a livelihood, our battles in overcoming discord and illness, are all part of the journey, custom-choreographed by our Maker for our own specific needs.
Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis taught that the particular kind of test we’re faced with (for example, a specific sinful tendency) gives us an opportunity to repair the world in our overcoming it.
It’s refreshing to hear such words from a woman who knew the depths of suffering yet found her unique life-calling in the midst of that darkness. Esther Jungreis’ potential arose and affected thousands, just as ours can. God, in his love, will see to it as we partner with him in our tests. Instead of asking “Why?” we begin to ask “How?” How can I pass the test that God placed in my path? How can I become stronger from it?
I encourage you to pick up a copy of Life Is a Test or any of Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis’ other books and start reading! You, too, will be edified by the way she shares timeless wisdom from the Torah and makes it fresh and relatable for our lives in today’s world.