(Continued From Last Week)
Special Note: I am pleased to share with you that our film, “Triumph of the Spirit,” depicting my experiences during the Holocaust and the Kiddush Hashem of our holy martyrs, will, B’Ezrat Hashem, be shown at the Bais Yaakov of Boro Park (1371 46th Street) on Monday evening, December 21, at 8:30 p.m. The film has been accepted at major film festivals throughout the United States. Most recently, it was screened at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, and will now, B’Ezrat Hashem have its first showing in Brooklyn, following which I will address the audience. I look forward to greeting you. The program is being sponsored by Agudah Women. For reservations, call 212-363-8940.
For the past few weeks my column has focused on the tragic reality of internal strife within families. The response has been overwhelming. It appears that countless numbers of our families are suffering from this fragmentation and are in urgent need of help.
I write these lines during the week of Parshas Vayeshev, in which we encounter this tragic story in the home of our father Jacob. The animosity between Joseph and his brothers led to the sale of Joseph and to his servitude. That sin was so heinous that to this very day we are suffering from its repercussions.
“But how could that be?” you might argue. “Why should we be held responsible for something that occurred thousands of years ago?
The answer to that question is painfully simple. Alas, the sin is still with us. Millennia may have passed, but the poisonous marks of jealousy and hatred still plague us. How long will this insanity go on? How much more do we have to suffer before we wake up? We are in crisis. The onslaught comes upon us from without and within, and yet we persist in our self-destructive ways.
I remember many years ago, when we first arrived in the United States after having experienced the Gehennom of the Holocaust. I studied in Bais Yaakov, and one day one of my teachers told us, “If all Jews would unite in brotherly love, forgive each other and reach out to one another with chesed, we could bring Moshiach. That same teacher also taught us that if all Jews would keep Shabbos, we could bring Moshiach.
What an amazing opportunity!” I said to myself. “How remarkable. How simple. Surely it can be accomplished.” It was something that I was convinced was doable.
That evening, I ran to my father the sage, HaRav, HaGaon Avraham HaLevi Jungreis, zt’l. “Totty,” I said excitedly, “I discovered today how easy it is to bring Moshiach.” And I went on to explain the lesson that I had learned that day at school.
My father looked at me lovingly, but I detected a deep sadness in his eyes. And then he said, “Oy! Oy, mein kind, Oy!”
I was a young girl. I did not fully understand the depth of my father’s “Oy!” but with the passage of time, I too have come to say, “Oy.” Nevertheless, this challenge of uniting our people never quite left my mind and I never gave up on it. It was one of the motivating factors behind my founding Hineni; I had a vision, a hope of uniting our people through Torah.
Strangely, I have discovered that too often, it’s easier to inspire people to keep Mitzvos Bein Adam La’Makom – to observe the commandments that deal with our relationship with Hashem – Shabbos, Kashrus, etc, than to prevail upon a person to say, “I will judge others l’kaf zechus (favorably). I am willing to give others the benefit of the doubt…. when I look at him/her, I will see the Tzelem Elokim – the Image of G-d, rather than the yetzer ha’ra – the evil inclination. I will forego my kavod (my honor) – I will communicate with love – I will say, “I forgive.”
I discovered that not only is it difficult to accomplish this between strangers, but sadly, it is even more difficult to do so between relatives, siblings, parents and children. So again I ask, “When will we wake up? What will it have to take to make us realize that we have kindled a fire and if we do not act quickly to put out the flames, more and more of our families will be consumed?” But where and how do we start?
There is a story they tell of a man who wanted to change the world and unite people through the power of chesed. Before embarking on his mission, he went to a rebbe for a brachah. The rebbe willingly complied and wished him well. A few months later, the man was back in the rebbe’s court. “No one listened to me,” he cried out in frustration, “so I thought that perhaps I should scale down a bit and limit my efforts to the community.”
The rebbe readily agreed and once again gave his blessing. Some time later, however, the same scenario was repeated. His efforts in the community were also rebuffed. Once again, the man visited the rebbe, and once again he modified his outreach. This time he decided he would focus strictly on his family. The rebbe wished him well in his endeavors, and the man went forth hoping that this time he would succeed. But once again, he met with failure.
Prepared to give up on the entire project, he returned to the rebbe, who assured him that he need not throw in the towel. His concept was correct and should not be abandoned. It was his method that needed revamping. “You cannot change others,” the rebbe said, “until you change yourself. If you become a loving, forgiving person, then those who come in contact with you, will also react in kind.”
That story speaks volumes and sends a message to each and every one of us. Our first step must be to work on ourselves, to guard our tongues and discover the wisdom of silence. We must learn how to be sensitive to the feelings of others and to say kind, loving words.
We are all in desperate need of a warm, loving smile, and this holds true whether we are nine days old or 90 years old. For that small gesture of loving-kindness, a smile, is a booster for the soul, an infusion of strength and hope. Once we change our attitude, we can effect change in others and make a difference in the world.
Some time ago, Rebbetzin Tzipora Harris of Aish HaTorah visited me in New York. “I would like to do something for Am Yisrael by working on one mitzvah to disseminate among all our people. Which mitzvah do you think I should focus on?” she asked.
Without a moment’s hesitation, I responded, “Chesed!”
Acting upon my suggestion, she contacted many rabbanim and asked them for their approval, and they all concurred that in our fragmented, hostile world, chesed should be our priority – and today, Baruch Hashem, there are grass-roots chesed groups in many parts of the world.
I share this with you, my dear readers of The Jewish Press, because if we all do our share and become “chesed- focused,” we will not only change ourselves, but we will succeed in uniting and elevating our families, our neighborhoods, our communities, and eventually, our entire Jewish landscape. We need only make an attempt; B’Ezrat Hashem, the rest will follow.