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April 21, 2014 / 21 Nisan, 5774
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It’s All How You See It


Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

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There are no coincidences in life. We know that everything that befalls us is basherte – to the point that even if a man stubs his toe that too is orchestrated from Above. It was not by coincidence that, on Parshas Tazria Metzora, I received an amazing letter from an amazing young man. Some 10 odd years ago, I had the privilege of launching him on his Jewish journey.

In the Parshah of Tazria/Metzora, we find the Hebrew word “nega,” plague, which our sages point out is comprised of the same letters as the word “oneg,” joy, the difference between the two words is to be found in the placement of the letter “Ayin,” which literally means “eye.” In the word “oneg – joy,” the Ayin is at the beginning, while in “nega – plague” it is at the end, teaching us that everything depends on how our eyes see things.

If we look at our challenges and setbacks as opportunities for growth, as wake-up calls from Hashem, then indeed, they become “oneg – joyous” experiences, but if we view our difficulties as senseless, painful ordeals, then they can become plagues that torment us. Given this preamble, allow me to share with you an incredibly powerful story, which I believe can serve as a great source of strength and inspiration to our troubled generation.

As I said, it all started some 10 years ago when Akiva (as he came to be known) walked into one of our Hineni Torah classes. He had heard about me but hadn’t considered coming to a class because he heard it was “religious.” One day during a dark period of his life, after having lost his job and used up his savings, through an inspiration he received (which he also credits to Hashem) he had an irresistible urge to come to my class.

Once exposed to the Emes (truth of Torah) his life was never to be same. So it was that one Tuesday night he came to speak with me after class. What was this Torah that opened wellsprings of emotion in his heart all about?

That night proved to be a life-transforming experience. Akiva couldn’t get enough Torah and thirstily drank up every word. In no time at all my sons, our Hineni Rabbis, were teaching him to navigate the deep seas of the Talmud.

Akiva became aware that what he had always been seeking, but could never pinpoint, was also within the Torah way. He wanted to build a bayit ne’eman b’Yisrael – a true Jewish home, and more than anything else, he wanted to meet a girl who would appreciate that calling and commit to raising sons and daughters who would follow the path of Torah.

“Rebbetzin,” he told me, “you are in charge. You must find me that girl!” And with the help of Hashem, I did.

Akiva was an expert computer technologist and was subsequently able to earn enough parnassah to enable him, and his lovely bride, to commit themselves to building a true Jewish home based on Torah learning and values. However, when the computer sector crashed in the early 2000s his stocks plummeted, work dried up, and he went through a new financial crunch.

Just as things were about to collapse for him, he and his bride called out to Hashem that whatever was to happen, they had emunah (belief) and bitachon (trust) in Hashem that it was the right thing for them and was ultimately good. Within a few weeks, their tefillos (prayers) were answered. A technology company owned by Akiva was purchased by a large Wall Street Bank. Akiva was back in business.

This new reality presented him with new challenges and he and his wife decided to leave the New York area and move to a smaller community where they could open a retail business and spend more time dedicated to learning Torah. His aishes chayil was supportive and in time, they built a magnificent Torah family and developed a viable business as well. And now to phase two and the letter I received from Akiva on Parshas Tazria Metzora:

Dear Rebbetzin,

It’s been a long time. Much has happened – where do I start?

Overall, it’s been an incredible trip and I see Hashem guiding my every path. We lost everything financially. Our house is in foreclosure, our savings dried up, and I am excited. Yes, you read that correctly…. I am excited and I say thank you to Hashem. Our situation is so drastic that it’s obvious that it could only come from Him.

I am reminded of the time when I lost my job and became frum (observant), and the time when the computer sector crashed and ironically, it turned out to be the perfect time to sell my technology business. Those times seemed to be a very dark moments in my life, but they turned out to be wonderful opportunities.

During the past 10 years, we have grown in our commitment to Torah and mitzvos and Baruch Hashem, we have been able to give tzedakah too. And now, darkness has descended upon us once again, but this time, in its most destructive, extreme form. Yet, I say, Baruch Hashem, for I recognize that that which seems to be the darkest time, can be a set-up for good times to come. When I look at it this way, I see Yad Hashem, the Hand of G-d in everything.

It is interesting how my business got taken down. One of the workers that worked for the company before I took it over, sued the old owners, but since they were out of the picture, I was held personally responsible. Suddenly, I found myself embroiled in lawsuits…the attorneys’ fees were astronomical.

The case dragged out in court for a few years. Eventually I couldn’t afford my attorneys anymore, so I had no option but to represent myself. I was writing motions and responses to motions and arguing my motions in front of a federal judge. I won some and I lost some, but I was putting up an unbelievable fight.

During this time, there were lots of potential purchasers and financial partners interested in my business, but once I told them about the lawsuit, I usually wouldn’t hear from them again. I didn’t have the resources to go on, so eventually my business went belly-up.

In the end I put the business and myself through bankruptcy. This cleared out the debt and the lawsuit and the house and pretty much everything else. As I went to pick up the pieces, I realized that I was having such a great time with the legal grappling that I decided to take the LSAT (Law School Admissions Test). Hashem helped while I studied non-stop for two months, and Baruch Hashem, I did amazingly well. I applied to a bunch of schools and as of this writing, I’ve been accepted to most of them, Baruch Hashem, many with full-tuition scholarships.

The yetzer ha’ra tells me, “Unfair! Unbelievable! Why did Hashem do this to you?” but my yetzer tov – emunah, my faith, tells me, “Not so, it’s Hashgachah Pratis. G-d is guiding you, showing you a new path, launching you on yet another journey.” Now, more than ever, I am committed to devoting myself to Torah and grateful that He is opening new doors for me on the great highway of life.

I thought I’d share the good news with you. We’re planning on moving back to New York soon to go to law school, and once again to become part of Hineni – to learn and teach Hashem’s Torah.

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