In last week’s column I wrote about the sincere Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur resolutions that we make year after year – the commitments we make to change, to become better, kinder, people, and the promises we make to become more devoted Jews, more loyal to Torah and mitzvos.
And then comes the down part, for despite all our good intentions, when our High Holy Day Machzorim are shelved, so are our resolutions. Not that we do so intentionally, mind you. It just happens. It’s a downward spiral, for no sooner do we exit the sheltered sanctuary of the synagogue, than the craziness of our world assails us and we slip back to the “same old, same old.”
But it need not be that way. We could change… we could become different, and we could become the people that Hashem intended us to be. It is part of our legacy. It is all in our spiritual DNA. We are the children of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, Sarah, Rivkah, Rochel and Leah, who were paradigms of chesed and devotion to Hashem. For us, it is easy. We need only will it. If there is any one year when this change is desperately needed, it is surely now. With every passing day, our world is becoming more and more menacing and, as in all world events, this menace poses a greater threat to us, for we are Jews, and the life of our nation is once again on the line. Our help can come from only one source, and that is Hashem. He is calling us. We must only heed His cry.
Many of us, however, find this entire concept of teshuvah – returning to G-d, daunting, beyond our reach. And yet the path is there, beckoning to all of us.
There is a well-known story that could be of enormous help to anyone who would embark upon a path of spiritual growth.
A man once consulted a rebbe and asked, “How far is the road of teshuvah?”
“As far as east is from west.”
“So far!” the man responded in dismay.
“No,” the rebbe answered, “so near. Just one turn in the right direction.”
“Is it as simple as that?” the man wondered in amazement. “Yes,” the rebbe assured him. “We have a promise from Hashem that if we take just one step toward Him, He will take two steps toward us. ‘Give Me an opening as small as the eye of a needle,’ G-d says, ‘and I will pull you through.'” Again and again, I have seen this truth unfold.
I recall when, over 40 years ago, we started our Hineni movement. At that time, Kiruv, outreach, was virtually unknown. The religious community had no confidence in it. “Even if you convince them to come back, they won’t last,” they cynically told me, and the secular community viewed kiruv as a cult and was frightened of it. It was in that hostile climate that we conceived of a teshuvah gathering in Madison Square Garden – at first glance, an impossible task.
My revered father, HaRav HaGaon Avraham HaLevi Jungreis, zt’l, and my honored husband, HaRav Meshulem HaLevi Jungreis, zt’l, encouraged me. “U’Verachticha b’chol asher ta’aseh… – I will bless you in everything that you do….” is the promise of Hashem, they reminded me. “You must just do, and the blessings will come.” And so it was.
I recall a young woman who joined our Hineni group. She was totally secular. After studying Torah with us, she came to realize that Shabbos is a pillar of our Jewish faith, but her job demanded that she work on Saturdays. What should she do?
“Go to your boss,” I told her, “and take the Chumash – Bible, with you. Show him the passages in which G-d commands us to observe the Sabbath, keep it holy and refrain from all manner of work.”
“Oh Rebbetzin,” she protested, “It will never work, You don’t know my boss. He will laugh at me and fire me, to boot.”
“Just try it,” I urged. “Approach him with sincerity and before you go, pray. Ask Hashem to help you. At the same time, offer to make up the time on Sunday or with overtime during the week. Let him see that you’re not shirking responsibility, but rather, responding to a higher directive that comes from the Almighty Himself.”
The following week when she returned, she was all aglow. “Rebbetzin, you’ll never believe this. I was so frightened … I kept procrastinating and delaying making an appointment, but I was afraid to come back to class without making the attempt. Well, you’ll never believe this. My boss was so impressed that he agreed that I could leave early on Fridays as well.”
Taking just one step to do a mitzvah opens the doors. We need only try it and the help of Hashem will come.
Recently, I myself had an amazing experience. Fraidel, one of our wonderful, devoted Hineni members, shared with me that a young woman, Rochel Leah, had unfortunately been afflicted with Stage IV cancer. As it often happens, the illness struck without warning, like a bolt out of the blue. Her predicament was further complicated by the fact that she is unmarried and has no children or husband to care for her or savings to ease her situation. I try to visit Rochel Leah regularly as do others, but as much as we try, it is not enough.
As is the case with most cancer patients after traumatic treatments, she has lost all her hair. A tzedakah organization gave her a wig, but it did not suit her at all, so I called an acquaintance who is a wig stylist and she in turn contacted Georgie in Boro Park. I went to pick up a new wig and chose one that I thought would look good, but as I arrived at Rochel Leah’s apartment in Manhattan, it hit me – as nice as the wig was, it still had to be styled and cut, and certainly, that was not one of my talents. Who, I wondered, could I ask to come to her aid?
Even as I was pondering the question, I was aware that this was no simple matter. Rochel Leah is in constant pain and does not have the patience for someone to style and comb the wig on her head. It would have to be an individual who would take the wig, style it, and bring back a finished product. Still lost in thought, I rang for the elevator.
As always, Rochel Leah was in much pain, so I simply left the wig in the box. After spending some time with her, davening with her and giving her berachos, I took my leave, but even as I did so, the question kept bothering me. Who should I ask to style her wig?
Once again, I rang for the elevator. As I got in, a young man greeted me with a friendly “Hi.”
“Hi,” I responded.
“So, how are you feeling?” he asked.
I always like to establish who I am, so I answered, “Baruch Hashem.”
“What’s that?” he asked.
“It means, ‘Blessed be G-d.’ I’m Jewish, and that’s how we respond to questions asking us how we are.”
“Nice,” he said. “That’s real nice.”
“What do you do?” I asked. And even as I posed the question, I wondered in my heart what made me ask that.
“I’m a hair stylist,” he responded.
“That’s bashert,” I said.
“What?” he said. “What did you say?”
“Bashert,” I said, “is another Jewish word.” And I explained to him the concept of bashert. He took the wig, and when he brought it back, it was just right.
And there is more. That young man was also a cancer survivor, so he was sensitive to Rochel Leah’s pain. And still more…. he lives in the same building.
Hardly…. Just take one step toward a mitzvah and Hashem will do the rest.
Rochel Leah bas Yehudis needs our prayers. Please daven for her and if you can help, send your contributions care of Hineni.