In preparation for the Yamim Noraim, last week I focused on Mitzvos bein Adam L’Chavero – interpersonal relationships that are often overlooked, such as the escalation of chutzpah, that has become emblematic of our society.
We all know that our First Temple was destroyed because of the three cardinal sins, yet 70 short years later Hashem forgave us and allowed us to return to Eretz Yisrael and rebuild the Beit HaMikdash. The Second Temple was also destroyed, but this time it was because of Sinas Chinam – unwarranted hatred between Jew and Jew. It’s been almost 2,000 years since that catastrophe, but we have yet to be forgiven and redeemed from our long, dark galus. Why? Why doesn’t G-d redeem us?
Tragically, the sin that cast us into Exile still plagues us. We have yet to do teshuvah and free ourselves of the ugly shackles of jealousy and hatred. Even after that unspeakable evil – the Holocaust – we continued our animosity and bickering. Our communities and families continued to be splintered, and instead of love and good will, factionalism and mean-spiritedness prevail. G-d keeps sending us wake-up calls, but we remain obdurate. With each passing day, our national predicament becomes more and more perilous.
We are witness to an escalation of anti-Semitism throughout the world, but instead of unifying in love, instead of forgiving one another, we become more and more fragmented.
You might protest, saying, “We know all this, but there is nothing much we can do about it. Each of us is just one little “I” incapable of changing the course of history.”
As I write these words, it is Parshas Re’eh, in which Moshe Rabbeinu assures us that we can make a difference; that our little “I” is not so little after all – that by choosing blessing – by embracing our Torah, we not only impact on ourselves, but on all our people…even the world. Allow me to illustrate through a story.
A good man who was on a mission to foster chesed – loving-kindness went to a Rebbe for a brachah. “Give me a brachah, he pleaded so that I might bring about real changes among our people.” The Rebbe was delighted to comply and readily gave his blessing, but after a few weeks, the man returned, frustrated and upset.
“Rebbe,” he complained. “No one listens to me, so I came to the conclusion that I may have been too ambitious – that I should limit my outreach to my own community.”
The Rebbe agreed and wished him well, but once again, the man failed, and returned to his mentor. This time, he decided to focus only on his own family. Sadly however, here too, he failed. Ready to give up on his mission, he returned to the Rebbe, disappointed and dejected.
“Has it ever occurred to you,” the Rebbe asked, “that the best way to change the world is to start with yourself? Taken by surprise, the man didn’t understand the meaning of his teacher’s words.
“Each and every one of us,” the Rebbe explained, “has been charged with a unique mission – to ‘cling unto our G-d’ (Parshas Re’eh, Deut. 13:5). But, you might ask, ‘How can we finite beings cling unto the Infinite?’
“Our sages teach us that we cling unto G-d by emulating Him – ‘Even as He is compassionate, we must be compassionate – Even as He imparts chesed, we must impart chesed…even as He is forgiving, we must be forgiving.’ If we do that, we will not only succeed in changing ourselves, but in changing the dynamics of our families, our synagogues, our communities – yes, even the world.”
The moral of this story should guide us in this High Holy Day season. The time has come for all of us to change, to become the people that our Creator meant us to be. Instead of working on others, let us work on ourselves, and if we do that, we will transform the world and create the environment in which Mashiach can come.
Last week’s column focused on the unmitigated chutzpah of the young toward their elders. Subsequently, I received a large volume of e-mail and letters. Sadly, many families identified with the problem. Chutzpah is not just a social phenomenon, but a disease, which leads to family breakdown, and ultimately community breakdown. So as we approach Rosh Hashanah, let’s take a good look at ourselves, our relationships and see what we can rectify.
In addition to chutzpah, there are many other areas where we are shamefully lacking. Instead of warmth, kindness and compassion, the hallmark of our people, too often we relate to one another with lack of consideration.
Allow me to share an e-mail I received that illustrates how people unwittingly inflict hurt upon one another. I say “unwittingly” because by nature we are “compassionate ones and the children of compassionate ones.” Maliciousness and ignoble behavior are aberrations, rather than endemic to the character of our people.
If we were to stop for just one moment and honestly reflect upon our actions, we would immediately change our ways. We would be horrified at our own behavior and immediately make the necessary changes.
A Letter from a Reader:
Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis:
I have a close friend who is a devoted fan of yours. She reads your article every week. When she is out of the country I cut out your columns and send them to her. She doesn’t know that I am writing to you, but when she reads this letter in The Jewish Press, she will surely recognize herself and I think it will give her chizuk to know that her pain is being aired in a public forum and, hopefully, will inspire change.
My friend and I do not live in the same community, but we try to keep up with one another. At our last meeting, I noticed that she was very depressed. When I questioned her she just shrugged her shoulders and pretended that everything `was fine. But I know my friend… I sense when something is wrong, so I pressed her and was appalled to learn the reason for her sadness.
Almost a year ago, my friend moved to a new community – she and her husband chose the location carefully, thinking that it would be a good, friendly environment for them – but she was sorely disappointed. No one ever came to welcome her. When she went to shul, no one greeted her. She tried to make friends, but they would just not respond. The most she could get out of them was a “Good Shabbos” and sometimes, “How are you?” She told me that no one ever invites or calls her. While there are many shiurim that take place in the community, she is never included, nor is she invited for a Shabbos meal.
I know my friend for many years, and I can tell you that she is a great person – well- read, creative, artistic, and above all, kind. Additionally, she is very outgoing, friendly, and well put-together. Her children are grown and married and live in different cities across the U.S. She does visit them from time-to time and they visit her, but these infrequent visits do not compensate for her loneliness or fill the vacuum in her life. Her situation is compounded by the fact that her husband travels a great deal and she is alone for weeks on end, so if no one ever knocks on her door, she really feels the loneliness
I am accustomed to hearing such stories regarding children: a little girl is new in the neighborhood…Her classmates have cliques and do not allow her to enter. The pain of such a child is devastating, but for adults to behave in such a manner is unconscionable, but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. If children behave this way, it is because they follow the example of their parents.
So what is wrong with our generation? My friend told me that one day, a cousin visited her for Shabbos and went to shul with her. Her cousin told her that the women resented her because she dressed too “fancy,” which I thought was outrageous. My friend does not wear designer labels – there is nothing “fancy” or snobbish about her. Admittedly, she does take care of herself, and why not? Every woman should look as good as she can. Could these women be guilty of jealousy or are they just outright mean? Neither option is very attractive.
You might suggest that she invite the women to her home. Well, she did, but after that, “Nada!” Nothing! I realize that in light of what is happening in the world, all this may appear insignificant, but as you wrote in previous columns, “small” things that inflict hurt, that leave deep scars on the neshamah, are not so small after all.
While we may not be able to change policies in Washington, Jerusalem, or the UN, we can change our own behavior. I believe it’s time for all of us to grow up and, if I may once again quote you, it’s time for us to remember who we really are, compassionate ones and the children of compassionate ones. Let us live up to our legacy. It’s in our genes.