Several years ago I was seated with some friends in a Jerusalem café. At a table adjacent to ours was a group of chassidic young men. I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation. Suddenly, I heard one of them utter some inappropriate expletives – language that was better suited to the gutter than to yeshiva students. I felt I couldn’t allow this to pass without saying something.
My friends couldn’t believe I would actually approach them to voice my protest.
“They’ll be resentful,” they warned me.
Disregarding their concern, I went over to the young men’s table and said, “I am very sorry to interrupt you, but I speak from my heart, so please don’t misunderstand my words. I was terribly pained at the thought that the language I heard was voiced here, in Yerushalayim, G-d’s holy city, by, of all people, chassidishe yeshiva students.”
The young man who had dropped these offensive words turned his head away with a smirk on his face.
“Don’t do that,” I said. “I am speaking with love and concern and you respond with disdain. Have you stopped to consider for even a moment what is going on in the world? The dangers that are confronting us? The satanic schemes of our neighbors to wipe us off the map? There is only One who can help us, and you know who that One is – the Ribbonoh Shel Olam. And you are sitting here using such language!”
I continued to speak to them and they sat speechless. By the time I finished, they all apologized and thanked me for reminding them of who they were. When I went back to my table, they stood up respectfully and once again expressed their appreciation.
I am relating this story because we live in a crazy, decadent world. It’s easy for anyone to lose his way, and once the downward spiral commences, the descent is rapid. Downhill is always easy, but it is very difficult to climb back up again. If we catch the problem in time, however, we can change the world and return every lost Jew to his Heavenly Father. It’s all a matter of caring enough to involve yourself – a foreign concept, to be sure, in our self-centered, mind-your-own-business culture.
Some might protest that it’s one thing to reach people in Yerushalayim but quite another to do so in the U.S. I will therefore share another story.
I have spoken over the years at different Pesach programs. One year I was taking a walk on Yom Tov afternoon when I noticed a group of teenagers engrossed in a game of cards. Without giving it a second thought I approached them.
“Sorry to interrupt,” I said, “but it’s Pesach. Yom Tov. Do you think this is the way we should thank Hashem – by playing cards? Please do not think I am trying to be ‘preachy’ or that I am lecturing you. I would never want to do that. I am simply speaking from my heart.”
I went on to tell them many more things.
I know some readers will say such statements surely turned them off, but believe it or not, not only were they not offended, not only were they not turned off – they were turned on. We went on talking for a few more minutes, discussing the shiur I had given that day, and when I left them they thanked me.
That night, in the dining room, a lady came over to our table and introduced herself as the mother of one of those boys. Her son had spoken to her very enthusiastically of our conversation.
“Weren’t you resentful?” she told me she asked her son.
“No,” he responded. “The way the Rebbetzin spoke to us made us realize she was sincere and spoke from her heart.”
Even as she was telling me the story, her son approached and confirmed her words.
So what do we learn from this? If you speak sincerely, with love and from your heart without being judgmental, people will understand and be grateful. It is only when you have a “holier than thou” attitude, and your voice conveys disdain and lack of respect, that people are offended. But when you speak from your heart, it enters another heart.Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis