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April 24, 2014 / 24 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Next World’

We Can Make A Difference

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

The High Holy Days are over. It was an awesome spiritual time – when we probed or souls, asked profound questions and tried to determine what our lives are all about.

We made resolutions – each in our own personal way – committed to being better Jews. We promised to become better ambassadors of Hashem, more meticulous with mitzvot, more devoted and zealous in doing acts of loving kindness, and in general, become more dedicated to our Torah and all that that implies.

And now comes the big question: Are we still determined to make that change? Are we controlling our anger or are we indulging our moods, making others miserable, suffering from our ups-and-downs? Are we exercising discipline in our speech or are we back to the pitfalls of lashon ha’ra, and once again resorting to crude and foul language? The list goes on and on. How many of these promises are still throbbing in our hearts and how many have been put away with our Yom Kippur machzorim until next year?

Was it only yesterday that we made those wistful commitments to become different? Have we already slid back to “same old, same old”? Can it be that our old habits have once again taken a grip on our lives?

To be sure, it’s not easy. We live in a consumer society and value that which is “pricey,” so we appreciate name-brand items, fine jewelry, spectacular homes, etc. But acts of chesed: a smile to someone who is downcast, a visit to the sick, a word of encouragement to the hopeless, an embrace to the lonely, a warm loving word… those little things which in reality are huge are of no consequence in our culture. In our consumer world they are valueless and go unnoticed.

Acts of chesed cannot be translated into dollars and cents; consequently, we consider them to be of no value. We cherish luxuries and are obsessed with accumulating things and more things, but ironically, the more we have, the more we desire and the less content we become. We are the generation that possesses more than any generation could have dreamt of; yet we are also the generation that is the unhappiest.

There is nothing surprising about all this. King Solomon and many of our sages taught this truth, but this gem of wisdom has been blown away by the winds of materialism and we no longer understand it. So yes, while on Yom Kippur we divorced ourselves from the craziness of the world and actually heard our souls challenging us, and even made genuine commitments to change, to live true Jewish lives, today it all seems like a faraway dream. The gap between our resolve and actually translating it into action remains more distant than ever. Once we exited the safe portals of our Yom Kippur sanctuary and the many voices of the outside world assailed us, we lost our spiritual underpinnings – our anchor melted away.

To be sure, we have other problems as well. Our yetzer ha’ra – that little voice in our minds and hearts – is relentless, ever on the attack. Insidiously, it whispers, “Those resolutions, those promises that you made they made sense in the isolation of the synagogue, but in the ‘real world,’ it just won’t work. All those mitzvos and acts of chesed that Jews are called upon to do are simply not practical. As it is, it’s difficult enough for you to manage your time. You cannot possibly undertake more.”

But our Yiddishe neshamos are so powerful that they will not let us go. Even when we are ready to run, there are always some quiet moments – sometimes just a split- second – when our neshamos talk and prod us to get back on track. They remind us that we are dissipating our time, wasting our days and years that we are investing our energy in “fluff” that has no substance or lasting value. We need only speak to individuals who have confronted or are battling terminal illness. Not one of them will ever say that they regret not having spent more time at the workplace or having made more money. Nor will they tell us that they regret not having pursued more pleasure. But they will all confide that they feel remorseful for not having been more connected with their Jewish roots, for not having made an effort to know G-d. Most painful of all, for having failed to fulfill their mission to impart a legacy of faith, love and honor.

The most devastating experience a neshamah can have is to arrive at the Next World and behold that which it could have accomplished, and then contrast that portrait with what it actually became. The agonizing, piercing cry of such a neshamah, “What on earth could I have been thinking of? How could I have done that?” reverberates through the seven heavens, and there are no answers.

But today we can still correct it, wipe the slate clean and recapture the days and years of our lives.

We need only bear in mind that life is not about accumulating things, but about elevating ourselves. It’s not about acquiring more, but about being more. Life is about making a difference in this world, fulfilling our Jewish destiny, the purpose for which

G-d created us. Every day, at the conclusion of our morning prayers, we beseech the Almighty to help us so that “our labors may not have been in vain and our lives may not have been lived for naught.” How tragic it is that so few of us are familiar with those words and even those among us who pray repeat them mindlessly and fail to absorb their deeper meaning.

But how do we realize such lofty goals? How do we remain grounded, yet spiritually elevated?

It is simpler than we realize. G-d has actually provided us with wings, available to all, with which to soar and rise above the morass of this world. We need only seize them.

When we study Torah on an ongoing basis, we are automatically transported into another world. We are reminded of our true purpose and of that which has lasting value. Our Torah is not only our road map for life, but it is the voice of G-d, directing us, speaking to us, telling us who we really are. Our mitzvos are not just random rituals and laws, but are life-transforming experiences that render us more generous, loving and kind. When we do chesed, it is we more than others, who benefit; when we give of ourselves, we become enriched and elevated. The formula is there; we need only take hold of it.

It sounds so simple – but is it?

The answer to that is an emphatic yes.

G-d promised us that if we take one step toward Him, He will take two steps towards us. He is ever ready to help us and will place in our hands that which we thought was beyond our reach. We need only will it and it will be.

In my next column, please G-d, I will share with you some real-life stories that demonstrate just that.

A Good Deed

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

I have realized in the last few months that the friends and acquaintances in our lives are there for a very special reason. It is clear that we are in relationships to help each other at different times in our lives.

If you hear that your friend has a simcha, or God forbid, sad news, Hashem wants you to act on it. Make a phone call to wish someone a happy birthday or a mazal tov. Pay a shivah call, send flowers to someone who is ill, and visit an elderly person at her retirement home.

Here is my story of doing a good deed that trickled down to helping my own child to purchase luggage!

My mother-in-law wanted to volunteer her time at a retirement home, but it just never worked out. When she found out that Madame Cohen was admitted to a retirement home, she realized that Hashem had opened a door of opportunity for doing something good. You see, Madame Cohen never had children, and all her siblings had passed on. When she developed signs of Alzheimer’s and could no longer take care of herself, her niece and nephew had no choice but to place her in a nursing facility.

My mother-in-law visited her frequently. The two women conversed, laughed, listened to music, and went for walks. Madame Cohen’s family appreciated these visits, especially since they knew that most of the time, Madame Cohen did not recognize my mother-in-law.

My husband was getting ready to go to Australia for a few weeks. He needed to purchase a carry-on bag. He had his heart set on a particular suitcase that was a bit pricey. One day, before heading back to the office, he decided to walk into a luggage store and there was the suitcase he wanted. The price was still very high.

The owner of the store asked him if he needed help, and in the same breath told him that he looked very familiar. After exchanging names, the store owner said, “I believe that your mother visits my aunt in the nursing home!” My husband confirmed this, and the owner told him that he would give him the luggage for a fraction of what it cost him.

So there it is! Hashem gives us the opportunity every day to bless one another by smiling and wishing each other a great day, a good recovery, and good news.

The next time someone thanks you for doing something wonderful, thank them for giving you the opportunity to do a mitzvah. I am told that mitzvos are the only form of currency we take with us to the Next World.

Wishing you and your family a happy, healthy New Year.

May you seize the opportunities throughout the coming year to do mitzvos and kindnesses to everyone with whom you are connected. After all, that is the reason we are connected in the first place.

Not God’s Messenger

Wednesday, November 15th, 2006

         It was one of those cold, rain-soaked evenings – the kind that make you look forward to a hot drink, a good book and a soft couch to curl up on. With those happy thoughts in mind since I was close to home, I proceeded to cross to the other side of the street.

 

         Luckily I wasn’t too pre-occupied with my images of impending comfort to not look around at the traffic. Sure enough, as I was half way across, I quickly realized that I was going to be competing for the space ahead of me with a woman in a mini-van who was making a left turn.

 

         Now as a pedestrian I have the right of way – that is undisputable. But as the saying goes, “might makes right” and I wisely ascertained that in this particular situation, I would not come out on “top”. My 120 lbs. (writer’s license here) body would be no match for thousands of pounds of steel and if anything I would end up “under”.

 

         And so I yielded my right of way to her – an act of “chesed” that I’m sure she wasn’t even aware of. How could she be? Her neck was tilted to the left, allowing her to sandwich her cell phone between her chin and her shoulder, causing her face to be sideways and her eyes pointed downward.

 

         Situations like this tend to make me philosophical at times, so I asked myself. “What if Hashem decided as He looked at my name in the Book of Life/Death during the Yomim Noraim that the ‘honor of my presence was requested in Shomayim‘ and that I would be getting to The Good Place” sooner than later? The “sooner” being as I crossed the street that night?

 

         Should this lady – animatedly yakking on her phone as she made a left turn on a rain-slicked road – feel guilty and tormented for running me over and causing my soul to depart? Or should she instead be b’simcha and insist on a kiddush in shul for being deemed worthy enough to be personally chosen by Hashem to fulfill His will? After all, the Almighty decrees all that happens and she would simply have been His messenger. Why lose any sleep over the fact that she had sent me to the Next World when, in fact, the Heavenly Judge gave her this koved?

 

         Why should she be punished by either her conscience or any other entity – like the judicial system? How responsible would she be for an event that had been heavenly ordained?

 

         That question of accountability and punishment/reward has come up frequently in Jewish philosophical and religious discourses. One that quickly comes to mind deals with the suffering inflicted on the Egyptians prior to the children of Yaakov’s emancipation from slavery. Was it not God’s will that the descendants of Yaakov be enslaved for hundreds of years? Why were the Egyptians so severely penalized for just doing God’s will?

 

         I believe the answer lies in the Judaic concept of free will. Events may be ordained from Above, but the role one plays in implementing them is totally up to the individual. The sages state that the Egyptians were punished for doing what they were heavenly mandated to do – enslave the children of Yaakov – because they did so with such relish and enjoyment. They chose to be brutal and delighted in the pain they caused.

 

         Which brings us back to the yenta on wheels. Obviously God in His infinite wisdom had decreed that this particular day was not my departure day. However had God decided otherwise – the blame would have been on her shoulders – because she had the choice and the free will not to drive in a way that put others at risk. Yenta chose to flout the law of the land – the obeying of which, by the way, is a halachic requirement. This law forbids using a cell phone while driving unless it is a hands-free set. The woman had the option of acquiring/using the hands free set, but did not.

 

         Was it arrogance, “I’m above the law, I’m better than everyone” or overconfidence, “I can safely and competently drive, talk on the phone and even change my kid’s diaper – all at the same time” or laziness that influenced her free will and led her to engage in risky behavior? It doesn’t really matter – the fact is that she chose her course of action.

 

         God doesn’t need a messenger to do His work. If He had decreed that it was time for my soul to return to its original home, I could have tripped on the wet street and hit my head instead.

 

         So no kiddish here. No pride in “doing God’s will.” Just a vehicular manslaughter – but for the grace of God.

A Gift From Tattie – A True Story

Wednesday, July 26th, 2006

      Some may say that certain unlikely events and their timing are a matter coincidence, but we who believe that Hashem is the Eternal Mastermind of the Universe – know better.

 

      Mr. “Goodman” (not his real name) was a Jew who survived the horrors of the Holocaust. While many of his peers stopped believing in God, Mr. Goodman stood firm in his belief in His Creator and accepted all that had happened to him and his family will full emunah.

 

      Mr. Goodman and his wife, an aishes chayil in the full sense of the word, rebuilt their lives and established a family of several children. Both he and his wife worked hard to support these children, living a simple life without luxuries so that they would have the funds to send their children to yeshiva as well as ensuring they would lack for nothing. While their friends vacationed in Florida during the winter or updated their furniture or appliances, the Goodmans worked non-stop, squirreling away their money so that their kids would have what they needed.

 

      The years went by and, as it is the way of the world, both Mr. and Mrs. left the family they had created to join the families they had been born into – all of whom eagerly awaited them in the Next World.

 

      Yet even in death, the giving to the children continued.

 

       For ’round the time the Goodman children were emptying out their parents’ home – one they had lived in for over 30 years – a distant relative visited from out of town. She volunteered to join them one evening as they cleared the house that was full of old bills, magazines, Yiddish newspapers etc. As the relative took out some trash, she noticed a tattered folder in an open garbage bag. Curious, she opened it and found an identity card with Mr. Goodman’s photo with wording in German. There were several other documents all in German and she had no clue what they said. She mentioned the “find” she had rescued from the trash and was told to toss it. She decided to keep it and perhaps offer the documents to a Jewish Museum or even Yad Vashem next time she went to Israel, but she never got around to it.

 

      Later that year it was decided that a one-time payment be given to Jews who could prove that they were slave laborers in Nazi concentration/labor camps. Even though he was no longer alive, Mr. Goodman still qualified based on the deadline that had been established.

 

      The children, busy with raising families of their own and very aware that gathering documents that were over 50 years old would be time-consuming – if not futile – were not interested in pursuing the matter further. They did not have the time nor emotional stamina to visit that dark place in their father’s life.

 

      But their relative did. And so she sent in the ragtag documents in German with no idea what these documents meant. It was a long shot – one that would take years since the applications of the living Survivors, numbering in the thousands, were given precedence. Those of the deceased would be reviewed only after the living.

 

      Five years passed and the older Goodman grandchildren grew up. This spring, three became engaged. As their respective parents scratched their heads as they made a cheshbon - reckoning – of the wedding expenses, a check from Germany for thousands of dollars – Mr. Goodman’s “wages” – arrived.

 

      Even in death, this loving father and zaide was still looking out for his children.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/a-gift-from-tattie-a-true-story/2006/07/26/

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