Special Note: A Kollel young man, while recuperating from illness read my book, The Committed Life, and with great chesed and hakoras hatov, took the time to write an in-depth letter (which will appear in two parts) to explain his views on the book and how it impacted on his life. I am pleased to share with you his analysis and insights. He is right on the mark! I wish him a refuah shleima and mazal and bracha and thank him for the chizuk that he imparted.
Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis, she’tichyeh:
If I have to summarize what this letter is about, it is a letter of hakoras hatov to you. You do not know me, and we have never met, yet you have left an indelible mark on my soul and my consciousness. It was during this year’s chag ha’Pesach when my throat began to swell and my ears seemed to ring without intermission. By the final day of chag (Yom Tov Sheni shel Galus), the pain was so strong that my wife’s family, native Baltimoreans with whom we were staying for the last days of Pesach, found an Israeli who was visiting his family in Baltimore to drive my wife and me to the emergency room. The doctor’s original diagnosis was that I had come down with strep throat, but after the final tests came back, the doctor said that I had tested positive for mononucleosis. I was shocked to say the least.
“Take it easy,” everyone told me. If you push yourself too hard, you could relapse and be sicker than you are now.” So, I’ve been stuck in my apartment for most of the day for over a month now, no kollel and very little learning of Gemara (the mental strain wipes me out). “What should I do all day if I can’t learn Gemara?” I thought. The answer was simple: “I’ll read English seforim. I am an avid reader of English seforim. When Wednesday arrives and I am beginning to dream of Shabbos, I conjure up an image in my mind of a soft couch, a warm blanket, and an English sefer in my hands. However, as I scanned my selection of English seforim, nothing seemed to excite me. “I’ve already read this one… read this one also…ahhh. I’m not in the mood for this one…” I saw the Rebbetzin’s sefer, The Committed Life on one of the shelves, and I knew that I had found my sefer.
It took a little less than a month, and I had read the sefer from cover to cover. To say that I loved it would be an understatement. As I flipped the pages of the sefer I could feel myself growing.
The Manchester Rosh Yeshiva, HaRav Segal, zt’l, would recite Tehillim for the no-longer living authors of certain seforim which helped him grow as a Jew. If those holy authors were still alive during the life of Rav Segal, the Rosh Yeshiva would surely have made it a priority to personally thank them. How then can I not take this great opportunity to personally thank the Rebbetzin? Thank you for spreading light into this sometimes dark and confusing world with your holy words and insightful comments! Needless to say, I do not understand the way that G-d works in this world, but perhaps one of the reasons why it was decreed that I be confined to my apartment was in order to be exposed to your beautiful work. The Rebbetzin’s sefer truly changed me.
I thought that I would share with the Rebbetzin some of the points in her sefer which moved me the most. Here they are:
The Rebbetzin comments that everything in life has a purpose, and for that reason you stressed that you cannot blame your own downfalls on your troubled upbringing or bad environment. That upbringing or environment was obviously put in your lap because you were given the G-d given tools to deal with them. Just look at Avraham Avinu. He had an extremely difficult upbringing, being betrayed by those who were closest to him (his own father had him arrested and put into jail) and yet he built upon his negative experiences to become the paradigm of chesed, loving kindness (p. 41-46). The Committed Life shows that the Torah desires that we take our negative experiences in any area and use them as a springboard for advocacy and positive change in the world. The Torah’s desire flies in face of the common case in which the child who was abused in his youth grows up to exert the same abuse upon his own children.
There is no word for “fair” in the Hebrew language (p. 255) because “fair” implies that we know what is ultimately for our good. G-d always does for our good, and “fair” is not in His dictionary.
The Committed Life gave me an insight into the human condition. I have seen people who seem to be consumed by anger, and I always felt at a loss as to the source of their ongoing strife. The Rebbetzin noted that in most cases, angry people have low self-esteem, and they yell to compensate for their own lack of confidence (p. 227). Guarded with this understanding, even the regular person, spouse or child can stand up to the screams and yells of the angry man without taking offense, feeling hurt, or yelling back at him. “Angry man is not angry with me”, we can assure ourselves, “he is only trying to compensate for his own lacking”.
The Committed Life pointed out that the word “but” in a sentence is a nice way of saying “no thanks”. The word for “but” in Hebrew is “efes”, which also means “zero”. When someone says, “I love you, but…” it means that there is nothing here (p. 253).
“Who knew that there are so many Jewish people involved in cults? Not me. I was shown that even though the Jewish people only comprise around two percent of society, “their representation in cults is totally disproportionate to their numbers”. The Rebbetzin hit on the point that all Jews were at Mt. Sinai where they accepted the responsibility to bring tikun, healing to the world, and that if they are not exposed to their beautiful Jewish heritage, these spiritual orphans will naturally cling to any cult or ism that promises the fulfillment of this tikun. Understandably then, it was the assimilated Jews who dominated the hippies, the yuppies, and the New Left. And going back a bit further in time, we find Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud and others who were united in a common goal ? creating a utopian universe.
What about marriage? This topic particularly interested and continues to interest me, as I recently got married, and who doesn’t want to become a better husband? To this extent, there was lots of wisdom to be found in The Committed Life. Can a marriage exist without peace reigning in the home? Of course not. But what is the secret to shalom bayis, peace in the home? The Rebbetzin’s sefer suggests that it is the ability to be a mevater, one who sacrifices that which is rightfully his or hers. One must be able to humble one’s ego, forget about “winning” and accept a momentary loss for the more important goal of peace. This is the hidden message behind our taking three steps back in the Shemonah Esrei when we ask for peace (p. 74).
Marriage is ultimately about giving to one another. One would assume then that marriage is also filled with piles and piles of “thank you’s” resonating off the walls. However, this is not always the case. Toward the middle of the sefer it is noted that the word “modim” to thank, also means “to admit”. The reason for this is that whenever we thank someone for helping or doing a kindness to us, it also means admitting that we need their help. This is a humbling thought for many of us who believe that we are wholly self-sufficient. Along these lines of thought, it is clear that the greater the degree of help given to us, the harder it is to thank, as it implies a greater degree of need on one’s part (p. 194-195). In marriage, where the giving is hopefully an ongoing process, for many of us, the task of thanking our spouse is an arduous one. Hopefully, by discovering the roots of ke’fiyas hatov, withholding thanks, we can attack the problem at its source ? egotism ? and become better people and better spouses.
The sefer mentions that HaShem, in His wisdom, placed the tongue, the part of the body responsible for speech, behind two gates ? the teeth and the mouth ? to help us realize that our words, our most powerful tool, can serve as arrows just as they can soothe, and that we must be exceedingly careful to utter only those words which will not sting (p. 219-20). There is no question that more words will be directed to one’s spouse than towards any other individual and that no other individual is more sensitive to your choice of words than your spouse. Before I enter the gates to my home, I hope to remember the two gates to a happy marriage.Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis