As I wrote last week, miracles are constant occurrences at our High Holiday Hineni minyan and they testify to the eternal spark from Sinai that can – in an instant – be kindled into a glowing, powerful flame.
There are dozens of stories I could share but I will limit myself to two that happened this year during Rosh Hashanah.
On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, after reciting the tashlich prayers in Central Park, I sat down on a bench with my friend, opened my book of Tehillim and said a perek. Though I was far from the crowds, people still managed to find me and ask for berachos.
Seated near my friend was a young man who didn’t look Jewish. He was casually dressed and when he saw people stopping for blessings he asked my friend, “What’s going on?”
“Are you Jewish?” my friend asked.
“Yes,” he answered.
“It’s Rosh Hashanah today.”
“Oh yes, I used to go to temple with my parents but I haven’t been there for a long time.”
“Wait until the Rebbetzin finishes giving her blessings and talking to people. She’ll explain it to you.”
When I started a conversation with the young man his responses were rather cynical but I wouldn’t give in.
“What is your Jewish name?” I asked.
“Moshe Chaim,” he said.
I explained the deeper meaning of his name and the calling it implies. I invited him to come hear the shofar the next day. I wasn’t sure he’d come, but he did. I was elated.
Was it mere coincidence that we met in the park? That I sat down on a bench near where he was sitting? That he began asking questions of my friend? No, no, and no. There are no coincidences, only events directed by G-d.
In every Jew there lives a small but majestic spark engraved at Sinai. Thousands of years have passed since the moment G-d spoke and gave us His Torah but the light is still there. It’s like a computer; you need only log on and it speaks loud and clear: “You are a Jew. You stood at Sinai. You have been entrusted with a mission to live by the Torah and to make it known to all your brethren and to all mankind.”
Just bring up the program and you’ll see it’s a flame that can never be extinguished. Trust me, I know. I have seen evidence of it in peace and war, in the concentration camps and the melting pot of assimilation, in health and illness, in wealth and poverty. No power on earth can extinguish this light, this pintele Yid, this Jewish flame.
The next day Moshe Chaim showed up. His pintele Yid was burning bright. He was dressed in honor of Yom Tov. He came early and left late. And then he came for Yom Kippur and stayed for the entire davening. We invited him to come to our classes. Of course, he promised. There was no question about it. And even if it’s not this coming week or the next week or the week after that, I can guarantee he will come. This too I have seen and experienced. Once the computer brings up the program, it remains forever.
On the second day of Rosh Hashanah a young girl came over to me. Her eyes were moist with tears. This was her first real Rosh Hashanah in many years. Somehow she’d lost her way. She’d found a boyfriend whom she truly cared for but who wasn’t Jewish. And then on the previous Yom Kippur her boyfriend was killed in a freak accident. It shook her up. A small but persistent voice began whispering to her: “Yom Kippur!” “Examine your life!” “You’re a Jew!” “Come back to your Creator; make the journey to Sinai – it’s thousands of years but you can make it in an instant.”
Now she stood in front of me, looking searchingly into my eyes. “How do I do that, how do I overcome that vacuum, how can I overcome my past life?” she asked. “You make it sound so easy, Rebbetzin, but does it really happen that way?”
“Yes,” I assured her, and related a short story about a man who was wandering in a spiritual desert. The Etz Chaim – the Tree of Life that is our Torah – was nowhere in his heart but yet something in his soul yearned to reconnect. He went to a Rebbe.
“Rebbe,” he said, “I would like to do teshuvah but it seems to me that it’s such a long journey and I don’t think I’ll make it. There are so many mistakes I’ve made. So many wrong turns. I’ve been driving on strange highways. How can I ever find my direction again? Can I really come back to Hashem? It’s such a long journey. It’s beyond my capacity.”
“Beyond your capacity?” the Rebbe exclaimed. “It’s actually a very short journey. You just need to make one turn in the right direction.”
How awesome is the pintele Yid! The flame never dies. In an instant it can be kindled. It can banish the darkness and illuminate our path. One turn in the right direction is all it takes. And do not for one second think what I’ve written applies only to secular Jews. Orthodox Jews are equally in need of a spiritual awakening. To be sure, they know how to read the words of the siddur and the Torah and they may even know the translation of every word, but somehow too many fail to understand the spirit behind the words, to grasp the awesomeness of it all.
It’s like someone who’s born into a wealthy family and since he never knew anything else he becomes complacent. Complacency is poisonous. You can see it in marriages. The moment husband and wife take one another for granted, the marriage becomes sour. In a sense, we the Jewish people are married to our Torah and if we become complacent about it, that holiest of relationships can, G-d forbid, suffer greatly.
May this year be the year the light of Torah illuminates our path. On whatever journey we travel and whatever road we embark, may that eternal light from Hashem guide us. May we internalize this awesome berachah we recite every morning: “Hameichin mitzadei gaver – May G-d arrange our footsteps.”
May we see those footsteps and understand them. May we follow them and stand tall and proud on the Torah road of life.