Editor’s Note: Rebbetzin Jungreis, a”h, is no longer with us in a physical sense, but her message is eternal and The Jewish Press will continue to present the columns that for more than half a century have inspired countless readers around the world.
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We live in a consumer society and value whatever 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 of the lonely – 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. Ironically, however, the more we have, the more we desire and the less content we become. We are the generation that possesses more than any previous generation could have imagined, 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 their gems of wisdom have been blown away by the winds of materialism and we no longer understand them.
To be sure, we have other problems as well. Our yetzer hara is relentless, ever on the attack. Insidiously it whispers, “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. There are always quiet moments, sometimes just a split-second, when our neshamos prod us to get back on track. They remind us that we are wasting our days and years investing our energy in pursuits that have no substance or lasting value.
We need only speak to individuals who have confronted or are battling a terminal illness. They will never say regret not having spent more time at the workplace or having made more money. Nor will they tell us they regret not having sought out 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 in the Next World and be shown all that it could have accomplished as opposed to what it actually became. The agonizing, piercing cry of such a neshamah, “What could I have been thinking of? How could I have done that?” reverberates through the heavens, and there are no answers.
The good news is that today, while we are still here, we can correct our previous mistakes and oversights, 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 that 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 elevate ourselves spiritually?
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, 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. They are life-transforming experiences that render us more generous, loving, and kind. When we do chesed, it is we more than others who benefit. The formula is there; we need only take hold of it.
It sounds so simple. Is it?
The answer to that is an emphatic yes.
G-d promises us that if we take one step toward Him, He will take two steps towards us. He is ever ready to help us. We need only will it and it will be.