Baruch Hashem, we Jews are part of an educated, successful, and altruistic community, and so when we need help, we usually know, or can find out, where to go or to whom to turn. But though we are well aware of the great benefits of consulting with fine, learned, experienced people, Hashem has myriad other ways of helping us.
So if there’s a problem and you’ve tried all the standard avenues of getting help but still have not received the salvation you’re longing for, don’t despair. Instead, remember the following true story, and keep davening – because Hashem can help you in the most unexpected ways!
Rabbi Levi* taught teenage boys in a yeshiva which was located not far from a cheder. Since the van which brought the children to cheder passed by the rabbi’s neighborhood, and after dropping off the children also passed by the yeshiva where Rabbi Levy taught, an arrangement was made that the rabbi would get a ride to yeshiva every morning in the children’s van.
Amir, the van driver, sported a long kuku (ponytail), earrings, bracelets, and more, all of which seemed to be proclaiming to the world just how cool and secular he was. One day, having dropped off the children, Amir continued as usual to the nearby yeshiva where Rabbi Levy would get off. The van had dark curtains on the back windows and so Rabbi Levy was unnoticeable by anyone outside. Before Rabbi Levy got a chance to get out, Amir noticed a yeshiva student standing outside with a sour look on his face.
Amir put his head out the window to speak to this boy whom he obviously knew, though it wasn’t clear from where. Rabbi Levy, still inside the van, unseen, witnessed the following unexpected and amazing interaction.
“Hey, David,* what happened?” Amir asked the boy. “Why are you outside when everyone else is inside?” The yeshiva boy with the white shirt and black kipah answered with an air of cool disdain, “They threw me out.” He thought he had a sympathetic audience with Amir, but rather than reinforce David’s stance, Amir asked: “Why?” “Cause they felt like it,” David said, obviously expecting that free spirit Amir would say something like, “Yeah, I know what you mean.”
But that’s not what Amir said. He said, “Wha’d’ya mean ‘they felt like it’? They must have had a reason. Rabbis don’t just throw kids out for no reason.”
That was totally unexpected, but David bounced back fast and said: “Yes they do. They said ’cause I was late.”
“Well, that’s a reason!” said Amir. David was again thrown by Amir’s response, but again came back quickly. “Yeah? So I was a few minutes late. What did they have to throw me out for?” But instead of the expected “Yeah, you’re right,” Amir asked, “Was it the first time you were late?”
“No, but what’s the big deal?”
“You come late often?” Amir asked.
“Yeah, but just a few minutes late. They’re making a big deal out of
And here, Amir changed his tone and even raised his voice, clearly talking from his own bitter experience and pain. “Man, are you crazy?” he said. “Are you stupid? Don’t you know there are rules in life and if you want to succeed at anything you have to follow the rules?! In college, or in the army, or at any normal workplace, they all have rules. It’s not just schools and yeshivas. It’s not just at home. It’s everywhere! And it’s good! You think you can just do whatever you want and succeed at something?”
“You don’t understand,” said David. But Amir understood all too well and continued speaking, his voice filled with the earnest desire to help this boy out of his
confused, mistaken take on life. “Your rabbis want what’s best for you!” he said with great empathy. “They want you to have self-discipline, to respect the place and the people who are teaching you. They’re helping you by throwing you out! How else are you going to learn? By throwing you out, by demanding that you live by the rules, they’re saving you! They’re giving you a future! And what do you do? You laugh at them, and do whatever you feel like doing, and then you blame them for making a big deal!”
David was obviously taken aback by what he had just heard. He had never expected to hear such words from this seemingly super-cool and laid-back guy, Amir.
David was speechless while Amir continued: “What do you want to do with your life, man? You wanna end up driving a van twice a day like me? Or you want to do something important and worthwhile with your life? You better decide, ’cause it’s your life, and the way you’re going now is no good. If you have any brains in your head, you’ll go back into yeshiva, apologize, and start acting like a responsible person. I’m telling you the truth. My life is no fun, but this is what I got myself into because I didn’t act responsibly. Be careful if you don’t want to end up like me – because if you do, you’ll regret it!”
David could hardly speak. His whole façade had been turned upside down in these last few moments. And not only his façade but the thoughts in his mind too. He seemed on the verge of tears as he looked into Amir’s eyes, and then finally responded. “You’re serious?” he asked softly. “You really mean what you said?”
“I mean every word I said. I mean it with all my heart,” said Amir, his voice almost tender. “Get your act together, man. Those rabbis are good guys, they’re the best! Go appreciate them and learn from them. Some day you’ll thank me.”
There was a deep silence, and then David said: “I’m thanking you already now.” And he turned around, and went back toward the yeshiva. “Hashem yishmor ot’cha (may Hashem protect you),” Amir called after him. David turned around and looked at Amir with unexpected love. “Gam ot’cha (you too).” And he went into the yeshiva, this time with all his heart.
Rabbi Levy got out of the van and Amir continued on his way. Or, maybe after the great chesed he had done from deep within himself, he did some more thinking and did not continue on his way, but instead will take to heart his own advice and try to find a better path.
I took two main points from this powerful story. The first, and more obvious one, is not to underestimate any Jew, including those with signs that seem to say or shout that they’re not part of our community. As it says in Pirkei Avot: “Despise no man…”
Hopefully this story will also strengthen our motivation to try to be mikarev a fellow Jew – even if it seems on the outside like it’s a lost cause and there’s no use in even trying. There are lots of Amirs out there, and the majority of them are not happy with their lot. And there are also plenty of secular Jews in suits with good jobs who, like all of us, have a pintele yid that’s yearning for connection with Hashem, with the Torah, with Am Yisrael.
So if we have an opportunity to have a good influence on a secular Jew, we should take it – either by offering an inspiring word, or if that’s not possible, letting him or her know about a worthwhile kiruv event or website, such as Hidabroot, Arachim, or TorahAnytime.com. It’s likely that you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the warm reaction you’ll receive, because deep inside every Jew is a longing to live as a Jew. Or if it’s easier for you, you can always tell the person to just remember this eternal truth: “Hashem loves you.” That’s sure to have an effect!
The other main lesson of this story is that whatever problem you may be facing in your own life, even if it seems that you’ve tried everything but nothing has worked, always keep davening, just as David’s parents must have been davening for him, with love and pain, frustration and hope. Keep praying, because Hashem has many ways to help you – ways you never even dreamed of!
*name has been changed
Naomi Brudner’s two musical kiruv/chizuk discs for children and their families, You Are Wonderful! and Something Wonderful! will soon be available in stores, as well as online for downloading.