Editor’s Note: The following column was scheduled to run this week before we learned of the passing of Rebbetzin Jungreis. We’ve left it in as a tribute to her memory.
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We all know our First Temple was destroyed because of the three cardinal sins, yet 70 short years later Hashem forgave us and allowed us to return to Eretz Yisrael and rebuild the Beit HaMikdash.
The Second Temple was also destroyed, but this time it was because of sinas chinam – unwarranted hatred between Jew and Jew. It’s been almost 2,000 years since that catastrophe, but we have yet to be forgiven and redeemed from our long, dark galus. Why? Why doesn’t G-d redeem us?
Tragically, the sin that cast us into Exile still plagues us. We have yet to do teshuvah and free ourselves of the ugly shackles of jealousy and hatred. Even after the unspeakable evil of the Holocaust we continued our animosity and bickering.
Our communities and families continue to be splintered, and instead of love and good will, factionalism and mean-spiritedness prevail. G-d keeps sending us wake-up calls, but we remain obdurate. With each passing day, our national predicament becomes more and more perilous.
We are witness to an escalation of anti-Semitism throughout the world, but instead of unifying in love, instead of forgiving one another, we become more and more fragmented
You might protest, saying, “We know all this, but there is nothing much we can do about it. Each of us is just one little ‘I’ incapable of changing the course of history.”
But our little “I” is not so little. By embracing our Torah, not only will we have a major impact on ourselves but on all our people – and even the world. Allow me to illustrate through a story.
A good man who was on a mission to foster chesed – loving-kindness went to a rebbe for a berachah. “Give me a berachah,” he pleaded “so that I might bring about real changes among our people.”
The rebbe was delighted to comply and readily gave his blessing, but after a few weeks the man returned, frustrated and upset.
“Rebbe,” he complained, “no one listens to me, so I came to the conclusion that I may have been too ambitious – that I should limit my outreach to my own community.”
The rebbe agreed and wished him well, but once again the man failed and returned to the rebbe. This time, he decided to focus only on his own family. Sadly however, here too, he failed. Ready to give up on his mission, he returned to the rebbe once more, disappointed and dejected.
“Has it ever occurred to you,” the rebbe asked, “that the best way to change the world is to start with yourself?” Taken by surprise, the man didn’t understand the meaning of his teacher’s words.
“Each and every one of us,” the rebbe explained, “has been charged with a unique mission – to ‘cling unto our G-d’ [Parshas Re’eh, Deut. 13:5]. But someone might ask, ‘How can we finite beings cling unto the Infinite?’
“Well, our sages teach us that we cling to G-d by emulating Him: ‘Even as He is compassionate, we must be compassionate – Even as He imparts chesed, we must impart chesed…even as He is forgiving, we must be forgiving.’ If we do that, we will not only succeed in changing ourselves but in changing the dynamics of our families, our synagogues, our communities – yes, even the world.”
The moral of this story should guide us as we approach the High Holy Day season. The time has come for all of us to change, to become the people our Creator meant us to be. Instead of working on others, let us work on ourselves. If we do that, we will transform the world and create the environment in which Mashiach can come.
I write often about the unmitigated chutzpah of the young toward their elders. And whenever I do, I receive a large volume of responses. Sadly, many families identify with the problem. Chutzpah is not just a social phenomenon but actually a disease, one that leads to family breakdown and ultimately community breakdown.
In addition to chutzpah, there are many other areas in which we are shamefully lacking. Instead of warmth, kindness, and compassion, the hallmarks of our people, too often we relate to one another with a lack of even the most basic consideration.
If we were to stop for just one moment and honestly reflect on our actions, we would immediately change our ways. We would be horrified at our own behavior and immediately make the necessary changes. So as Rosh Hashanah draws ever closer, let’s take a good look at ourselves and our relationships and see what we can rectify.