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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During the past few weeks we probed our souls, asked profound questions, and tried to determine what our lives are all about. We made resolutions – each in our own personal way – and committed to being better Jews.
We promised to be better ambassadors of Hashem, more meticulous with mitzvot, more devoted and zealous in doing chesed – acts of loving-kindness – and to deepen our dedication to our Torah.
And now comes the big question: Are we still determined to make that change? Are we controlling our anger or are we indulging our moods, making others miserable? Are we exercising discipline in our speech or are we back to the pitfalls of lashon hara? How many of our promises are still throbbing in our hearts and how many have been put away with our Yom Kippur machzorim until next year?
Was it only yesterday that we made those wistful commitments to become different? Can it be that our old habits have once again taken a grip on our lives?
To be sure, it’s not easy. We live in a consumer society that values everything “pricey” – 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 for the lonely – are of no consequence in our culture.
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 but – ironically – 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 this. King Solomon and many of our sages taught this truth, but it has been blown away by the winds of materialism and we no longer understand it.
To be sure, we have other problems as well. Our yetzer hara – that little voice in our minds and hearts – is relentless, ever on the attack. Insidiously, it whispers, “Those resolutions, those promises you made…they made sense in the isolation of the synagogue, but in the real world it just won’t work. All those mitzvos and acts of chesed 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. They remind us that we are wasting our days and years investing our energy in that which has no substance or lasting value. We need only speak to individuals who have confronted or are battling terminal illness. They will never say they regret not having spent more time at the workplace or not having made more money. Nor will they tell us they regret not having pursued 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.
The most devastating experience a neshamah can have is to arrive in the Next World and behold what it could have accomplished and then contrast that portrait with what it actually became.
But while we are here we can still chart a new path. 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.
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 even those among us who pray repeat them mindlessly and fail to absorb their deeper meaning.
But how do we realize such lofty goals? 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.
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 but life-transforming experiences that render us more generous, loving, and kind.
When we do chesed, it is we who benefit; when we give of ourselves, it is we who become enriched and elevated. The formula is there; we need only take hold of it.
It sounds so simple – but is it?
The answer to that is an emphatic yes.
G-d promised us that if we take one step toward Him, He will take two steps towards us. He is ready to help us and will place in our hands spiritual riches we thought beyond our reach. We need only will it and it will be.