How often have we spent time and energy trying to help others seemingly without positive results? When this happens, we find it difficult to understand just how we could have dedicated so much time to such a fruitless task. If you have ever had this experience or are, even now, ready to give up because you don’t think you are accomplishing anything, read on and perhaps you will change your mind.
This true story happened in the sixties, when coming of age in this Country took the form of rebellion against the status quo. For some, this meant trading all of the trappings of materialism– expensive clothes, luxury cars and a college education– for a backpack and a one way ticket to the East where they hoped to find direction in their search for a ‘spiritual’ path. Many of those young people were unfortunately assimilated Jews who knew little or nothing about Torah and its answer to these questions, but nonetheless, with Hashem’s kindness some B.H. managed to find their way to the land (Eretz) of Yisrael where they ultimately came to learn about and live a life imbued with the ideals of Torah. This story is about one of these young men who we know and will call Yehuda.
Yehuda was learning in a beginners (Ba’al Teshuva-Yeshiva-Kollel) school. One day, he noticed a new young man arrive that reminded himself how he looked five years earlier, with his long hair, torn jeans and back pack. Yehuda at the first opportunity introduced himself to this obviously introspective young man, whose name was Joey. Since their personalities were of like nature, Yehuda made extra efforts to help Joey any way he could including learning with him.
Each time they learned or were together, Yehuda tried to introduce him to (Yiddishkeit) his Jewish roots through its eternal laws and through its beautiful ethical teachings trying to inspire Joey to appreciate his Jewish heritage, but he unfortunately seemed to have more interest about making his way to the Far East and kept plying Yehuda with questions about his own stay there five years earlier.
One evening, a few weeks later, at about nine o’clock there was a knock at the door of Yehuda’s apartment. It was Joey asking if they could talk privately. After inviting him in and offering some light refreshments, Joey divulged to Yehuda that he had decided to leave the Yeshiva and world of Torah with his eyes directed towards India. Joey was clearly sitting with Yehuda in order to try to pry some names and addresses of people that he had met while he had travelled in that part of the world.
Yehuda, on the other hand, used the opportunity to launch a ‘last ditch’ effort upon Joey’s decision by trying to inspire him in keeping his connection with our precious Jewish heritage through the path of the Torah. However, about midnight, Yehuda, starting to feel very tired and a little discouraged, felt like ending the conversation as he had obligations the next morning at the Kollel and the two of them seemed to have reached a ‘grid lock’ between their different ideologies. However, Yehuda rekindled the conversation with some challenging questions about the deeper purpose of life and the role of the Jewish people. Still after all Yehuda’s efforts, Joey did finally say good night at about two thirty in the morning thanking Yehuda for his time, and explaining that his decision was still firm that he intended to leave the Yeshiva tomorrow and start his journey to the far East stopping only to visit a relative in England for a few days.
Indeed, the next day, Joey was gone, Yehuda was tired and a little let down from what appeared to have been a fruitless effort.
It is now six years later: Yehuda and his family were visiting friends in their large Succah in Jerusalem. During the festive meal (seuda) a man of about thirty years of age dressed fully as an Orthodox Jew approached him. Smiling, the young man asked, “Do you recognize me?” “The voice is familiar,” Yehuda slowly replied, trying to place this person who now had a full beard. Then this young man’s smile became very broad and warm with his dark brown eyes glowing as he began to speak: “Six years ago I was a new student at Yeshiva______________. I was having a hard time and a very special person spent half the night talking to me.” Now, Yehuda was truly incredulous as he began to remember. The young man continued: “I kept my plans and left the Yeshiva that night, however while on the plane to England, the first leg of my journey, something you said that night started to bother me. I tried to ignore it but could not get it out of my mind. I decided that the only way it would let me be is if I could clarify the issue. When we landed in England, I decided to look for a Yeshiva and put the question to one of the Rabannim. As soon as I got my answer, I would be on my way. I made my way to Yeshiva______ and approached one of the Rabbis. After introducing myself I asked him the perplexing question that you had asked me about what it truly means to be born Jewish in a world with over six billion people?”
“The Rav undoubtedly saw where I was heading and how important a question it was to me. He sat me down and spoke as a loving father would speak to a son. The conversation continued until I felt comfortable explaining my plans. The Rav invited me to stay for Shabbos and somehow I found myself accepting his invitation. This meant postponing my flight to India for a few days but the Rav’s warmth and intelligent answers rekindled a new inspiration within me to spend a few more days rethinking my future. By the end of the holy Shabbos I was recommitted to try again to stay and learn in a Yeshiva. This wonderful Rav offered to arrange for me learning partners (cavursos) throughout the day and I was able B.H. to advance very nicely in my learning and general Yiddishkite. It is now six years later and I am, B.H., still learning full time but now in the Yeshiva’s (kollel) school as I merited to marry and have already a few lovely little children.”
With soft tones and a voice that resonated from deep within his heart, Yosef then told Yehuda, “I want to take this opportunity to thank you for befriending me and for not giving up on me even when I seemed so hopelessly lost. The question you ask me about my Jewishness, I had already heard from others before but apparently there needed to be another ‘ingredient’ in the ‘recipe’ allowing me to ‘sit up and take notice’ of its importance. That additional invaluable spice was your misiras nefesh – giving up your time, effort and energy to help reach out to a fellow Yid. Well, Joseph continued: “Through that selfless effort of yours well into the middle of the night, I not only was later able to find out why I am Jewish but was shown by you how a Jew should act..”
P.S. : Oh yes, that ticket to the Far East was never used.
May all the Jewish people merit to find their way back home even if we never know how we have helped them!
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