A Baal Teshuva once came to R’ Avrohom Gurwitz of Yeshivas Ner Moshe.
“Rabbi,” he said, “I can’t go on. When I think of my past and all the things I did wrong, I can’t imagine being able to consider myself an observant Jew.”
“You know,” replied R’ Gurwitz, “Human beings have eyes in the front of our heads, not in the back. If we stretch our necks and turn, we can look behind us, but the angle is skewed and it’s uncomfortable to do it for any length of time. G-d made it this way to teach us that the important thing is to always look ahead, and look forward to what you can do and where you can go. You should look behind you to see where you’ve been by all means, but if you focus on it too long you won’t be able to get anywhere, and you’ll wind up hurting yourself.”
We just experienced the yom tov of shavuos. Aside from the cheesecake and all the food, you can try to come out of this yom tov with a new appreciation for what you have and what you can become. It is easy to despair, to look back at the past and give up. It is more difficult to lift yourself up and tell yourself, I can be better. I can be more.
Change is hard. Change means looking deep inside yourself, deep inside your soul and thinking, what could I do to be a better Jew? A more connected Jew. A more inspired Jew. A more giving and loving Jew.
I've been reading the biography on Rebbetzin Kanievsky and I must say, there is so much to learn from her. The one thing that struck me was her true ahavas yisroel, her love for every single Jew no matter who they were or where they came from. There were people who were mentally disturbed who would come to her house and say things that would make many of us run in the opposite direction. There were people who treated her with less respect than any of you would treat even someone not so great. But she loved them all. She hugged them and kissed them and gave them brachos and made them feel special. The more psychotic a person sounded, the more love she showered them with because after all, they must really need someone to care about them.
There was a woman who thought she was going to die and she would come to Rebbetzin Kanievsky every single day. And every day the Rebbetzin would write her a special note giving her brachos and saying "you will not die today". Sometimes, the woman would rip it up in front of her face and tell her, you didn't write everything, you didn't write enough. And the Rebbetzin would write it again saying, I must really not be doing enough for her...
She truly cared. She had an amazing amount of patience. There was no limit to her kindness and her goodness.
When she sent her children to sleep with an elderly widow every night, she thanked the widow for letting her children sleep in her home and making it less crowded for the other children...after all, the Kanievskys lived in a two and a half bedroom apartment and when there was one less child sleeping in the house there was so much more room for everyone. She didn't thank the widow just one time, she kept thanking her again and again to the point that the widow would tell other people, "The Rebbetzin keeps thanking me for allowing her daughter to sleep here. But I'm so happy to be able to do such a chessed for their family, especially since I know their house is so crowded!" She really made the other person feel as if she was helping them instead of the other way around.
She wrote letters of recommendation to help boys get into yeshivos, she opened her door to so many people, strangers and family alike, allowing them to take food from her refrigerator freely, she delivered food to neighbors who moved in on the block (even on erev pesach), she gave money to petitioners who came for brachos and were suffering from financial distress, her giving heart and her love for others was endless.
I can't even sum up the stories over here. I tried to write some of them but I can't do justice. Her essence was her true, deep ahavas yisroel.
The Torah teaches us to love one another, to truly care about other people and it teaches us how. We have mitzvos that show us the importance of bein adam l'chaveiro. We are told not to accept bribes, to treat widows, orphans and converts with extra love, we are told to honor and respect our parents, not to steal, cheat, be jealous...all these things are between man and his fellow man. The Torah wants us to perfect our middos, work on our character, become better people.
I was thinking...shavuos has passed and the next yom tov is Rosh Hashana. It's a pretty scary thought. But we have a good few months ahead of us, a whole summer to work on ourselves, to become better people.
May you be able to look ahead instead of craning your neck to look back, knowing just how much to focus on the past so you become aware of what you need to work on. And may you be able to move forward, constantly striving and growing to become the best person you can.