May 28, 2024
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A Pathway to Teshuva: Making the Most of the Miracles Hashem Sends Our Way

On the Yomim Noraim, we were focused on teshuva, the process of returning to our “potential” selves. We learned that we can accomplish this task by using the gifts Hashem endowed us with in fulfilling the mission He designated for each of us. Yet, man’s struggle with accomplishing this task is glaringly evident in Parshat Noach. Noach, referred to by the Torah as an “ish tzadik,” was selected by God to be a vehicle for teshuva for the sinners of his generation. He was expected to help them recognize their transgressions and pray for their redemption; moreover, after the flood, he could have used his endowments to impact mankind and create an olam chadash— a new world. Yet, tragically, he failed in both missions. The commentators raise the question of why Noach failed to respond to this direct calling from God. Indeed, if Noach, the righteous one, was ambivalent in his ability to impact mankind, and was overwhelmed by the prospect of teshuva, how can we as beinonim (average Joes) expect to succeed in this seemingly daunting task?

Rashi, in addressing the reason for this tragedy, uses the words “mik’tanei amanah hayah” (“Noach was small in faith of God”). Still, I was always troubled by this interpretation. How could it be that Noach, who separated himself spiritually and morally from an entire world, lacked faith in God? Rabbi Efrem Goldberg, referencing Reb Levi of Bardichev, offers a novel twist on this wording. It wasn’t that Noach lacked faith in God; rather, his self-confidence was lacking in his ability to carry out the mission Hashem assigned to him, that of being an advocate and teacher of the people, proactively working toward helping them see the light and bringing them to the point of teshuva that would lead to forgiveness by God. Thus viewed, Noach’s failure in reaching out prior to the flood, and building a new world following the flood, represented a serious lapse on his part, a lapse that cost most of the world its existence. And our nation had to wait for Avraham Avinu to assume this mantle of leadership. According to Rabbi Goldberg, Noach’s lack of emunah was rooted in his “complacency and ambivalence… dismissing the potential of every individual to influence the world.”

Indeed, faith in oneself is not an easy or simple thing. It requires that we identify, strengthen and perfect the skills, talents and competencies Hashem endowed us with; it means seeking out and sharing these skills with others and impacting the lives of others. And if we are lucky, we “shep” the nachat from this outreach, whether our own or through the efforts of others. And it was this nachat that those of us in Shomrei Torah in Fair Lawn witnessed a few weeks ago. Just as the teivah was a haven from the flood for Noach and all those who joined him, Fair Lawn has always been a “teivah” for all of us under the loving care of Rabbi Yudin and our Rebbetzin Shevi. In the September issue, we discussed Rambam’s commentary on Mishna Avot 1:6: “Make yourself a teacher; acquire a friend…” He explained that the change in wording from make to acquire is meant to distinguish between the two types of relationships, and also to emphasize the importance of friendship, which possesses the element of reciprocity. Yet, it also occurred to me that there is a reason behind the two relationships appearing in the same pasuk, and I believe that this placement is intended to underscore the special gift one can enjoy when these two relationships merge into one, as it does for us in Fair Lawn. Indeed, if we consider the Rambam’s comprehensive categorization of four subtypes of friendship, our rabbi and rebbetzin truly fit the bill. Their acceptance, caring and empathy for everyone under their loving care allows us to share the deepest secrets of our hearts without feeling any sense of shame, guilt or judgment; moreover, their strong desire to support and guide us through our challenges, and to help us become the best we can be, is what I believe the Rambam intimated when he spoke to most cherished benefits of friendship.

A few weeks ago, our community experienced a very special bar mitzvah on Shabbat Bereishit. Yet, what distinguished this from the typical celebration is that the boy’s parents, Jeff and Jenny Pavel, and other family members were immigrants from Russia. The joy emanating from both sides was palpable, and when the rabbi shared their story, everyone understood the extent of the joy they experienced. We learned that when the rabbi made a trip to Kiev, Russia, in 1988, Jeff was 13, yet “uneducated in the ways of Judaism”; as a result, he did not have the privilege of becoming a bar mitzvah. Luckily, as was the destiny of so many Russian Jews, the family landed in Fair Lawn, and the rest, as the rabbi said, “is history.” But, of course, it is much more than “fate.” As the Rav teaches, there are two perspectives with which we view life. We can see ourselves as “fated,” with a specific life and with little control; this perspective, however, can lead to feeling “punished” during challenging times. In contrast, we can accept that which Hashem sends our way as our “destiny,” seeking to discover what Hashem is asking of us. After learning the story of the Pavel family, and hearing the beautiful Torah reading by Eli (Eliezer Chaim), and the haftarah read by Jeff, I knew this was a family of “destiny.” Moreover, when the rabbi presented both Eli and Jeff the gifts he typically gives the bar mitzvah boys, this became especially poignant when Jeff shared that Bereishit was also his bar mitzvah parsha. Like Noach, the Pavel family was charged with starting a new life in a new country; yet, as people of destiny, they were courageous enough to take on this challenge and confident enough to believe they could be successful, following the paradigm set by Avraham and Sara; and even more so, they were lucky enough to recognize the miracle of connecting with the Yudins and to make the most of this special gift Hashem sent their way.

May we continue to bask in and appreciate the “teivah,” the safe haven, that Rabbi and Shevi have created in Fair Lawn, and may Hashem bless them with long and healthy years to continue their life’s work and to sustain the ability to use their very special gifts in the service of Hashem and mankind.

By Renee Nussbaum, PhD

 Renee Nussbaum is a practicing psychoanalyst, with special training in Imago Relational Therapy. She can be reached at [email protected].

 

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