“Teshuva means return. The Torah is brimming with life, and the soul of a Jew is exploding with light. The Creator is calling us from within the darkness and emptiness of physical life to return to Him, to return to our true selves and to live.”
Amidst my travels speaking and learning with college students and young professionals in the infancy stages of their Jewish journeys, I have witnessed firsthand the immense truth of these poetic words penned by my rebbe, Rav Moshe Weinberger, in his introduction to his sefer, “Song of Teshuvah,” a commentary on Rav Avraham Yitzchak HoKohen Kook’s “Orot HaTeshuvah.”
At the conclusion of a recent talk I had the privilege to share with a large group of Jewish business majors through the Maor branch of a major university, the rabbi in charge of the program pulled me aside to meet Sarah, a young woman in attendance. He called my attention to a necklace that Sarah was wearing and I was admittedly surprised to see her necklace adorned with a well-known non-Jewish religious symbol. The rabbi explained that a number of months ago Sarah introduced herself to him on campus and shared how she admired the Jewish students attending Maor’s Jewish programming. Sarah casually mentioned that her maternal grandmother had once been Jewish before “converting” to Catholicism decades earlier. The rabbi then explained that by Jewish law Sarah is Jewish!; as are her mother and grandmother.
With a twinkle in her eye, Sarah eagerly told me how she had been studying for months with the Maor rabbi and fellow students, learning to read Hebrew and immersed in learning the basic laws about Shabbos, kashrut and other areas of Halacha. With an abundance of excitement, Sarah and the rabbi both conveyed to me how she had long circled the following Shabbos on her calendar as the first Shabbos that she would keep in full! I made sure she knew how jealous I was of the immense appreciation and anticipation she had for her blossoming young Jewish journey.
More recently, I had the opportunity to meet David, who excitedly relayed his own Jewish story. David explained that he grew up attending public school and hadn’t put on his tefillin or experienced anything Jewish in the years since his bar mitzvah. David proceeded to share his life altering experience that firmly set him on the path of return, centered on Torah and mitzvos.
David had always enjoyed a remarkably close relationship with his father whom he idolized. A couple of years earlier David’s father suddenly suffered a massive heart attack. David said that when his father’s condition took a turn for the worse, the doctor suggested that his family begin making funeral arrangements. David cried uncontrollably in the hospital’s waiting room with nowhere to turn. He recalled a rabbi suddenly appearing and tapping him on his shoulder to ask him why he had been crying. David explained the situation and the rabbi suggested that if David committed to reciting Tehillim and wearing tefillin each day, Hashem would surely watch over his father, and that whatever transpired would be for the best.
With a tear in his eye David said he decided on the spot that he would commit to putting on his tefillin every day and that he and his family would divide up the entire sefer Tehillim and complete it daily. With his father making a remarkable recovery, David now lives with serenity as the result of complete emunah (faith) that whatever happens in life is surely directed by Hashem for the best.
The most remarkable aspect of David’s story however, was how emotional and excited he was to confidently share how ever since committing to wearing tefillin and reciting Tehillim daily, he felt reinvigorated by a new relationship with Hashem, transpiring from a life of emptiness to a life rich in purpose and fulfillment.
I heard an inspiring story about the Frierdiker (sixth) Lubavitcher Rebbe from Rav Moshe Weinberger. In 1927, posters were hung around Yerushalayim announcing the impending arrival of the Rebbe for a rare visit to Israel. One of the residents of Yerushalayim who noticed the sign, had been a close chasid of the Rebbe back in the old country, before drifting from his Torah roots in the years following his aliyah. Not wanting to embarrass himself in front of the Rebbe, the former chassid went out of his way for the ensuing weeks to find a more indirect route to work, in order to avoid passing by the Rebbe’s hotel.
Weeks later the former chasid saw a street sign announcing that the following day the Rebbe would return to Europe. Years later, the former chasid explained that he didn’t know what overtook him on the last day of the Rebbe’s visit but he suddenly transformed from wanting to avoid the Rebbe to desiring to see him at all costs. Dressed in sandals, tattered shorts and long hair, the former chasid ran to the Rebbe’s hotel and attempted to push his way past the Rebbe’s gabbaim (assistants). Upon hearing a commotion, the Rebbe instructed his gabbaim to let the man in. Once inside the Rebbe’s inner chamber, the Rebbe and his former chasid quietly stared at each other for a few moments before they ran to embrace each other. With tears in both of their eyes, the Rebbe warmly looked at his chasid and remarked in Hebrew: “Around and around the world we go, but eventually we all come home.”
The Kedushas Levi explains that Chanukah is highlighted by the piercing light of the menorah, rendering the core essence of Chanukah as the ability to see. As we drift aimlessly into the cold, dark winter nights, our Chanukah eyes find our way back home, illuminated by the internal flame of the pure pach shemen (jug of oil), the Pintele Yid deep inside.
Daniel Gibber is a longtime resident of Teaneck and is a VP of Sales at Deb El Food Products. In addition to learning as much Torah as he can, he is also privileged to speak periodically on the topic of emunah and be involved in Jewish outreach through Olami Manhattan. He can be reached at: [email protected]