The Observant Jew
By Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz
I’m going to tell you three stories: two happy, one sad, but all with the same message. You may have heard these before, but humor me. Hear me out and see if I make you think.
R’ YY Rubinstein related the story of a boy who was preparing to go out with his friends on a Friday night. He put on his jeans, his leather jacket, and whatever other paraphernalia he needed to be cool. His father, a chasidishe fellow in a beckishe, came to him with a box before Shabbos.
“I know where you’re going,” said his father, “and I don’t want you to go. It’s not safe.” He opened the box and pulled out a small television set. He put it down on the desk and said to his son, “What happens inside the four walls of your own room is your business, but I don’t want you going out to those dangerous places.” He walked out and closed the door.
Years later, now fully observant, that boy noted his father’s unconditional love as the turning point for his return. “It didn’t matter what I did; I knew my father loved me, and that brought me back.”
Not too long ago, a man on a bus in Israel spent some time speaking to his seatmate, a dayan (judge) on a local Bait Din, (Rabbinical Court.) When he heard that the young fellow worked with kids in trouble, the dayan related that he had not always looked as he did that day. “When I was younger, I was a troublemaker. I was not religious, and one Shabbat we were playing soccer outside the Bait K’neset when a rabbi walked out and a ball I kicked knocked off his hat. I thought it was hysterical but he approached us. He asked me where my parents were. I told him they were dead. He brought me home, made Kiddush and gave me wine, and then his wife served me as much food as I could eat. They even gave me a bed and let me go to sleep.
When I woke up it was after Shabbat. The rabbi asked me what I liked to do. I told him I wanted to go to the cinema and see a movie. He gave me money and told me to have fun, then said, “Make sure you come back tomorrow.”
I did, and every day he fed me, gave me a place to sleep, and gave me money for my activities. I truly loved him. Eventually, he started speaking to me about Torah, and bought me a pair of tefillin. I went to Yeshiva, excelled, got married, and now I am retiring after 25 years on the Bait Din. Don’t give up on your boys, just love them and they will surprise you.
“Who was the rabbi?” asked the young man. “What do you mean was?” replied the dayan. “He is 92 years old, and his name is R’ Ovadiah Yosef!”
I was a bad Daddy. My daughter was walking in the darkened living room to get something and stubbed her toe on my other daughter’s book bag. She was upset at her sister for leaving it where it could trip her.
Instead of comforting her, I took up the role of teacher and said, “You cannot blame her for this. Why didn’t you turn on a light? You chose to walk in the dark and it’s your own fault.” The words my daughter said next seared my heart: “You don’t even care that I got hurt.”
I failed. At that moment, she needed me to care for her and empathize with her pain. She needed to know that I loved her even though she was blaming her sister because I could see through the frustration to the real girl underneath. Instead, I tried to teach her how she should act. She might do what I said on the surface, but I did not affect the underlying girl, nor change her the way I wanted.
The common thread in all these stories is that they were all attempts at bringing a person closer to the ideal of what they could be and separating them from improper behavior. The ones that succeeded were the ones that put aside the inappropriate actions and focused on unconditional love of the person.
Nearly all observant Jews feel a certain sense of responsibility to bring those who are less observant closer to our ideal of a Torah Jew. The problem is that instead of Kiruv Rechokim, bringing people closer, we end up doing Kever Rechokim, burying that person in negativity and possibly stunting their spiritual growth. In essence, we’re doing the EXACT OPPOSITE of what we intended to do!
The way to bring people closer to HaShem is by finding what they do right, instead of pointing out what they do wrong. If someone doesn’t keep Shabbos, throwing stones – either literal or proverbial – won’t change his or her mind. In fact, it will likely succeed in making him more steadfast in his ways.
I’m reminded of an old parable my mother a”h used to use in Sunday School. The Sun and the Wind made a wager. They were trying to see which one could make a fellow take off his coat. The wind went first, and blew until he was blue in the face, or blew in the face, or whatever, but the harder the wind assailed him, the tighter the man drew his jacket around him.
Then it was the sun’s turn. He just beamed at the man and the continued warmth of the sun’s smile made the fellow peel the jacket right off.
When you want to help someone come closer to HaShem, don’t be cold to him, or blow lots of air in his face, it will make him turn his back and cling more tightly to his beliefs. Instead, just love him, be kind, and when he’s ready, he’ll ask for help in taking off the jacket.Jonathan Gewirtz is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in publications around the world. He also operates JewishSpeechWriter.com, where you can order a custom-made speech for your next special occasion. For more information, or to sign up for the Migdal Ohr, his weekly PDF Dvar Torah in English, e-mail info@JewishSpeechWriter.com and put Publication Sponsorship or Subscribe in the subject. © 2013 by Jonathan Gewirtz. All rights reserved.