An American tourist turned off of Rechov Meah Shearim with a dreamy look in his eyes as he wandered about in the small alleyways. A local man approached and asked if he needed help with directions.
The visitor explained that while he looked like a wayward tourist, he was, in fact, born and raised in Meah Shearim. He hadn’t returned for some forty years, and this was the first time he was back in the place where he had grown up. He had gone far from his roots, he told the Yerushalmi, and decided that it was time for him to return and see what he had left behind.
There was one thing about which he was most curious. He remembered a scene from his youth.
“There was a young man who would sit alone in a small shul and learn,” he recounted. “That was all he did. His sweet voice would waft out through the windows, capturing passersby. He alone had the key to the shul, and he seemed to be there perpetually hunched over a Gemara, standing up to walk around and contemplate an idea, then returning to the Gemara. What happened to the young scholar from Ohel Sara?” he asked.
The local led him to the Ohel Sara shul and told him to peek through the window.
“Here he is,” said the Yerushalmi.
The visitor looked on in awe, a sight of more than forty years earlier coming to life in front of his eyes. That very same scholar, Rav Yosef Sholom Elyashiv, was sitting in his spot in the same shul, learning with the same sweet voice, hunched over a Gemara.
Rav Elyashiv chose a path and never veered from it. As remarkable as his hasmodah and focus, was the fact that he stepped onto a derech as a child and never left it. He remained on that blessed path his entire life.
Staying on the path, as much as anything else, leads to a life of brocha.
That is the key of this week’s parsha, which begins with the words, “Re’eh, see, anochi nosein lifneichem brocha ukelalah, I place before you blessings and curses. Es habrocha asher tishme’u…”
Those who listen and follow Hashem’s word remain on the path of brocha. Those who choose not to listen have no path to follow and find themselves ending up in the wrong places.
Someone who listens to the word of Hashem and follows His path is fortunate enough to know where to go and, just as importantly, what to avoid. If you have a path through life, you know how to live.
People who don’t have a path to follow get lost and end up far from the path of blessing.
Life throws so much our way that if we are not on an established derech, we can, when confronted by challenges, become sad, anxious, depressed and lonely. Those who don’t follow a derech will often lack the self-confidence needed to get back to where they belong.
The test of life is to withstand the ever-present pressures and difficulties. If we are ensconced firmly on a path, with a clear goal, then we have the strength to handle challenges.
People who find themselves in trying situations, facing danger, illness or financial difficulty, can retain their values and equilibrium if they follow the path of “re’eh” and brocha.
When Rav Yisroel Salanter was on his deathbed, he called one of the local gabboim, a fellow Rav Yisroel suspected would be asked to remain with his body until the kevurah.
Rav Yisroel spoke with the poor man about the fear of being with the dead and explained to him why he need not fear, thus giving him strength to face the imminent task.
Not long after, Rav Yisroel’s soul left him and the gabbai was able to discharge the mission of remaining with the body, because this tzaddik was calm and tranquil enough in his final minutes to continue on his well trodden path and maintaining his lifelong practice of focusing on others. He felt bad for the poor man who would be left alone with the lifeless body.
Many question why the parsha begins with the word “Re’eh,” in the singular, and then continues with the word “lifneichem,” which is plural.
Perhaps we can suggest an answer of our own.
The path is set for the individual to see and contemplate – re’eh. Once he has chosen to conduct his life on the proper derech, he is able to impact and help many people. Hence the plural; lifneichem.
Every individual possesses the power to impact and influence the many. Man is given the capability to shape not just his own destiny, but that of many others.
We need to follow the blessed path, and if we do, there is no limit to the impact we can have on other people. The one who is blessed can cause a revolution among others, and that is the greatest source of merit.
There are people who are able to help many others. They are people of brocha. One such person in our times was Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz, whose shloshim was recently marked. He began with one sefer. Its success emboldened him and showed him that there was a huge need for the type of work he became famous for publishing. From a small start, he went on to have a lasting impact on Jews around the world.
When regular people, like you and me, are on the right path, armed with visions, dreams and words, we can light up the world, if we only want.
The Kotzker Rebbe explained the shift in the posuk from the singular to the plural as a reference to the idea that we all have an individual path to Torah: Re’eh, find your path, your way, your road to Torah, but know that there is a path for each individual person. In our schools and homes, we need to remember that what works for one talmid or child doesn’t necessarily work for another.
This, too, is a directive for this period on the calendar, as we prepare for another year of doing our jobs as parents and teachers and meeting the call of the hour.
It’s time that we developed the humility to really try to understand the way our children perceive things and speak to them, rather than at them.
Rav Avrohom Pam, whose yahrtzeit will be marked this coming week, would recall a moment in his own home. There is a machlokes haposkim whether to first light the Chanukah menorah or to first recite Havdolah on Motzoei Shabbos Chanukah.
Rav Pam’s minhag was to light candles first. One year, as he struck a match and was preparing to say the brachos, his five-year-old son called out, “I don’t care what you do. I’m not lighting candles until after Havdolah.”
Rav Pam considered his son’s words and their source. He understood that his son was so frightened at the prospect of what he considered chillul Shabbos that he lashed out. Without hesitating, the rosh yeshiva looked lovingly at his son and thanked him.
As we bentch Rosh Chodesh Elul this Shabbos, we demonstrate that we are committed to living the next year more productively. “Anochi nosein lifneichem.” The anochi – that is us – can gain for ourselves great benefit if we are “nosein lifneichem,” helpful to others.
Success in impacting others starts with a respect and appreciation of where people are coming from. We have to learn to listen better and take the time to consider why people say what they say instead of brushing them off or shouting louder.
Re’eh. See the children and the adults. See the opportunities, each one an island of its own. Open your eyes, even if the sights appear new, even if you don’t completely understand them, and even if what you see calls for a new approach. Take the time to see and understand.
When we will recognize that other people think differently and have a path to avodas Hashem that is different than ours, we will join lifneichem, all of us as one, a nation marching forward into the new year, assured of endless blessing.