Tuesday, Jun 11, 2024

Sweet Words

Small deeds and just a few words can accomplish so much. They can alter lives forever. Reb Shmuel, a mechanech from Yerushalayim, related the following story in which he was involved. He had a relative living in Eretz Yisroel who was far removed from Yiddishkeit and prided himself on being progressive and in tune with the modern world. All attempts at being mekarev him to Yiddishkeit were fruitless. The most inspiring messages that Reb Shmuel tried to impart to him fell upon deaf ears.

When the father of this “enlightened” man passed away, he did a minimal amount to remember his father. He sat shivah and recited Kaddish here and there, but he continued his lifestyle as usual, unwilling to change his ways. After a few years, his mother also passed away, and after a short while, something incredible happened. This self-avowed chiloni, who ran away from anything that smacked of frumkeit, suddenly donned a large yarmulka. He openly declared proudly that he now davens every day, keeps Shabbos and kashrus, and is well on his way to becoming a full-fledged Torah Jew.


“I could not contain my glee and excitement,” said Reb Shmuel. “What happened to him all of a sudden? I tried for so many years to influence him, but to no avail, and suddenly he was proudly advancing to keeping all the mitzvos. Which kiruv organization got hold of him to change his life so drastically?” I asked him. “This is what he said.”


When the shivah for his mother was over, a relative, a chareidi Jew with a pleasant demeanor, approached him and asked, “Would you like to do something small and simple to benefit the soul of your mother, may she rest in peace?”


“The words ‘small and simple for my mother’ were enticing,” related the man, “so I was willing to listen. After all, who wouldn’t be willing to do something small for his mother?”


When the relative saw that he was willing, he suggested the following.


“Every Erev Shabbos, right before Shabbos arrives, turn off the light in your refrigerator so that when you open it on Shabbos, the light won’t go one. You should dedicate this little act of shemiras Shabbos to the neshamah of your mother.”


“I agreed and I kept my word,” related the man. “Every Friday right, before Shabbos arrived, I turned off this light faithfully with my mother in mind. Is there anything easier than that?


“A few weeks passed and I started asking myself, ‘If I’m not turning on the light in the refrigerator, why, then, am I turning on the light in the living room and in the rest of the house?’ I tried pushing away this thought that was rumbling within me, but it wouldn’t go away. Since I am a man who acts logically and sensibly, I decided that if I’m not putting on the refrigerator light, I won’t turn on the other lights either. I hired an electrician to install Shabbos clocks in every room so that I won’t have to turn on any lights.


“Then came the radio. How am I turning that on if I’m refraining from turning on the lights? I stopped listening to the radio on Shabbos. Then came the car. Slowly, but surely, I eradicated all chillul Shabbos from my life. But then I was faced with a problem. If I don’t listen to the radio or drive to various places of amusement on Shabbos, what is there to do?


“At that moment, I remembered that there is a shul right near my house, so I went there. The congregants and the rov greeted me so pleasantly and exuded such friendliness. They had no idea why I, their neighbor for so many years, suddenly decided to participate in their tefillah, but they understood that something was up.


“I felt so elevated by the davening. After davening was over, the rov approached me and invited me to his Shabbos seudah. What an honor! I, a sinner, should eat at the rov’s table?! It was an exhilarating meal. Afterwards, we walked together to the rov’s shiur. He seated me right next to him, and this, too, was a most uplifting experience. It was like cold water on a tired soul for me.”


From there, it was all forward, until, finally, he became a full-fledged shomer Torah umitzvos.


The relative who made the original suggestion to turn off the refrigerator light was not even aware of the ramifications of his simple and pleasant words. Reb Shmuel, the mechanech who tried so many times to be mekarev the man but was unsuccessful, notified him of this. The relative came personally to greet the recent baal teshuvah. They hugged and cried for joy. Now their relationship would be closer and deeper (Borchi Nafshi).


In this week’s sedrah, we learn of the victory of the Bnei Yisroel in their battle with Sichon, the mighty and daunting king of Emori. By defeating him, the Yidden conquered the lands that previously belonged to Ammon and Moav which Sichon had taken over when he triumphed over them. About that war, the Torah states, “Al kein yomru hamoshlim bo’u Cheshbon.” Regarding Sichon’s conquest over Ammon and Moav, the poets, Bilaam and his father Be’or, would say in a victory chant, “Come to Cheshbon” (formerly belonging to Moav, let it be established as the city of Sichon (Bamidbar 21:27).


The Gemara (Bava Basra 78b) interprets this poem homiletically. “Al kein yomru hamoshlimTherefore the rulers say” refers to those who rule over their yeitzer hara. Bo’u Cheshbon means for us to make a reckoning of eternity. Weigh the material loss incurred by performing a mitzvah in comparison to what you will gain because of it, and the immediate profit of an aveirah compared to the ultimate loss you will suffer because of it. “Ir Sichon” means that if one follows the sweet talk of the yeitzer hara, he will eventually be consumed by a flame.


Much has been written about this Chazal, as it encompasses a great many mussar shmuessen. The Chofetz Chaim explains why it is called “Cheshbono Shel Olam, Reckoning of Eternity.” It is because our investments and withdrawals in this world remain with us forever. A businessman will jump at the opportunity to make a small investment that will bring dividends forever. Conversely, a deal that will initially bring a profit but in the long term will bring losses is a transaction that every smart entrepreneur will shy away from.


This is the approach we must take with our actions in this world. Choose those deeds that will bring us endless profits in Olam Haba and stay away from those that seem tantalizing for the moment but will be very costly in the long-term. We have multitudinous opportunities on a daily basis to acquire endless gain with small investments.


Much has been written and said about the recent awakening to the dangers of modern technology. Undoubtedly, we must be on guard and not allow this yeitzer hara to permeate our midst. Yes, we must be vigilant in filtering out this invasion of filth and frivolity into our lives, but limiting ourselves to merely declaring these innovations taboo in our circles would be akin to treating the symptoms without getting to the source of the malady.


There are many reasons why one would get hooked on social websites, but a simple reason is loneliness and a lack of self esteem. One who doesn’t feel good about himself and is in need of friendship has easy access to camaraderie by latching on to these sites.


The pressures and blazing pace of today can easily cause one to get lost in the shuffle and feel insecure. Consequently, the person reaches out for artificial companionship on these sites. There, one can unburden himself of his inner frustrations and his discontent…with anonymity.


This is a problem far beyond the scope of one article, but one thing is clear. There is so much frustration and unhappiness in our circles today and there is so much we can do about it with a small investment. Greeting someone with a smile, saying a good vort, offering some words of encouragement and just plain listening can ease the pain of another Yid.


Chazal say that Sichon is a tactic of the yeitzer hara. It is translated as sicha no’eh, sweet talk, and it is the manner in which he attracts people to do his bidding. He uses this to entice holy neshamos to compromise their standards and to stray to foreign pastures.


We must use this very same tactic, the pleasant word, to attract people to Yiddishkeit. Atem eidai, you are My testimony. We are the face of Hakadosh Boruch Hu in this world. If we treat people in a loving manner, with sweet talk, with encouraging words, then we endear Hakadosh Boruch Hu and His Torah to them. Yes, sicha no’eh, sweet talk, is a wonderful tool for friendship, not only for kiruv rechokim but for our very own children, talmidim, neighbors, and even casual acquaintances. It creates strong bonds and mended hearts, and it can be the investment of a lifetime.



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