The young rov innocently asked Rav Moshe if this individual had come to ask forgiveness. Rav Moshe declined to answer. When the visitor persisted, Rav Moshe commented that this person had just lost his position and needed a letter of approbation for a new job. Being that he was a yodeah sefer, Rav Moshe agreed and wrote the recommendation. Further questioning whether the request for the letter was prefaced by an appeal for mechila, Rav Moshe replied in the negative. Astonished, the young rov declared that he was prepared to organize a protest rally for the desecration of kavod haTorah.
Rav Moshe gently restrained the young rov with a response that reflected his nobility of character: “Chazal tell us that One can acquire the World-to-Come in one hour. I gave him the letter without any consideration of past insults because he is a scholar. Maybe this is my hour.”
The young rov listened in awe. Rav Moshe, leader of the generation, world-renowned authority whose days and nights were steeped in Torah, was attributing his future portion in the World-to-Come to this hour!
One hour, one act, one event, a mere speck on the eternal lifeline; but its impact may define our eternity. Each of us has the ability and capacity to overcome, rise above, and create a defining moment. The spiritual power of one hour translates into everlasting acquisitions. We present to you, personal accounts of restraint, fortitude, and spiritual grit. A fleeting hour; an acquisition of eternity.
Mindy stood behind the podium and sought to overcome the customary nerves before she spoke. She was used to the dryness in her mouth, the slight tremor in her voice and even an involuntary shake of her hands that prefaced every lecture.
But this was different. This was spilling her gut. This was emotional exposure. Could she maintain her composure while delivering her heartfelt message?
The audience was unlike any other gathering she faced. The pain in the room was so palpable, it was tangible. Tears were falling from their eyes without restraint. It was a gathering for parents of children at risk. Some had one child who left the fold, others had several. Many had a son or daughter who desecrated Shabbos publicly. Some were even held captive by addictive behaviors. Mindy was there as a survivor. She could relate to some of their experiences and to much of their anguish. She took a deep breath and began speaking about her personal saga.
“We were a typical yeshivish family whose aspirations and dreams read like a framed licht-bentching appeal. My husband was a rebbi and I was a morah. I come from yeshivish stock and loved the life we led. Mendy, my husband, bonded well with our children and his students. The atmosphere was productive, goal-oriented, very hectic yet contented. Could it get better than this? And then came the blow!
Shimmie was learning in a prestigious yeshiva when the phone call came through. ‘Can you please pick up your son and take him home? He’s doing inappropriate things and is suspended until further notice!’ My mind and heart were temporarily suspended. My son, Shimmie? Inappropriate things? Suspended? All I could do was robotically repeat the phrases.
And then the first of the four stages of grief set in. Denial. Total, absolute denial. Wrong child, wrong home, wrong decision. It’s not Shimmie, but a tragic impersonation.
There was no advance notice. He was staying in a dorm out of town and any signs of subtle change were camouflaged when he came home.
And then the second stage set in; anger. Anger at everyone in general and no one in particular. The system, the yeshiva, his rebbi, his peers. ‘Of course, if you don’t screen the student body sufficiently, inappropriate friends can have a negative influence on him.’ And ‘Of course, a yeshiva with such large classes didn’t pay enough attention to Shimmie.’ And then the anger ricocheted onto ourselves. We should have been more lenient, more strict, more giving, more demanding…until we ran dry.
Denial and anger now heralded the third stage — Shame. Undiluted, pure shame. Life seemed to be tranquil in other homes while ours was enveloped in a cloud of humiliation. It was like watching traffic in all lanes whizzing by while my lane was at a standstill. A shameful, humiliating standstill. Denial and anger, the first two stages, eventually ebbed. They seemed to have expiration dates. But stage three, shame, was seemingly limitless. Every day, every minute, every second. Why us, we who loved the Torah lifestyle so much? Mendy gently reminded me that such an accusation smacked of heresy. Deliberately and precisely us, he explained. This description did little to clear my spiritual vision. The shame was relentless.
Shimmie came home, uninterested in our pain, apathetic to the chaos. When he went shopping with me, I made sure to be on the other side of the store. If he came to family simcha, I made sure to leave early. The hurt in his eyes belied his cool composure. Mendy, who seemed to be managing his pain quite well, gently chided me that I was creating another challenge in addition to the one we were given. It was a rational appeal, but I could not overcome the pain.
Life continued. I taught, prepared, cooked, baked, arranged and organized my days but the anguish over our son’s deterioration accompanied me constantly. Decades ago I headed the high school drama. Who knew what a benefit that talent was to motherhood? Pretense became my middle name.
My principal scheduled a mid-year teachers’ meeting; one of those all absorbing, in-service days. An intense program was arranged, including public speakers and a gala lunch. The clock moved forward as we teachers surreptitiously peeked at our watches, thinking of the chaos taking place back home. We felt like school kids anxiously awaiting the dismissal bell. Then, the last speaker, our esteemed dean, came to conclude the program. He promised to be brief, noting the late hour.
He shared a vort from a famous mechanech in Yerushalayim. ‘Why,’ the educator had asked, ‘are parenting classes and chinuch symposiums necessary nowadays, as opposed to previous generations when they would have been superfluous?’ His response was a penetrating insight into our approach to chinuch. ‘Years ago, when a bubbe would daven for her descendants, she would plead for them to give nachas to the One Above. Today, we ask that our children give us nachas; to make us proud. That recalculation of our mindset has played havoc with our chinuch process.’
Our dean then thanked his staff and bade them farewell. I sat riveted in my seat as the teachers made a dash for the door, eager to retake charge of their homes. ‘That’s me,’ I whispered to myself. ‘That mechanech in Yerushalayim just revealed my inner mechanism with more clarity than I had for my own self.’ This was my defining moment, this was my hour of transparency into my soul.
Was raising children about inaugurating them into the service of Hashem or into a service called “my image?” Successful, productive progeny, most assuredly bring nachas to parents. But parenting, obviously, is about bringing nachas to the One Above. Even if success and productivity may be through another route than one’s own. If not, then, “only good and obedient children need apply to our family.” And with that realization, in that hour in the teachers’ room, came the fourth and final stage that followed denial, anger and shame. The toughest level of all, but the most emancipating. The stage called acceptance. Complete submission to His will and the precise synchronization of every challenge.
Mindy concluded her message to the captivated audience, “I stood up, looked around the empty room and was suddenly eager to come home to every member of my family.”
The crowd sobbed openly, recognizing themselves in the narrative. That hour of clarity became her defining moment, the root of her acceptance and unadulterated love towards Shimmie. To her amazement, he responded in kind.
Sometimes, when we recalculate our mindset, we redefine our eternity. Such is the power of one hour.
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