(Photo: Yeshiva students.)
I am in frequent contact with a rabbi who opened a yeshiva in a small hamlet outside of New York City. He reads my articles and often sends me a one-word comment. However, on the subject of “outreach,” the responses became longer. The conversation went something like this:
I wrote: “David is an Atheist … But, Not a Very Good One.” In this story, I wrote of how I convinced an anti-religious boy to put on tefillin.
The Rabbi responded: “Great! Send us more stories like this one.”
I wrote back: “The way to get more stories like this one is to take your tefillin with you when you go to the store (i.e. look for someone to help).”
He wrote back: “I don’t go shopping.”
I answered: “Then, when you go to town.”
The Rabbi: “Since I started this yeshiva, I do not go to town.”
My answer: “Then train your students to take their tefillin with them when they go to town. You can change the world right from your desk.”
Rabbi: “Were you ever in this hamlet? There is not really a town to go to.”
My answer: “You seem to be avoiding my point. If we (you, me, and your students) are obligated to help a Jew to pick up his fallen physical donkey, then how much more so are we obligated to help him to pick up his fallen spiritual “donkey”?
”But it seems that this idea is not only not part of your life, (apparently, other than the students who make it to your yeshiva) but even more sadly, this thinking does not seem to be part of your curriculum, either.
“You can reach “town” every day of your life, and even after 120 (after you pass away), without leaving the study hall, by simply showing your students the importance of helping other Jews to come to love the mitzvahs.
“Be careful! There are thousands and thousands of Jews out there who think that they are following all of the rules of learning and mitzvahs, but they are keeping the Torah for the wrong reasons. They are following it because they are obligated, or for a reward. The result of this practice is rampant depression in our Jewish communities!! G-d help us.
“You must show the students the joy and true holiness in the mitzvahs and learning, or you are merely adding to the numbers of the depressed.
The Rabbi answered: “One is obligated to help a Jew to pick up a fallen donkey when they come across such a scene. They are not obligated to go out looking for such a scene, especially not a bocher (student).”
I wrote back: “My point was, and continues to be, that if you look to see who you can help, you will end up helping someone. If you have your eyes closed to others, then, to some degree, G-d has His eyes closed to you.
“If you are sitting on a plane, and after praying you take off your tefillin and pick up a magazine without the least concern to look for the Jew who might be sitting next to you, you will have transgressed a number of mitzvahs, including the one that states that we are responsible for one another.
“Throughout the Torah, we see that the Jewish people are judged as a single person, and yet you are saying not to go out of your way to help a fellow Jew. I am shocked that you try to avoid this teaching, not only in your own life, but even more importantly, in the basic teachings of your yeshiva.
“That you do not go to town is a lame excuse. Those students of yours should schedule at least one afternoon each week to go out, in pairs, and look for Jews to help, The great Rosh Hayeshiva (yeshiva head) Moshe Feinstein, O”BM (of blessed memory), taught that just as we are obligated to give ten percent of our income to charity, so too are we obligated to give ten percent of our time.
“If you cannot motivate yourself to reach out to others for their sake, then know that when you help others, G-d helps you.”
He answered: “You are mixing up several issues to continue your original point, which, in my humble opinion, you are wrong.”
My answer: Do not hide your eyes to your neighbor’s lost object.[i] All the more so, do not hide your eyes to his lost soul.
“Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving your fellow creatures, and bringing them near to the Torah”[ii]
If the words of the Torah and sages do not convince you, then take a good look at this picture.