We are stretching in ahavas yisrael together to create
z’chuyos for K’lal Yisrael in these urgent times.
Last week’s stretch of the week was: Make a point of being consciously humble in some way this week.
Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.
PIRKAY AVOS--ETHICS OF OUR FATHERS
Repentance and Good Deeds Are Like A Shield Against Retribution
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T'shuva U’Ma'asim Tovim Ki'S'ris Bi'F'nay Ha’Pur'a'nus
Perek Daled, Mishna Yud Gimmel
Story: (based on a true story)
It had been an exceptionally bad six months for our family. I hadn’t even realized it until I told my best friend that my oldest boy had just broken his arm playing football at school two weeks before his bar mitzva and she said, “Wow, this has been quite a year for you so far." I’d been too busy just trying to get through.
This was our third limb injury since Rosh HaShana. My middle daughter’s Crohns had been acting up and she’s been out of school a lot. Two of my kids had teachers they didn’t jell with which brought us many phone calls home and made me afraid whenever the school's phone number came up on Caller ID. My oldest daughter couldn’t get geometry so I had to sit with her and her homework for hours a week when I was tired and ready to go to sleep. My mother was bugging me to help a sibling who didn’t want my help. And my husband had a new and difficult client at work so he often came home late and stressed. All in all, it was a lot.
I don’t like to ask myself, “Why is HaShem punishing us?”, but sometimes I do. I try to push away the thoughts and keep moving, because I don’t have the energy to think about it and it slows me down and depresses me, but sometimes it wins. Once I acknowledged that this was a difficult time, my friend helped me to reframe “Why is He punishing me?” into “What does He want from me?” I don’t know why HaShem has given my family and me these challenges, whether it was something I did wrong or it was just what was supposed to be for some specific reason of which I wasn't aware, but either way I could respond and work on myself.
So I looked at all the little thing that together made things seem big, and decided to try to work on doing little things for others that to them might seem big. I found one the very next day when instead of making it through the light by school that took ages to change, I let someone who lives on that block back out of her driveway. I often saw her waiting for a while to back out, and she gratefully gave me a bright smile and a wave. After finally getting through the light I’d missed, I swallowed the annoyance at being stuck farther back on the carpool line and used the time to say some t'hillim.
I congratulated myself on swallowing the annoyance and decided I could do it again. So later, when my daughter came to me at 10:00 PM for geometry help just after I’d gotten off the phone with my son’s principal, I took two deep breaths and swallowed the thoughts that said, “Why should I have to do this now after the day I’ve had?” and I reminded myself that she too feels overwhelmed and that I have the power to help her just like I wish someone would help me. So I smiled and sat with her the same amount of time as usual, but with a better attitude, and when we finished she looked more confident.
By the time the bar mitzva arrived two weeks later I realized that I have a lot of power in my life. I can smile and change someone’s mood. I can hold back a little and give someone else the chance to go first. I can control my own instincts. After days of making a concerted effort to do little things for others, both in and out of my house, I no longer had to push back the thoughts of, “Am I being punished?”, instead I was constantly thinking “What can I do?”
In just one weekend, I was able to let the woman behind me with the almost empty cart go first at the store since mine was full. I was able to help my son feel confident at his bar mitzva even without his suit jacket that wasn’t able to fit over his cast. I was able to take a deep breath and get my mom a cup of tea when she complained to me about where I set her up to stay. I was able to thank all the servers at the seuda as opposed to just the head waiter. I can try to be the person who reaches out to help another with a smile instead of frowning at my circumstances.
If the Satan throws things at me one after the other to try to trip me up, I can always stay a few steps ahead of him by doing little things for others and making small improvements in myself and how I interact.
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"Rabi Eliezer ben Yaakov omer…t'shuva u’ma'asim tovim ki's'ris bi'f'nay ha’pur'a'nus."
"Rabi Eliezer ben Yaakov says…repentance and good deeds are like a shield against retribution." (Perek Daled, Mishna Yud Gimmel).
This mishna is teaching us that unless repentance results in good deeds, it remains inadequate.
The question arises: why are both t'shuva and good deeds necessary to shield us from suffering? Wouldn’t either of these potent spiritual weapons suffice? Perhaps, the mishna is assuring us that even if one has violated the most serious transgression for which t'shuva alone does not atone (such as sins which bear the punishment of karais, banishment of the soul), the combined effect of repentance with good deeds will shield the individual from retribution.
We don’t know whether our mitzvos provide sufficient protection from our sins. For example, a mitzva performed grudgingly out of a sense of obligation and habit has little party. Conversely, a mitzva performed with joy, enthusiasm and with strict adherence to halacha has great power, especially if it was performed in the face of difficulty.
A poor blind man once came to the city of R’ Eliezer ben Yaakov, the speaker of this mishna, where he sat down to beg with no success. Hearing of this, R’ Eliezer ben Yaakov went to the poor man and silently sat down at his feet, and as people walked by he motioned to the poor man’s begging cup. Taking it for granted that this blind beggar was an important personage, every passerby donated a few coins. As the beggar heard the clink of the money, he asked, “What has happened that you are suddenly generous?” And he was told, “Don’t you know that you are sitting next to one of the greatest men of the generation?”
Hearing this, the blind man said to Rabi Eliezer, “You have been kind to a person who is seen but does not see. May He Who sees yet is not seen grant you His kindness for your entire life” (Yerushalmi Sh'kalim 5:4).
(Reproduced from Rav Lau on Pirkei Avos and from Pirkei Avos with Ideas and Insights of the Sfas Emes and other Chassidic Masters, with permission of the copyright holders, ArtScroll / Mesorah Publications, Ltd.)
Discussion Question Options:
How do little acts that we do for others help us in our own lives?
Does t'shuva always have to be only for a specific wrong committed, or can it be improvement of a midda?
What are some realistic ways to confront difficult circumstances that will lead us to doing good deeds and not to stagnation?
Stretch of the Week:
Work on yourself to do one extra small thing a day for someone else.