I think it's really appropriate before Yom Kippur so that we all realize the power of a Jewish neshama, and the fact that it is never too late to do teshuva.
Even if a person hit "rock bottom," the only place to go is UP.
HaShem is the most merciful judge in the world. Even if we were repeated offenders, He gives us countless chances to try again. And again. And again. Until we get it right.
Even when a person is 90 years old and still hasn't found the sense to do teshuva, HaShem STILL gives him life so that he can do teshuva again!
Tell me that's not awesome.
No way it can't give you chills.
Ok, now here's the story:
Rabbi Wallerstein teaches in a school where there are many traditional & not-yet-frum boys. He had a student who invited Rabbi Wallerstein, years later, to his wedding. It was a mixed wedding, but the first dance was the "Rabbis dance", so it would be separate dancing, and Rabbi Wallerstein stayed for that.
While waiting for the dance to start, Rabbi Wallerstein was sitting at the same table as the chatan's brother, Jeff. The Rabbi had not seen Jeff in years, and he saw that Jeff had his non-Jewish girlfriend sitting on his lap. He smiled at Rabbi Wallerstein, clearly conscious of this rebellious behavior.
Rabbi Wallerstein went up to Jeff and said "come, let's go dance together." Once Jeff was away from his girlfriend, Rabbi Wallerstein whispered into his right ear "you should know, I was once your Rebbe, and I'm still your Rebbe, and I love you. Nothing is going to change that...no non-Jewish girlfriend or lack of observance." Then the Rabbi whispered into Jeff's other ear: "but I want you to know, you're going to hell."
They danced together, and Jeff shared with Rabbi Wallerstein that he was now a fervent Buddhist. Rabbi Wallerstein invited Jeff to come to his shiur to speak about Buddhism, and long story short: Jeff's neshama tasted the emet of Judaism and he began his teshuva journey.
Rabbi Wallerstein helped Jeff go to yeshiva in Eretz Yisrael. After studying in yeshiva for a few years, Jeff decided it was time to enter shidduchim and find his soulmate.
He was very nervous to date because, you see, he had tattoos. And not just tattoos. But tattoos of Buddha/avoda zara. And not just a few...but many, all over his body - all the way up until his neck. So he would wear high cut shirts to hide those tattoos. But he was terrified that no frum girl would want to marry him with such tattoos. Rabbi Wallerstein gave him chizzuk to start dating and approach this subject when it was relevant.
Well, Jeff met an awesome girl with much Yirat Shamayim. After a few dates, he was sure he wanted to marry her but was nervous that after hearing about his tattoos, she wouldn't want to marry him. He shared his fears with Rabbi Wallerstein, who told Jeff "you have to tell her."
The fateful day arrived, and Jeff's heart was full of tension and panic. How would this wonderful bat yisrael, whom he wanted to spend the rest of his life with and build a beautiful Jewish home with, react to his news? Would she break up with him on the spot? Would she judge him?
During their date, Jeff was overcome with emotion and told this girl "listen, I have to tell you something."
"I have tattoos."
She was silent. He continued.
"And not just a few tattoos...but I have them all over my body. Until my neck. And well...they're not just tattoos. They're tattoos of avoda zara. And I have a big Buddha on my body as well."
There. He revealed his secret. His skeletons. His biggest fear. Now how would she react?
The silence was deafening.
And finally, she spoke up.
"None of that matters to me," she said. "What matters is that you have the letters of HaShem's Name tattooed onto your neshama."
BH they got married. And now they're living in Israel and have a beautiful family.
Wow. What an amazing story.
First of all, the potential of this Jewish neshama. This man, who went from being a non-practicing Jew, and not just a non-practicing Jew, but a Jew dating a goy. And not just dating a goy, but also a Buddhist who was anti-Judaism became a frum man living in Eretz Yisrael.
Second of all, the power of this woman. Who was able to look past all of the external. Who was able to get over the past and look into a better future. She saw straight to this man's neshama and expressed herself to him in a manner that was loving, understanding, positive, and confidence-building.
What I took from this story was that so many times we can get caught up. Caught up in the external. Caught up in the gashmiut. Caught up in OUR past. Caught up in other people's pasts. What this person did to you, what that person did, etc.
But HaShem forgives us whenever we do teshuva. He literally waits for YEARS after we hurt Him day after day and forgives us instantly.
If HaShem can forgive any person, then we also need to. We also need to find the chessed from within and not live in the past.
Don't let your past averot stop you from the person you can become.
It reminds me of a wonderful quote I once saw that said something like "be willing to sacrifice the person you are for the person you can become."
(I might've posted the exact quote on the blog before).
Chazal teach us that Jews have NO yetzer hara on Yom Kippur, and we are compared to Melachim. That means that any averot or wrong actions that we do on Yom Kippur are only due to habit.
Habit can not allow us to withhold our potential.
Yom Kippur is the time to grab your goals and already START doing them. Want to start learning? Don't wait until after Yom Kippur. Start ON Yom Kippur.
Want to start dressing more modestly? Start ON Yom Kippur.
May we all be zochim to enact all of goals, and may we achieve true closeness to HaShem.
Remember that HaShem loves you and is rooting for you!!
Wishing everyone a Gmar Chatima v'Ktiva Tova!