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Weekly Chizuk

Parashas Lech Lecha

You Believe - Or Do You?

Bitachon in Kiruv

And the souls they had made in Charan. (Bereishis 12:5)

The souls refer to those whom they had converted to faith in Hashem, for Avraham converted the men and Sarai the women. (Rashi)

The two following stories were excerpted from an article by R. Chadshai, Yated Ne'eman, 7 Av, 5754.

The Teacher's Words Gave Her No Peace of Mind

"I invested so much effort in Ilana," said one of her teachers. "Because she came from a broken home and had experienced so many difficulties in life, she was a tough nut to crack. Nevertheless, I refused to give up on her. Throughout her stay in the dormitory I remained faithfully by her side, watching over her and praying for her. Then, at the end of the 12th grade, she returned home, only to rejoin her old secular friends. For all her excellent education, she wore the same clothing they wore and seemed no different from them whatsoever.

"Over the years, I had become deeply attached to her, and it hurt me to hear what was happening. I refused to believe that she had deliberately turned her back on her heritage and that all the effort we had invested in her was in vain. I even felt some guilt, though I had done everything in my power for her, and even more. Perhaps, I thought, if I had tried just a little bit harder...

"Ten years passed, and although I would occasionally think of Ilana with a twinge of disappointment, thoughts of her gradually slipped to the back of my mind. Then, one day, I met her on the street, and she looked just like a traditional young Jewish woman should. She was pushing a stroller, and two more children were accompanying her, one on each side. She told me of the events that had unfolded in her life since high school, and the transformation which had brought her back. 'To this very day I can still hear your penetrating remarks,' Ilana told me, reminiscing about incidents that even I had forgotten. 'Even when I went back to "the other side of the tracks," your words gave me no rest. They played a very significant role in my decision to finally turn my back on the secular world and choose this truly fulfilling lifestyle.'"

Every Day Has Its Net Profit

"When I was a teenager," relates a young avreich (a married yeshivah student), "some of my friends and I utilized our vacation time to recruit non-religious children to attend Torah schools. Traveling to remote villages and development towns, we approached secular residents in their homes and tried to convince them of how important it was to send their children to yeshivah. This in itself was not easy work. Sometimes, even though we convinced the parents, the boys themselves would refuse to leave their familiar (and detrimental) surroundings.

"On the whole, however, our labors bore fruit, and we attracted a sizable number of children. The boys were accepted into various Torah institutions, and prodigious efforts were invested to inculcate them with Torah values. Although our work officially ended with the registration phase, we continued to keep tabs on 'our boys' to see how they were progressing.

"Unfortunately, we learned that a good portion of them eventually dropped out and went back to the streets. Discouraged and disappointed, we turned to one of the gedolim to ask if our efforts had been in vain. The answer he gave was quite surprising: First of all, he said, even if only one boy had changed his ways because of our work, everything had been worthwhile. Secondly, a single day spent immersed in a Torah lifestyle and acquiring Torah of 'net' value is not something to be taken lightly. Thus, although most of the boys did drop out, they had nevertheless been in a pure Torah environment for either weeks, months, or even a few years - and who could put a price tag on that! And finally, the Almighty does not measure us according to the results we produce, but according to the effort we invest - and He rewards us accordingly."

The Law of the Conservation of Spirit

One of the rules governing the physical world is the Law of the Conservation of Matter and Energy. According to this principle, matter cannot be destroyed; it can only be altered in form. Its shape, color, volume, etc. may be changed, but nothing is ever lost. If this is true regarding the physical world, it is all the more valid in the spiritual realm. Every investment of spiritual effort has an effect, and the energy is neither wasted nor destroyed. Every sacred activity makes an impression. Even though its effect may not be immediately obvious, a seed has been planted which lies dormant, and eventually it will sprout and grow and engender a change.

We sometimes invest substantial effort in an area such as chesed, kiruv, chinuch, etc., but fail to see any results. We feel as if our words and deeds were ignored and that our personal example has not made a dent on those around us. Our good intentions may even spawn opposition and resentment. As often as not, curses and abuse are the lot of those activists who try to "sell" eternal values to their wayward brothers.

In reality, however, our perception of failure is mistaken, for in truth, every word has its listener, every message has its address, and every effort invested has its fruits. One must allow for time to do its part, to transform the seed. While results may sometimes be immediately evident, they often lay latent for long periods before coming to fruition. We may see a significant change tomorrow, or perhaps only in a future generation. In the end, however, all spiritual energy generated has an impact in the spiritual world. Nothing goes to waste; rather, the results of the process may just be delayed. First Resistance, Then Acceptance

A person sometimes tries to talk to someone and convince him to take a certain step, but nothing he says seems to have any effect. The listener maintains his stubborn resistance and may even regress in the very area under discussion. His unyielding response may engender a "cease-fire" - an abatement of effort by the concerned party. Unexpectedly, it is at that precise moment that the individual will often reach a turning point. There is a very simple explanation for this phenomenon: Once the individual perceives that the "onslaught" has ended, he is able to deal with what was said in a more objective fashion. Free of pressure, and no longer facing an immediate threat to his pride and self-esteem, he will be able to think things through, take stock of himself, and arrive at the desired conclusion.

This was exactly what occurred with Avraham's father, Terach. According to the Midrash, Terach repented shortly before he died, after Avraham had left Charan. The obvious question is, why didn't he do so sooner, while Avraham was living in his house? Avraham was the most successful outreach worker in history, who convinced untold numbers of people that there is one God in the world. Why, then, couldn't he successfully influence his own father? The commentators tell us that he unquestionably tried, but met with stiff resistance. However, after Avraham was commanded to leave his family and his birthplace, Terach began reflecting upon everything his son had preached until then, and ultimately he saw the truth.

Providing a respite after an initial barrage of arguments can be crucial in combating opposition. With the pressure reduced, a person can engage in logical thinking and quiet reflection. Whoever has employed this technique can testify to its effectiveness in even the most resistant cases.

A Good Deed Cannot Be Measured in Immediate Results

We often judge our success in effecting change in terms of continuity and endurance, feeling that if results are short-lived, we have failed. The yetzer ha-ra seduces us into thinking that "all or nothing" is the only measure of success, and if we do not see permanent effects, we should abandon our efforts. This, however, is an erroneous notion, for even transitory results are pure profit.

It is important to realize that every act of goodness, small as it may be, is of infinite value, and that its reward cannot be measured in worldly terms. Hashem keeps track of every good deed and nothing is ever ignored or lost. Moreover, not only does our every action make a lasting impression in the Heavenly spheres, it does so in this world as well. This attitude is very encouraging since it both relates to present circumstances and serves as a springboard for the future. Parents in particular would do well to keep such a long-range perspective in mind. It is very easy to despair when faced with the daily ups and downs of raising children, especially when facing a particularly recalcitrant child.

Another group that stands to benefit from such an outlook is outreach workers. People who organize kiruv seminars for potential ba'alei teshuvah are understandably interested in achieving impressive results. When successful returns on such a spiritual "investment" are not immediately forthcoming, it is easy for a person to become discouraged.

However, the fact is that the number of participants who immediately profess to accept what they hear and exchange their secular lifestyle for one of Torah values is generally quite small. It is vital to realize that, in the majority of cases, results will only be apparent over the long term. A seminar can plant a seed, but a seed often takes an extended period of time to germinate. At some point in the future, those few days will certainly bear fruit. Although change may not be detectable immediately, the effort invested has definite value. According to the Law of the Conservation of Spiritual Energy, it eventually must have an impact, for nothing goes to waste.

Let us recall the words of the gadol to the yeshivah students who had worked so hard to register children from non-religious families in Torah schools: every achievement, no matter how temporary or limited, has value. No spiritual influence goes to waste. If the proper effort was invested, we have done our duty and are not responsible for what follows. Reward is not necessarily measured by results.

How reassuring are those words! Knowing that every good deed makes a deep impression, and that apparent poor results do not reflect on the quality of the effort, should spur us on to maximize our efforts. We must toil according to our capabilities, for we will be rewarded for our efforts alone. There is no room for despair. Indeed, though we are not obligated to complete the task, neither are we absolved from doing our very best (cf. Pirkei Avos 2:16). Even if the sowing is done "with tears," the harvest will eventually be plentiful.

Wishing everyone a Gut Shabbos!

Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
4 Panim Meirot, Jerusalem 94423 Israel
Tel: 732-858-1257
Rabbi Parkoff is author of "Chizuk!" and "Trust Me!" (Feldheim Publishers), and "Mission Possible!" (Israel Book Shop Lakewood).
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