On Pesach, we Jews merited, Baruch Hashem, to say “dayenu.” We individuals can say the same. A case in point, in my lifetime of gratitude opportunities, is the wonderful first teachers with whom I had been Blessed.
In 1998, our youngest child, following a gestation full of prayers and hardships (sixteen emergency trips to hospitals and other assorted “challenges” were among our tests of faith), joined us here, on Olim HaZeh. Whereas one can not bargain with Ribono Shel Olam, one can make requests and one can make promises.
I promised, in thanks, after my child was born, b’ayin tov, alive and healthy (two distinct nasim), that we would give him an upsheren and that we would get him to a yeshiva. I had no idea what I was promising, only that my family had been granted great rachmunus, that I wanted to express my appreciation to The Boss, and that acting in a “religious” manner, as my limited understanding defined that concept, might count as a pittance of actualized indebtedness.
Keep in mind, Der Eybershter has plans to which none of us are privy. He Sees the entire painting whereas, if sagacious, we might perceive one of the smaller splotches. One fraction of a dot of a tiny area of that pigmentation, which constitutes the life of Mishpacha Greenberg, was Hashem linking us to a Rav associated with an individualized learning situation long before our miracle baby was born.
More specifically, the Source of Cosmic Compassion put my family in touch with a tolerant, “local orthodox rabbi.” We sought such a guide because the religious leaders, whom we already knew, were not giving us words that hit us in our deepest places. Matters of life and death call for reaching simultaneously into the lowest points and toward the greatest heights.
That today my family consists of Torah Jews testifies to the many bridges that our newfound Rav and his rebbetzin built for us. At the time, their reluctance to cast judgment and their authentically offered shepherding enabled us to change our kitchen, to upgrade our manner of praying (we ultimately joined their congregation), and to begin to explore the sorts of Torah education that were regionally available for our children. In addition, that rabbi and rebbetzin helped our family connect with an adult learning program.
My first partner was a young, Bas Yaakov assistant teacher, who harkened from Lakewood. Weekly, we met face-to-face. She and a few of her young friends schlepped from their community to central New Jersey, where our new rabbi’s congregation was growing.
With that wonderful young lady, I rehearsed the rudiments of being observant. I learned about covering my hair, about giving shaliach manot on Purim and about not singing in front of men or reaching beyond the mahitza to kiss the Torah. My partner illuminated, for me, how to live frum.
Today, B”H, that lovely lady’s husband learns in kollel and her children learn in chederim. Her first adult student, me, learns in Jerusalem.
After the young lady, I was partnered with a grandmom. My questions about Taharet Hamishpacha and about similar subjects were awkward for my initial instructor, who, at the time, was single woman just out of seminary. Although, sometimes, I spoke with that twenty-something’s mother, a pleasant and knowledgeable woman, about such matters, her mom’s calendar was already filled with regular, community-based chesed commitments and as such made her mom an unlikely candidate to help my continued growth. I needed to find an escort whose demographics more closely matched mine, who had some time, and who participated in the same learning program as I did.
With my first partner’s approval, I switched to a middle-aged study partner from Boro Park. At least weekly, over the phone, my second teacher and I explored likely paths for me to take in my pursuit of becoming a more observant midlife mother and wife. With her, I learned about shalom bayit and about working with yeshiva and day school teachers to insure that my children’s education suited my children.
That second partner brought me to my first Agudah convention. She included my family at her family’s sma’achot. I met her generations.
She was as successful as was my first partner at bringing me to a new madregah. My husband and I, with our newfound local orthodox rabbi’s blessings, moved from our secular community to a frum one. Our children enrolled in religious schools. My husband and I devoted ourselves to a life of Torah and mitzvot.
Shortly thereafter, with my second partner’s okay, I took on yet a newer partner, a local woman with whom I could sit, chair to chair, to learn the parashas ha''shavuah.
Like my teachers who preceded her, that wonderful friend elevated me to new levels of understanding. She also taught me how to make a delicious fruit soup and how to make any visitor to my home feel important.
My family would not have gotten so far along the Torah path and would not have progressed so quickly if we had not been gifted with the generosity of our early teachers. My experiences in this regard make it easy for me to understand why we Jews give kavod to all of our educators and not just to the ones who walk us through intermediate or advanced learning. Without primary resources, it would be impossible to approach further enrichments.
A few years passed, after which Hashem brought my family to Israel. His Kindnesses are unending. There are no express elevators to becoming baalei t''shuvah; there are only stairs, per se, to take us upward.
Individualized learning was a profound step for us. While it would have been enough if our baby had been born alive, while it would have been enough if our baby had also been born healthy, while it would have been enough had Hashem revealed to us the value of an observant life, and while it would have been enough had Hashem arranged for us to meet a wise, local orthodox rabbi, Generously, Hashem also Gave us people with whom to learn His Torah. Dayenu!
Please write in to share your own experiences of the universe’s bounty. Stay tuned, as well for the rest of this Grateful to be a Yid miniseries; “Self-Improvement,” “Dropouts,” and “Neither Location nor Hashgafa.”