“It is greater to serve the wise than to study with them,” teaches the Talmud. I often find myself sharing stories of my grandfather, father, and Uncle Noach, with those willing to listen. The tales all offer the most unbelievable life lessons that touch the heart in a way that no lecture possibly could. I am grateful for having witnessed so many heroic stories, but I wonder, why must we look to these great people for stories of heroism? I see them all around me.
I just returned from a Shiva visit at which I heard powerful stories of human dignity and commitment. The deceased was not a rabbi or a scholar. He was a hero of plain simple goodness, and his life lessons are reflected in his children and grandchildren. His daughter is a remarkable wife, mother, human being and Jew. His son-in-law, my dentist, is one of the most beautiful human beings I have ever met. The hero successfully raised other heroes, and they, in turn, are raising children who reflect the best qualities of their parents and grandparents.
R is one of my best friends. He is not a Torah sage; in fact he is not Jewish. But he is a true super-hero. One day a very ill woman knocked on his door. It was a woman who had abandoned him years before. She was dying of cancer, had at most six months to live, and she had no money, food or bed. R took her in and created a beautiful environment for her in his home. He helped her reconnect with her children, and he added almost two years to her life. R is a hero and we can learn much from his story.
People often express envy over all my stories of the great rabbis with whom I lived and studied. I keep on telling them that we do not have to live with great rabbis and sages to witness stories of heroism. We must be Clark Kent before we can become Superman. Rebecca lived with Laban, one of the most evil people in the bible. The verse goes out of its way to tell us that she always remembered the strength she learned from her wicked brother. We remember him at most Jewish weddings and quote his farewell blessing to his sister: “Our sister, may you come to be thousands of myriads,” is softly whispered by the groom to his bride at the badeken.
The Foundation Stone™ recently began a project to honor great people of the past on the anniversary of their death by sharing their stories and teachings. The research has connected me to the stories of our history. I realized that when we study Torah and strive to imbue our service of God with meaning that we are becoming part of this long and great story of human achievement and striving. All those heroes are part of our story. All of us connect with them as long as we remember that there are heroes and their stories all around us today, here, in the people we know but often take for granted. Most of all, we can often find glimpses of the heroic in the mirror. Take a look. You’ll be surprised!
Rabbi Simcha L. Weinberg