By Yochanan Gordon
Being God’s people, we are often attracted to stories of positivity and depth we can use to maintain our strength in the craziness we encounter. Occasionally we come across a story so inspiring that it compels us to share it with as many people as possible — hence my decision to reprint it, with permission, here.
Woodmere native Rabbi Shmuel Braun and his wife Bailey live in Teaneck, New Jersey where they teach chassidus. Rabbi Braun lectures weekly as the rav of the newly formed Congregation Lev La’daas. He disseminates daily voice notes through WhatsApp as well as podcasts, accessible on iTunes and SoundCloud. The pieces range four- to nine-minutes long and explore the depth within a simple chassidic folktale, parallels between some of the most profound chassidic teachings and similar ideas in contemporary philosophy and poetry and anything in betwen. It was on one of this week’s voice notes that I heard the following story.
Rebbetzin Bailey Braun is the dean of students at the Maayanot Yeshiva High School for girls. She also teaches a class in chassidus to the tenth grade. At the beginning of this class, each girl was handed a notebook with a teaching of a chassidic rebbe on the opening page. Inside they have been encouraged to take notes on the lessons, ask questions, or reflect upon the ways in which the subject matter pertains to their own life. It was in this context that a student penned what is a deeply moving personal reflection on the impact that chassidus has had on her life in the few weeks that she has been learning it.
The letter contains this young woman’s reflections on chitzoniyus and penimiyus, or externality and internality as it pertains to the body and the soul and the correct way towards coming to love each Jew like ourselves despite our external distinctiveness. Rabbi Moshe Weinberger of Congregation Aish Kodesh in Woodmere, who is Rabbi Braun’s longtime mentor and mashpia, read the young woman’s letter during his derasha on Shabbos.
She writes: “Dear Hashem, I learned in class that you show yourself in everything. You are right there, next to me, all the time. You are always seeing me, knowing me and understanding me. I just have to open my eyes a little more and then this relationship will be mutual. However much energy I’m putting into seeing you, I have to put in a little more and never stop trying to understand you. It makes me feel important to know that you reflect yourself through me; but it also makes me realize that every single person is also a reflection of you, which makes every person special and amazing.
I need to learn to see past the fake, ugly, outer layer of people and see the real them that you are a part of. The part of them that emulates your qualities; the part that makes them amazing people no matter how bad they seem. I’m really going to try hard to see you more in myself, in others and in everything around me. Love, a girl who is trying to open her eyes more.”
Rabbi Braun ended his voice note with the following reflection: “Praiseworthy is a generation that with everything that we’ve been through, and through everything that is going on, we still have holy Jewish souls that could write such letters to God.”
I would like to conclude by saying that it is incumbent upon each of us to internalize the things we learn the way this young woman has, and to learn to reflect on God’s presence in our lives. We pray that God will have mercy on us and shine his countenance upon us, and we will suddenly be overcome by a great light of clarity with the final redemption for evermore.