This post is dedicated in memory of Shlomo ben Aryeh Zalman. May it be an aliyah for his neshama.
Rabbi Lawrence Kelemen prefaces a lecture series on "Self Knowledge, Self Esteem and Personal Greatness" with the following, "There has never been another person like you in history, not with your intellectual profile, not with your psychological profile... not with your spiritual profile. And there will never be another like you again in history."
Does this quote send shivers down your spine? Does it open the gateway to a long forgotten section of your mind that beckons, "Enter spirit."?
When Edward Bulwer Lytton (1839) coined the term, "The pen is mightier than the sword," it inspired the public to place communication over violence as a means to an end goal.
Where have words gained a stronghold in the collective consciousness so that they remained caught, like burrs, in the annals of history?
Social justice, that's where.
There are some people whom we often recall for their prowess with words -- and the changes they wrought as a result. While some wielded their words as one does a hand grenade; others spoke with the gentleness of a gradual dawn.
There's Susan B. Anthony, an abolitionist and the founding father (just kidding: founding mother) of Modern Feminism who cried, "I distrust those people who know so well what G-d wants them to do because I notice it always coincides with their own desires." She was quite vocal about ulterior motivations and wasn't afraid to speak up. Quite the opposite of afraid, actually.
Then, there's the Rebbe of Lubavitch, Rav Menachem Mendel Schneerson, whose life's work as a Jewish leader inspired a revolution of sorts for spreading the light of Torah and mitzvot (comandments). He was known for saying, "Remember, that in a hall of perfect darkness, totally dark, that if you light one small candle, its light will be seen from afar; its precious light will be seen by everyone." His strike was gentle, yet powerful. Today, it is an ideal for followers of Lubavitch to enter public thoroughfares in an attempt to help their fellow Jews observe G-d's commandments; it is not uncommon for young men to set up kiosks in the hubbub of Manhattan or Jerusalem's Ben Yehudah Street, asking fellow Jews if they'd like to do the mitzvah (commandment) of putting on tefillin (phylacteries) or for women to stroll about, handing out Shabbat candles for lighting later in the evening on a Friday afternoon, before sunset.
Then, at the end of the line, there are those individuals who don't necessarily have speaking ability but because they care, they create change. They don't have a quote that sums them up. But, then again, they don't need one. When care is the strongest weapon a has, G-d arranges miracles on his behalf. And then he has living, breathing proof of his life's passion to make this world a better place.
There was a little known (until recently) religious Jew named Rabbi Meir Schuster, who, although introverted by nature, not predisposed to chit chat and certainly not given to organizing rallies, marches and protests of any sort, introduced and brought more Jews back to their heritage than any other outreach organization combined.
How did he do it?
He led a quiet, simple sort of existence, yet he was always a man with a vision and it was to make G-d's name more manifest in this world. One day, he, and a friend of his, met a young traveler at the Kotel (Western Wall). The young man appeared deeply moved by his experience there and Meir's friend, Chaim, asked if he'd be interested in learning about his heritage. The young man responded that he was. This encounter sparked a mission statement, one that Rav Meir spearheaded for the next four decades as he inspired thousands of Jews to come home.
He wasn't eloquent and he didn't use fancy marketing skills to snag people. He cared and that kindled a flame of resistance to rejection within him. No matter how many uninterested's he got, he kept pushing, suggesting, insisting in his quiet yet earnest manner.
"Rabbi Schuster would walk up to people and begin by engaging them with the simplest of questions; “Are you Jewish?” “Do you know what time it is?” These questions became doorways to conversations that eventually led to other questions; “Have you ever experienced a Shabbas meal?” “Would you like to meet a wise man?” And so Rabbi Schuster would meet people—first dozens, then hundreds and eventually thousands—and he would arrange for them to be hosted for a Shabbas meal, or to get their first taste of Judaism at Torah centers such as Aish HaTorah, Ohr Somayach, Neve Yerushalayim, Dvar Yerushalayim, the Diaspora Yeshiva or wherever he felt was the appropriate place for that particular young man or woman.
"For forty years, day in and day out—day after day and night after night—Rabbi Meir Schuster was a fixture at the Kotel."
What astounds me about Rabbi Meir Schuster's story isn't the success in numbers. I am most moved and inspired by how ego had nothing to do with it. He wasn't known for being a charismatic, dynamic speaker, yet he was a powerhouse of determination. The saying goes that, "לא לקלים המרוץ ולא לגבורים המלחמה - It's not the swift, necessarily, who win the race, nor the strong who conquer the war" (Ecclesiastes 9:11), but the one who desires to make G-d's will manifest. It's the one who wants to help people express longing for something they knew nothing about.
Here's a quote: he cared.
Sometimes, that's all you need.