20 Tishrei 5782 / Sunday, September 26, 2021 | Torah Reading: Sukkot
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The Little Neshama That Could    

The Little Neshama That Could

Each of us has enormous power to pull fellow Jews and ourselves out of the rubble. An impossible task? No! Hashem blesses our efforts a thousand-fold!


Remember the story The Little Engine That Could? It was published in 1930 as a children’s story to teach them the value of a can-do attitude and persistence. A stranded train is unable to find an engine willing to take it over difficult terrain to its destination. Only the little engine is willing to try and, while repeating the mantra "I think I can... I think I can...", successfully accomplishes an “impossible task. 


The latest tragedy (may it be the last one) was the collapse on June 24, 2021, of the 12-story Champlain Towers South condominium building in Surfside in North Miami Beach, Florida. At the time of this writing, nearly 100 bodies have been pulled from the rubble, and additional people are missing. 


Because of the steep assessment fees needed for the critical repairs, residents failed to fix the problems in a timely manner. Finally, it happened. The consequences that  were  predicted  might happen  happened. Everyone lost their homes, many lost their lives, and all that is  left  is  millions of pounds of worthless rubble.  



Enter the Little Engine 

In the original story, two other trains pass the stranded train, but turn a deaf ear to its pleas for help. One train is too “highbrow” to help the simple train, and the second is too old and tired. “Maybe some other train can do it, but certainly not me.” 


The Miami Jews reached out to Israeli Jews for help. America lacks no resources – what could little Israel, like the little train, contribute? Unlike the stranded train that no other train would help, there was a tremendous outpouring of compassion and a desire to help. We sent the best-of-the-best - the National Rescue Unit from the IDF Home Front Command and United Hatzalah’s Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit.  


The survivors have nothing left but rubble, but they – and we – have each other. Their tragedy is a tragedy for all of us. We can all identify with Surfside. 



Left with Just Rubble 

How many neshamot (souls) are crushed by bitterness, anger, and hatred? How many  neshamot  carry the rubble of grievances, resentment, or past wrongs? 


How many neshamot have been broken by harmful relationships, whether family, business, school, marriage, or community 


How many neshamot have given up hope of ever making amends to those they’ve hurt? How many neshamot refuse to forgive someone because they’re “right”? 



Which Train are You?  

What on earth can I possibly do for such people? I’m just one person!  


Don’t be the “highbrow” train who puts distance between yourself and your fellow Jew 


Don't isolate yourself from the Jewish community because of the problems you see.  


Don’t close your heart and mind to the neshama of the other person - it is there, buried under layers and layers of rubble! And certainly, don’t hate him!  


This is way beyond me! Who am I do take on such a task? Let the Outreach professionals do it.  


Don’t be the “old, tired” train who doesn’t have energy for the long, uphill haul.  


Don’t exempt yourself from the rescue mission because a Jew doesn’t look "salvageable. 


Never give up hope from getting them out from under their inner rubble, to revive their neshama. No neshama is beyond hope, even if it seems lifeless or even anti-Jewish. 



I Think I Can... I Think I Can...  

I didn’t have to travel to Surfside to find broken neshamot.  


My upstairs neighbor has two teenage sons who had been arrested and sent to jail for several months. (Dad has been in prison for about 20 years already). When they were sent home on limited house arrest, they were permitted to leave their apartment, but not the apartment building. Consequently, they and their “friends” congregated nightly in the building lobby, right next to my apartment door. 


The lobby turned into an after-hours pub-and-smoking lounge for delinquent teens (boys and girls). The floor was littered nightly with cigarette butts, chewing tobacco, “beverages,” and fast food. The partying and carousing were horrific – and it was all happening right outside my door! I dared not leave the apartment because then the delinquents would know that the apartment was empty. In essence, the judge sentenced me to full house arrest! 


“Livid” wasn’t the word! There were times when I wanted to go to the lobby and crack skulls! I blamed the parents, the teens, and even the judge.  


Very quickly my own rubble of hatred, anger, resentment began to accumulate. If I didn’t want to be buried under my own avalanche of negative emotions, I had to completely revamp my attitude toward the teens and their mother. I needed to shift from focusing on their atrocious behavior and culpability in making my life hell to seeing the teens as neshamot in pain. Such a from-to shift in my outlook was going to be long, steep, uphill pull – like the Little Engine.  


Why was this happening to me?! It occurred to me that no one in that family would consider asking Hashem to help their children. Maybe that was why I was “chosen” to be involved with this family. Hashem wanted someone to search for  those  neshamot  in  the  rubble and pull them out. If I was pained by their situation, all the more so was Hashem pained to see His beautiful children in such  a  degraded  state! This insight spurred  me on.  


I prayed daily for the teens, their friends, and their families that Hashem should guide them to find meaning in their lives without alcohol and cigarettes to prop them up. I prayed  that  Hashem  should guide them to find their true path in life. Several times I arranged  for a Pidyon HaNefesh for the entire family. I prayed that Hashem would work miracles in their lives. 


Finally, it happened! Hashem worked a HUGE miracle - for me! Praying for them caused my feelings toward the boys to change radically. Compassion and patience replaced anger and hatred. Hashem pulled me out of my rubble!  


My heart went out to their mother who was buried under a tremendous load. I forced myself to be friendly to the teens and their friends. One time our eyes locked and I saw hidden sweetness! That sense encouraged me, and I focused on that memory whenever I encountered them thereafter. 


As with the Little Engine’s can-do attitude and persistence, the "impossible” happened. Over a two-year period of time, the boys settled down and successfully completed parole and rehab. The pub-and-smoking lounge ceased. The biggest miracle? We are all on good terms with each other! 


It took tremendous prayers for the entire family every day, over a long period of time, to pull us all out of the rubble.  


You Can, Too! 

After the Meron tragedy, Rabbi Arush has been stressing that we pray that every Jew should return in complete repentance, especially in the commandments  bein  adam  l’chavero,  between man and fellow man. He wants us to commit to 30 minutes of prayer each day. 


In Kol HaTor (on Psalms 102:14-16), the Vilna Gaon says the effort we put into any mitzvah that helps bring redemption is matched by Hashem a thousand-fold with Heavenly  assistance!  Hashem  literally  showers His help on those who pray for the Jewish   people. 


That means that each one of us has enormous power to pull our fellow Jews  (and  ourselves)  out of the rubble.  


Sign up for 30 minutes of daily prayer and be a Little Neshama that Could to the Jewish people!  


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