The following story was related by the rabbi of a large and prominent congregation. He remarked that one does not realize the power of one’s words and their effect on others, and often even a small and innocent comment can generate shockwaves and repercussions that last for days, months – even generations to come.
On a typical weekday afternoon, the congregants would gather to daven Minchah, listen to a short d’var Torah from the Rav, and then daven Maariv before retiring to their homes. It was one such afternoon in the early days of winter, and the rabbi began his prepared remarks with an excited outburst. “Rabbosai, the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh tells us something amazing in the area of human emotions. The Torah writes that after Yosef was torn away from his family and sold off to slavery by an unknown entity, Yaakov Avinu was shown his unique coat of many colors splashed with the blood of a goat. Immediately assuming it was the blood of his child, and that his precious son Yosef was dead, he wailed and mourned inconsolably for many days.
The Ohr HaChaim explains that the rest of Yosef’s children were unsure how to respond. Why should their father act so inconsolably over one son, when he had so many other sons, daughters, and grandchildren still alive? It was then that they realized that the secret to “cheering up” their father was to surround him with all of his “assets” – his wealth of sons and grandsons, the beauty and grandeur of their large family, the endless nachas and happiness that they hoped would – and in fact did – bring to their patriarch Yaakov; this was what would cheer him up and console him over the loss of a single son. Alas, it was not to be, for although Yaakov loved all of his children, the loss of his most beloved Yosef was a dagger to his heart, and he felt the grievous hurt and pain for many years to come.”
The rabbi looked thoughtfully at his congregation and said, “The thought occurred to me that this reaction is very much in line with the way the Almighty reacts when one of His children is lost to Him. When a single Jew turns away from the path of Torah and acts as if he is “dead” to his G-d, he does not realize how “inconsolable” HaKadosh Baruch Hu is over the loss. He mourns for the length of days – not just for a single soul – but for all the future souls that were to come out from him. It is then up to us – His remaining children – to band together and surround Him, to strengthen ourselves in Torah and redouble our efforts in mitzvah observance, so as to ease His suffering. By showing Him that we will bring Him nachas, joy, and a firm commitment to Torah, Hashem will be comforted. And yet, just as Yaakov refused to be consoled over Yosef, Hashem is still in pain over the loss of each and every soul – that is how much each individual Jew means to Him!”
It wasn’t until the following day that the rabbi realized the effects of his words. A man who had grown up in the community, but had long ago strayed from the path of Torah and religious observance, came to visit the rabbi in his home. He was wearing a kippah and carried a siddur in his hands – two things he had not been seen doing for many, many years.
The rabbi was surprised at the sight of this man – and even more so when he began to explain. “Dear Rabbi, I have not seen the inside of a synagogue in so many years that I almost forgot what it looked like. However, yesterday, for the first time in decades, I decided to honor the memory of my deceased father and say the Kaddish prayer for him by the afternoon prayers. I don’t know why, and I cannot explain it – but something drew me into the synagogue yesterday, when I heard your little speech about the importance of every Jewish soul in the eyes of the Almighty.”
The man had tears in his eyes as his emotions got the better of him. “I never looked at it quite the way you put it yesterday. I believed that since I turned away from G-d, He would want to have nothing more to do with me. But after a night of soul-searching, I recognized that you were right and I was wrong! I now know that I, too, am precious in the eyes of Hashem, and as such, I want to start showing Him why He was right for not giving up on me!”
The man became a sincere baal t’shuvah and is now – and for all time – a great source of pride and nachas to his Father up in Heaven.