Monday, May 3, 2010

Small deeds, big rewards.

My wife and I had a newly-wed couple over as guests for the Friday night meal this past Shabbos. We knew the husband, who had grown up in my wife's neighborhood and went to the same shul as my father-in-law; and older bachur, this man just got married at age 32. His wife is a convert from the Philippines, and while we were at shul, she and my wife were shmoozing, and the conversation came around to the subject of why she converted.
The story she told my wife is beautiful, and I believe that we have an obligation to spread the story around, for the valuable lessons inherent in it.

She grew up in a very religious Catholic home, where the catechism of the Trinity confused her greatly. One elder told her to "Pray to the Father", another told her "Pray to the Son", and yet another told her to "pray to the Holy Ghost". She was in dire straits, because she really wanted to pray - but she didn't know who she should pray to!

Realizing that the faith she had been brought up with didn't have the answers she sought, she began looking into other religions that were prevalent in her country. Islam had no sway over her; Buddhism didn't interest her at all...
She felt lost, and the constant pressure from her peers and family - who were convinced she had "the Devil" in her - began to feel overwhelming. As soon as she was able to move, after graduating from school, she headed for the United States.

What a culture shock! The relative reservedness of the Philippines left her unprepared for what she encountered after moving to Bayonne, New Jersey. Suddenly, random people would stop her on the street and begin conversing with her; strange men would make advances, attempting to get her phone number, take her out for a coffee, and the like. The freedom, the provocatively loose atmosphere seemed to saturate everything American, and it took serious adjustment.

One hot day, she was walking back to her apartment. On the way, she passed a young man dressed very strangely: he was wearing a black jacket and hat, and he had these funny strings hanging out of his pants. As the passed each other, she expected him - like so many other men in the past - to stop her, or get a good look at her in her very revealing clothes. To her astonishment, he averted his eyes, looking down to the ground as he hurriedly passed her.

She couldn't believe it! To be sure, she turned around to see if he would maybe turn back after they had passed each other and sneak a peek, but as far as she could tell, he kept going on his way without stopping.

In a place where everyone is looking to satisfy their urges, could such a thing be possible? Who was that boy? Upon returning to her apartment, her roommate informed her that the boy she had seen on the street was a Jew. Until that point, she had never seen a Jew, didn't know what a Jew was or looked like, knew nothing about Jews at all.

What she did know was that she would have to find out more about these "Jews" and their intriguing ways.

She began to ask around, and meet with Jewish folks and amass as much information as possible. What she discovered was a world of dedication, integrity, sincerity, and consistent commitment. She was hooked, and she began the long arduous process to convert to Judaism. Now, thank God, she is married, and beginning to build a Jewish home in the wonderful tradition of her adoptive forebears.
We simply do not appreciate the impact the slightest gesture, the smallest action, can make. I have no doubt that this Yeshiva boy does not know what he did, what an impression he made. And yet, when he gets "up there" (after 120, God willing), he is going to be presented with the myriads of z'chusim (merits) that will come about from every commandment and good deed faithfully fulfilled by this woman and her family, and he will receive credit for each one!

One act of shmiras einayim (guarding the eyes) led a woman searching for God in the right direction. How many times are we presented with choices on how to behave, and we have no idea who is watching? It's a very important lesson for all of us to internalize, and may we all act properly at all times, whether or not anyone is watching!


Anonymous said...

Beautiful story, thanks for sharing. One concern, maybe it is unwise to overlook the significance of comfortably abandoning one's local religion because of 'unanswered' questions. I understand that in the end of they day the result in this case may have been a positive one, but seeing as the same motivation causes an unfortunate amount of people to abandon our religion too, that point may be more than the beginning of a happy ending..just a thought

Shmuel said...

That's a good point you're making, but I don't know how nonchalant it was for her. I cannot imagine that it was easy for her to just 'comfortably abandon' her religion; most likely there were many heartbreaking moments and difficulties.
I know that her family cut her off; I also know that she was on the receiving end of some real negativity in her home country...