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Friday, July 4, 2014

A Foretaste of the World to Come

This is posted as an iluy neshama for  R' Zalman Schachter

A Foretaste of the World to Come

By Debbie Shapiro

Our lives consist of a jumble of hanging strands and endless knots, somewhat like the wrong side of an intricate needlepoint. Nothing seems to make much sense until eventually, after a hundred and twenty years, we are able to see the other side and understand the picture in its entirety. Until that time, we are occasionally privileged with what can only be described as a Divine glimpse. 

More than a decade ago, when I traveled to the United States to interview students of the late Rabbi Tzvi Aryeh Rosenfeld, z"l, I was privileged to such a Divine Glimpse.

In shul on Shabbat, I met an old friend of mine, Chayala, from the "good old days" in California.

After the initial excitement of seeing each other after a separation of close to thirty-five years, we started catching up on each others' lives. I told her that I had become a writer, and that I was writing for Breslov.

"Debbie," she said, "Do you remember the book Meshivas Nefesh, Restore My Soul?"

How could I forget? That book revolutionized my life. At age sixteen  spent a Shabbat, together with the chevreh in the magnificent mountains north of San Francisco. I learned many new things that Shabbat – I had never even heard of an eiruv until, together with my friends, we built one around our small encampment. Before lighting candles we set aside stones to sit on in lieu of chairs, and later on that evening we rolled out our sleeping bags under the stars.

One of the chevreh had brought a mimeographed copy of Reb Zalman's  translation of the Breslov classic, Restore My Soul. It was the first time that Rebbe Nachman's Torah had been translated into the English language. The translation was still in manuscript form, and there were only three or four copies available in the entire world – and we were privileged to have one copy with us in our small Shabbat encampment among the towering Redwoods of Northern California!

I spent most of that Shabbat sitting next to the creek that wound its way through the Redwoods, engrossed in Rebbe Nachman's Torah. I was overwhelmed with a tremendous yearning to learn Torah; to find my path in serving Hashem. As I continued reading, I became more and more determined to change my lifestyle, to put into action the kernel of emuna that burned within me.

Restore My Soul was the culmination of two years of discovery, and the catalyst to many major changes in my life. Within less than a month of reading it, I left San Francisco to study in a religious girls' high school. Special yeshivot for baalei teshuva (as well as the term, 'baal teshuva') were unheard of in those days.

"Debbie," Chayala continued, "did you know that after you left, I published Restore My Soul? I had over a thousand copies printed. I distributed them myself."

No, I hadn't heard.

"Many people later told me that that little pamphlet changed their lives. It was all in your father's merit. He donated the paper and paid for the entire printing."

"My father donated the paper and paid for the printing?" I repeated. I wasn't sure if I had heard correctly.

My father was a child of the Depression. He had a lot of difficulty understanding his youngest daughter's obsession with spirituality. He couldn't understand why I felt such a strong need to "search for the truth." He was a hard working man who valued honesty and family, and measured the world in terms of dollars and cents. He often helped people who had fallen on hard times, but in my wildest imagination I could not picture him supporting the publication of Rebbe Nachman's Torah.

I guess there were things about my father that I didn't know.

"That's right," she answered. "When I finished typing the manuscript, I showed it to your father and asked him to donate the paper (my father owned a wholesale paper company). He donated the paper, arranged for the printing and covered the entire cost of the publishing."

Restore My Soul was the very first English translation of Rebbe Nachman's Torah -- ever. It was one of the kernels, the very beginnings, of Breslov – and of the baal teshuva movement - in the United States.  

The seeds that my father planted have come full bloom. His son-in-law and daughter are both involved with spreading Rebbe Nachman's teachings. His grandchildren and great-grandchildren are trying to live their lives according to the ideals expressed in Rebbe Nachman's Torah.

One small kernel of truth, yet it had the power to overturn worlds. One moment of generosity, of tzedaka, and such a great reward!


We know that in the future, after a hundred and twenty years,  we will be rewarded for our good deeds, yet it is rare that we are given such a Divine glimpse, a foretaste of that reward, literally a glimpse of the World to Come. 

2 comments:

  1. I just posted this on Facebook.

    ReplyDelete
  2. That's a really wild story, Debbie! Thanks for sharing this one with us.

    ReplyDelete