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JUST ONE MITZVA CAN CHANGE A LIFE

Rabbi Stewart WeissKislev 11 5778
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In our Sedra, Yakov finally confronts his twin brother Esav. Yakov is scared, even terrified: "Vayira Yakov m’od, vayetzer lo." Why the use of a double phraseology? What is worrying Yakov so much that he literally trembles?

Rashi says Yakov was afraid that either he would be killed, or be forced to kill his brother. Another suggestion is that Yakov's fear stemmed from the fact that Esav had 2 great merits going for him: He did not leave Eretz Yisrael, while Yakov did; & he excelled in the Mitzva of Kibud Av V’Aym, which Yakov was unable to do during his 36 years apart from his father Yitzchak.

But wait a second: Didn’t Yakov have an abundance of Mitzvot & merits himself that would far outweigh those of Esav, & surely serve to protect him in his hour of need?!

Perhaps the intent here is to emphasize that one can never underestimate the awesome power of any single Mitzva, particularly those as pervasive as living in Israel & honoring parents. And so I would like to share with you a
true & amazing story that is the ultimate proof of this.

Several weeks ago, I ran into a couple we know, & they remarked that they had just come back from the Bar Mitzva of their grandson in New York, in honor of which the family had commissioned a Sefer Torah. "We have warm regards for you," they said, "from someone we met who told us that today, he is a religious Jew only because of you."

Now, this is not something I hear every day! I quickly asked for his name, but they didn’t remember, so I handed them my phone to call their son in New York, & he told me the name. When I heard it, my mind immediately flashed back 40 years to a vivid and exceptional memory.

I was the NCSY (National Conference of Synagogue Youth) youth director in Dallas, & one day our group's president came running into my office. "You won’t believe this," she said excitedly, "but I just passed by the public school & saw a boy wearing a kipa!" Now, this may occur periodically in Israel or even New York, but it certainly doesn’t happen very often - if ever - in Dallas, Texas, where a child attending the state public school wears a kipa. So we jumped in the car, drove to the school & found the young boy. He told us that he had once read in a book that Jews cover their heads as a reminder that G-d is always above us. He asked his parents if he was Jewish, and they said of course he was. He then insisted that his parents buy him a kipa. They did, reluctantly, assuming that he would wear it only on Jewish holidays, but he insisted on wearing it everywhere, all the time. They tried to dissuade him from wearing it at school, but he would simply not be moved. Despite the strange looks & taunts he endured from the other kids, he wore that kipa every single day. And that is how we came to notice him.

Well, in short, we brought that boy into our NCSY group, took him to Shabbatonim and introduced him to observant Judaism. Eventually, we convinced his parents to enroll him in a Jewish day school, where he excelled, & then he moved on to Yeshiva. I left Dallas for Israel soon after that, and that was the last I heard about him. Until now.

"How did you happen to meet him?" I asked our friends. They shot me a puzzled look. "Meet him?!" they said. "He was the Sofer who wrote the Torah that we dedicated!"

The power of just one - seemingly small - Mitzva, the act of putting a kipa on your head and then keeping it there. It was enough to change a life - which then went on to change so many more lives.

Now I think about it every time I have an opportunity to do a Mitzva - large or "small."
Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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