Inspiring Through Example
Rabbi Y. OliverThe Previous Rebbe related:
The chossid, Reb Pinchas Reitzes was childless. Reb Hillel Paritcher wanted him to divorce, but the Mitteler Rebbe did not agree. [To explain his ruling,] the Mitteler Rebbe said then that with Reb Pinchas’ davvenen [prayer], he had brought countless people to Teshuvah.What indeed is the connection between having children and inspiring Jews to Teshuvah? The Halachah says that once ten years have passed without one’s wife bearing children (G-d forbid), a man must divorce his wife (Yevamos, Mishnah 6:6), because he carries a Biblical obligation of peru urevu, which requires him to beget a male and a female child (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Ishus, 15:4).
[To illustrate this:] In Lubavitch there was a Jew named Nachum Nachumovitch, a wagon driver. He once happened to enter the house of study while Reb Pinchas Reitzes was davvenen [and observed him]. He became overcome with such excitement that he took a siddur, turned the pages and said the Avodah [the recitation of the service of the Kohanim in the Beis HaMikdash read on Yom Kippur], the Ve’al chet prayer, and prostrated to the floor. For a simple Jew, this was the highest level.
He declared that he and the animal could not be equal, and he no longer wanted to be a wagon driver. Instead, he became a beadle in a Shul.
The Mitteler Rebbe said of him: “This mass of wood is higher than the greatest gaon (genius).”
Sefer HaMa’amarim Admur HaRayatz 5711, p. 277.
Nevertheless, in this case the Mitteler Rebbe considered Reb Pinchas Reitzes’ davvenen so effective in inspiring people to Teshuvah that it was as if he had in fact begotten children—all the Jews whom he had inspired through his example. For one who has sinned is akin to one who has died, for sin casts the soul into the clutches of the negative spiritual forces called Kelipos, which are known as “a place of death and defilement, may Hashem save us” (Tanya ch. 22). Thus, one who has truly reached Teshuvah is akin to someone reborn. And this change is so powerful that it even had Halachic ramifications.
One obvious lesson here is the importance of exerting effort in davvenen. Let us strive to emulate this great chossid in his sterling example, if only to the relatively lesser extent of which we are capable.
This story also demonstrates the power of simply setting a good example. Sometimes we conceive of influencing others as requiring that we exert direct influence—teaching, encouraging, rebuking, and so on. Granted, such an approach is definitely often proper and necessary. Yet paradoxically, sometimes the most powerful impact comes from simply and genuinely acting as a dugmah chayah, a living example, without necessarily considering how one’s behavior will affect others.
The reason for this is simple. Preaching often falls on deaf ears because the preacher lacks full sincerity—“talk is cheap.” However, “actions speak louder than words”—when we observe others simply doing the right thing, and especially when they are in an environment or at an age in which such conduct is rare, we are typically more impressed and inspired than we would have been by listening to verbal exhortations to piety.