See the good and save a marriage
Sara and David were really struggling in their marriage. Sara, a very spiritual person, constantly felt disappointed in David’s priorities since he spent most of his days and nights involved in his business. She felt emotionally and spiritually cheated. She would often go to complain about him and the state of her marriage to her Rabbi, Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld, from Far Rockaway.
Around this time, Rav Freifeld was informed of a difficult family situation. The mother of the Schwartz family had suffered from severe bipolar illness. At one point, the father became so frustrated from dealing with her her intense mood swings, that he picked up and left the family. The house was very chaotic. A few years later, the mother became physically ill and passed away suddenly. The two children- the daughter was 16 and the son was 12- were left sadly alone; somehow, they were lost in the shuffle. Family and neighbors all tried try to look in on these children, but no one really took full responsibility for them.
Someone had come to inform Rabbi Freifeld that the son’s bar mitzvah was coming soon and nothing was organized for his bar mitzvah- no caterer, event, food, clothing, etc. Rabbi Freifeld saw this challenge as an opportunity. He called David, the husband from this difficult marriage, and asked to meet him. When David came to his office, the rabbi told him the whole story about this boy and his needing help for his bar mitzvah. David was successful financially and a kind and generous man, and immediately took out his checkbook to assist the rabbi. “How much do you need?” David asked.
“Could you do me a favor?” the Rabbi inquired. “I so appreciate your offer to help with funding, but an old Rabbi like me doesn’t know what would be a nice suit that would make the bar mitzvah boy feel good. Would you mind taking him shopping? I’m sure that you could pick out something that he would feel really happy to wear to his bar mitzvah.”
David agreed and took him shopping. Once he got involved, he didn’t stop there. He saw how much need there was, and decided to also plan and fund the entire bar mitzvah. He took it on with the same detailed precision as he did for all his business issues; choosing the menu, decorations, music and everything, to make the affair a truly beautiful and one.
David’s gift for business and details had now found a powerful outlet. Once he saw the challenge, he realized that there were other boys that could use his help. He made room in his business to hire boys that were struggling, so he can help give them opportunities to become successful.
What was truly fascinating about this story, which I heard from Rebbetzin Heller, was that in this way, the rabbi saved the marriage.
Rabbi Freifeld looked at Daniel and was able to find the part of him that is redeemable and perfect, and said: You can do something powerful. You can be his mentor. In that way, he completely transformed David -bringing out his potential and making him someone that his wife was proud to be married to.
Rabbi Freifeld could have done as many others would have done, to just counsel her to be tolerant of him. That, however, would be a denial of the inherent goodness that he had within in. Instead, he empowered David to bring out tremendous good and transformed his life.
Rebbetzin Heller shared this story when teaching “Azamra”, a foundational piece Breslov Torah. This article from Rebbe Nachman begins by explaining that its essential to judge all people favorably. He expands our typical understanding of this concept to explain that this applies even to the worst of people.
“You must search until you find some little bit of good in them. In that good place, they are not bad! If you can just find this little bit of good and judge them favorably, you really can elevate them and swing the scales of judgment in their favor. This way you can bring them back to God.…In other words you must seek out the little bit of good that is still in him. For in that place he is not a sinner….By finding some little bit of good in him and judging him favorably, you genuinely raise him from guilt to merit.”
Rebbetzin Heller gave a practical exercise to help integrate this idea: Focus on a person that you don’t like; someone that bothers you for real reasons, that gets under your skin.
Now, take some time to think of something good that this person actually did. It could even be something small. Find something absolutely true and positive that this person did. For example: Maybe someone is vulgar and dishonest, but he still gives to charity? Maybe she was mean to you, but is really kind to her mother? Search until you can find something good that the person actually did.
She then instructs that the next time you talk to that person, choose to focus on the good they actually did do. When you make a choice to hold the good that they actually have done in your mind, they will feel it and respond from a different place.
Rebbetzin Heller clarifies the assignment: We are not saying that we now believe that they are only good. Its OK if they are even mostly bad and involved in things that upset you. Also, even if you think, “he gave charity because he wanted a dinner in his honor or a tax deduction”- realize that could be true but choose to find the core of good that does exist in what the person has done.
When you choose to see goodness, the person will respond by showing you more of that goodness. Rebbetzin Heller even said that by doing this, you can get someone to do teshuva without even saying the word teshuva.
She shared a story of Rabbi Aryeh Levin, the tzaddik of Yerushalayim. that demonstrates this idea. One night he walked through the shul, past an electronics store, just after a robber had broken the show window and entered. Rabbi Levin climbed after him through the broken glass window and began to speak kindly to the man. “You know better, The Torah says not to steal”, he said with tremendous love and kindness. The robber was so shaken and touched by the love radiating from Rabbi Levin that he was brought to tears and left the store without taking anything. Rebbetzin Heller acknowledged that if she had gone to talk to the person, she probably would have been killed. Rabbi Levin, though, meant what he said and people are very emotionally sensitive. He was able to see the good of the man so deeply, that even in a robbery he was able to transform him.
In the merit of our efforts to find and see the good in others, may we merit to have siyata dishmaya, Divine assistance, to truly transform our relationships for the better.