A Tree Grows in Pittsburgh

January 23, 2014


Let’s see a show of virtual hands. Who here doesn’t want to be great?

I’m thinking that even though we can’t see who admitted to wanting it, most of us fall into one of two categories: either we’re going for greatness or we’re trying to make peace with why we aren’t.

A well-known story about Reb Zusha of Anipoli is a life lesson for all of us. Reb Zusha speaks about his arriving in Heaven and what he will say when asked why he wasn’t great like his forefather Avraham. “Because I wasn’t Avraham,” would be his simple answer. The same would be true for why he wasn’t great like Moshe, and so on. The question for which he feared he wouldn’t have an adequate answer, though, was, “why weren’t you great like Zusha?”

We are becoming a society that has an explanation for everything. When we reach Heaven, most of us will be able to articulate why we didn’t achieve our true potential– something we were predisposed to, something we either got or didn’t get when we should or shouldn’t have gotten it.

The story of Reb Zusha suggests otherwise. Instead we are advised to view every detail of our lives as “meant to be,” integral to our achieving greatness in G-d’s eyes, so to speak, as He judges our journey from beginning to end, inside and out.

As someone who wasn’t raised with Torah or Chassidus, the road back as an adult ba’alas teshuvah — a female returnee to Jewish observance, to be exact– was difficult, made even more difficult by the voice inside of me that constantly told me I would never get it right. Of course I would never get it right–one of the best arguments for Torah education that I kept hearing was how children are like trees, how a small nick in a sapling results in a crooked tree forever!

Over time and with a lot of effort and help from Above, that crooked tree called me came to love even my nicked-up trunk. Thank G-d, I now see that a crooked tree can not only bear fruit, but that its fruit may be even sweeter because of the surprise element. I never quite get used to the fact that my life has turned out this way.

(I can hear my kids: #baalteshuvahmom.)

But this is the moment to gush with gratitude. I am hoping to meet up today in New York with the shluchos of Chabad/Lubavitch, the female emissaries who, along with their husbands and families, are posted around the world with the charge to bring goodness and G-dliness into the world through the Rebbe’s teachings.

If I sound idealistic, I am. And I go to the convention because I want to become even more idealistic.

Forget about the fact that these women live in places where Torah life is challenging, places like Nepal or the Congo; they live in places where other people’s needs come before their own.

That’s what inspires me.

And nobody did it quite like Mrs. Keny Deren, a shlucha who passed away in Pittsburgh this week, a woman whose entire being was dedicated to putting the needs of others before her own. The stories of her greatness are not exaggerated, but they are frustrating for those who did not know her.

But how can I not speak of the woman whose grace so totally overwhelmed me on a perfunctory visit to her school that I knew then and there  our children would be attending Yeshiva Schools of Pittsburgh?

Like thousands of others, I owe much of my sweet fruit to her.

So, to Mrs. Deren, and to G-d for putting her in our world, and in my world, all I can say is thank you and thank You.

Now, I have to get myself to the convention so I can keep growing into the best crooked tree I can be.

1 Comment

  1. Reply


    beautiful!!!!…..and enjoy every second of the convention!

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