The following anecdote is true, despite the fact that it may sound a bit strange at first. (Some identifying details have been altered.)
A few bachurim were sitting together with their rebbeim at the close of Yom Tov. One of them posed the following dilemma: “Rebbi, we’re supposed to become uplifted and grow from going through a Yom Tov. But I don’t know. For me, when Pesach is over I just feel like going to get a slice of pizza. After Sukkos, I just want to find some fun things to do until the beginning of the next zman. And I don’t feel particularly different after Shavuos, either!” The looks on the faces of the other bachurim conveyed the sense of “Wow, am I glad that you had the guts to say that!”
After a brief pause, the bachur continued. “But there is one thing I’d like to share that happened. It was a regular Yom Tov meal like any other, when all of a sudden someone randomly popped the following question: ‘What would you do if you found out that you are not Jewish?’ One of the guests at the meal — I think she was a baalas teshuvah or a giyores, I’m not sure — said, ‘I would kill myself because life would have no meaning.’ I really got chizuk from that.”
Ad kan the maaseh.
Now, when I heard this maaseh (and I heard it directly from that bachur, so it is legit), I was stuck somewhere between befuddlement and bewilderment. I just could not make heads or tails of it. Here this bachur is lamenting how he does not feel like he walks away from a Yom Tov with any lasting inspiration, and yet he somehow gets chizuk from the fact that some girl said she would terminate her life if she found out she was not Jewish (which in itself sounded so strange, because why wouldn’t she just go be misgayer — but I guess that’s a question for a different time). Go figure!
Well, the bachur didn’t strike me as a nitwit. Not in the slightest. So I mulled this over for quite some time to try to figure out what could possibly have been the reason for why he got chizuk from this girl saying she would not want to continue living were she to find out that she was not Jewish, and what that could possibly have to do with getting inspired from going through a Yom Tov, or lack thereof.
Here’s what I came up with. Feel free to argue, but this is what makes sense to me.
It isn’t what the girl said per se as much as that the bachur himself had an epiphany. As a result of what that girl said, a lightbulb suddenly illumined in his head. When that girl said what she said with such straightforward simplicity and earnestness, something clicked in that bachur’s mind. He got a flash of understanding and insight into how important it is to really want to be a Yid and keep Torah and mitzvos, to really be connected with what you are doing as an observant Jew.
Now, from a rational point of view, that insight could have theoretically made him feel even worse about himself, seeing that he generally finds himself wholly uninspired at the close of a Yom Tov. So why did it have the opposite effect? How did it give him chizuk?
The answer is, I think, because he felt that he got something. He had a flash of insight that stayed with him. It took hold and stuck in his heart and mind. He felt a sense of kinyan, of really getting something. The fact that it happened during a Yom Tov meal made him feel that this spiritual acquisition was somehow an emanation of the spiritual power of Yom Tov. It most probably was. In other words, he experienced an uplift from Yom Tov, albeit indirectly so.
What we see, then, is that any little something that you can take out of a Yom Tov — even if it does not necessarily seem to be directly related thereto — can provide you with that sense of boost and uplift. That is the concrete spiritual acquisition with which you will walk away from the Yom Tov.
And we all have these. It is inevitable. A story you heard. A great vort. Perhaps a really geshmakeh zemer that you sang with family or friends (or even by yourself). Maybe you found one of the tefillos over the course of the chag particularly moving. It could even be something as simple, yet no less exquisitely beautiful, as a cherished moment with your children. You see, inevitably we all have those “gevaldig” moments at some point over the course of the entire chag. Some people have many of them, some less. But everyone for sure has at least one. And it is that high point — in whatever form it manifests — that you can take away as your tangible uplift from the Yom Tov. Make a point to mentally take note of these moments and store them in your “hard drive.”
Perhaps you’ll even consider physically taking note of them after Yom Tov is over. That way you’ll never forget them. And later, you can look back and remember, “Yes, Pesach of 5775 I heard that moving story on the second day of Yom Tov… Sukkos of 5774 was the time I noticed that incredible sparkle in little Shimmy’s eyes when he was dancing with his pretend sefer Torah… During Chanukah of 5773 someone told me this vort that was just so incredible…”
By focusing in on and appreciating and valuing our “small” spiritual acquisitions, we can walk away from a Yom Tov feeling that we have indeed moved up a notch. We are inspired and have been uplifted in a way that will stay with us forever.
Rabbi Yehoshua Berman is Rosh Kollel, Kollel Reshet HaDaf in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel.