By Leah Bleiberg
PROMPT—I am grateful for ...
To this day, I'm not sure what possessed me to answer the dentist the way I did. I think it was the feisty part of me that was getting tired of the constant teasing. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
You see, the endodontist (gum specialist) was quite clear about his prognosis. If I didn't do something, I was at risk of losing teeth. He explained that with age (thanks!), teeth can loosen slightly and the more they do, the more likely it is they will fall out. (Yikes!) A trusted suggestion led me to an expert dentist located in Manhattan who although Jewish like myself, was not at all observant as I am. Being a bit of a comedian, he liked to tease me about my Orthodox religious beliefs, but I thought I should take his remarks good-naturedly, since he was the one performing major dental work in my mouth!
One day, as I walked in, he asked me the usual, "How are you?" and something made me answer, "Living the good life, Stuart, living the good life" with a big smile in my heart. I think he got my drift. But what did that mean, exactly? I mean, here I was, divorced, raising six kids on my own (yes, I said "six") and struggling with finances, child-rearing, and trying to date with the hope of getting re-married (although the pool of men who will even consider meeting a woman with six kids is minimal, to say the least).
And yet, I sincerely meant what I said. Not having been raised in an Orthodox home, I became what is referred to as a ba'al tshuva when I was in my early 20's. Now that's a hard expression to define. Literally, it means a "master of repentance" and is used to refer to those who, not having had a traditional Jewish upbringing, decided to "come back" to an observant lifestyle as adults. The term used to bother me a lot. I didn't leave and come back; I never left because I never knew about all this stuff. I thought a much more appropriate term was one I learned in my classes which is "tinok shenishba." That phrase means someone who was captured as an infant and therefore never knew about his/her heritage.
Nevertheless, while the latter term indicates that someone is not held responsible for what he/she could not have known as a captive, the former is the one that indicates a willingness to "return" to what each Jewish soul promised when it stood at Mt. Sinai and accepted the Torah upon the Exodus from Egypt which we celebrate at Passover. Yes, as a matter of fact, beside the at least three million actual people who received the Torah en masse after crossing safely thru the Red Sea, every Jewish soul that would ever be born joined in that acceptance, albeit spiritually. That's where the idea of "return" stems from.
I looked at Stuart: super successful career, divorced but without children, living at the height of what a luxurious material life can offer, and realized that what I have spiritually (read: eternally!) is a much better option, so my brain popped out that answer—Living the Good Life—and I meant it. Yes, I was struggling in many arenas of life, but I had my connection with the Al-mighty and it felt great that I know that He knows I am someone who wants to have a relationship with Him. I guess He was listening and knew how truly I felt it, because shortly thereafter, I met my future husband. I like to believe that the Al-mighty's answer to me that day was, "Honey, if you think this is good, I'm going to give you even more good. Atta-girl for knowing what's important."
After so many years, I'm not sure what made me think of that conversation, but Stuart, if you're listening, it's not just good, it's great.
Leah Bleiberg believes we are here to do for others. Both professionally and on a volunteer basis, she supports many organizations, like Partners in Torah and Shalom Task Force. She holds a Masters Degree in Education, is a professional writer, Torah teacher, matchmaker, and mentor to those facing difficult personal circumstances. Leah and her husband, Joel, live in Kew Gardens Hills, Queens, NY and are active in outreach, entertaining Sabbath guests and hosting Torah gatherings. They are the proud parents of a large, blended family, including several grandchildren. Leah maintains that every positive choice we make will tip the scales permanently to the side of good.