I have been telling my students for many years that they can never win a fight. They are immediately incredulous upon hearing this. “If I go to a tournament and knock someone out, I have clearly won,” they say. I try to explain that by being in a fight, even a fight that is truly necessary, you are changed for the negative. The following story illustrates this theory.
It was the spring of 1941 and Robert had taken an interest in Susan, one of his high school classmates. He started walking her home from school and every day they would sit for a few minutes under an old oak tree along the way. They talked about making the world a better place, about G-d, and raising children in an ever more complicated world. Susan saw Robert as a strong but gentle man and when he asked her to marry him she said yes.
On December 7, 1941, life in the US was changed when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Robert enlisted in the Marines because he was sure it was the right thing to do. His first challenge was Camp Lejeune in North Carolina for training. It was not pleasant for him. He was the only New Yorker in camp and the C.O. was a Southerner who hated Northerners. He did everything he could to make Robert miserable. He wrote to Susan, “I hate it here, I’m changing in a way I don’t like. I hate for the first time in my life, and it’s my C.O. that I hate, not the Japanese.”
Soon enough Robert was sent to Japan to fight. In a horrible battle he killed an enemy soldier for the first time. He wrote to Susan, “I’m no longer the gentle man you knew. I’m a killer now.” Robert had a hard time accepting his role as a soldier since it was against his kind, gentle nature.
When the war ended and Robert was finally headed home, he wrote one last letter to Susan. In it he explained how over many battles, he had become accustomed to killing and it no longer affected him as he thought it should. He said he would understand if she no longer wished to marry him. He told her that if she still loved him, she should tie a yellow ribbon on the old oak tree.
When he landed back in New York, he was on the bus heading home with his fellow soldiers. After hearing Robert’s story about that last letter, and despite being anxious to get home, they all agreed that Robert’s oak tree would be the first stop. When they arrived they all let out a cheer when they saw that the oak tree was covered with yellow ribbons.
There’s another lesson here. It’s the story of the holiday of Sukkot. Every year we spend all of Elul reminding ourselves of the bad things we’ve done and try to do tshuvah for them. On Yom Kippur we admit to Hashem that we are not the pure persons we pretend to be. We are sinners and we fear that Hashem may not feel the same love for us. Then Sukkot comes and Hashem welcomes us into to his home for seven days. The succah is just like the yellow ribbon in the story. The yellow ribbon was Susan’s way of telling Robert that she accepted the changes in him and still wanted to build a life together. The succah is Hashem’s way of telling the Jewish people that we are accepted for who we truly are, and that we can continue to build a better world together. Hashem is saying “I know who you are, and I want you in my home!”
My wishes to all for a productive, spiritual and peaceful year.
by Rich Marinelli