Daf Yomi Sanhedrin 37
There were these cool cats living in the neighborhood of Rabbi Zeira. In an effort to help reengage them in their Judaism, he befriended them. But the other Sages disapproved of the friendship. When Rabbi Zeira died, the guys cried out, “Until now, Rabbi Zeira prayed for compassion for us! Who will pray for us now?” They gave it some thought and repented.
Reish Lakish taught from the following verse: “Your temples [rakkatekh] are like a pomegranate split open," which teaches that even the empty people [reikanin] among you are as full of mitzvos as the pomegranate is full of seeds. Rabbi Zeira says that the source is from here: when Yitzchak blessed Yaakov, the verse states: “And he smelled the smell of his garments, and blessed him, and said: See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed." Do not read “his garments [begadav]”; rather, ‘his traitors [bogedav],’ meaning that even traitors and sinners among the Jewish people have qualities “as the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed.”
Some folks appear to be pretty estranged from religion. But the truth is, they’re choc-a-bloc full of mitzvos like a pomegranate is full of seeds! Just think about all the people they’ve probably lent a helping hand to. Think about the charity they’ve given. The smiles and good cheer they’ve spread. The way they honour their parents and care for the earth’s poor and downtrodden. There’s no telling how many mitzvos they truly have up their sleeve!
Never give up on anyone! Sure, they might not have looked the part, but Rabbi Zeira knew that deep-down these characters were incredible individuals who wanted a relationship with Heaven. They might not even have realized themselves that they cared about G-d. But the second Rabbi Zeira passed, it suddenly hit them that he wasn’t there to pray for them.
Who knows if they ever thanked Rabbi Zeira while he was alive? They probably ridiculed him for his religious devotion. But his friendship was slowly but surely chipping away at the coarseness concealing their neshomo – their inner light. Until the day finally arrived when they cried out for a relationship with Heaven!
Now, take a moment to go back and reread the story. After Rabbi Zeira dies, the Gemara relates how, “They gave it some thought and repented.” Who gave it some thought? The Gemara doesn’t say. At first glance we assume it was the OTD’ers (the wayward kids). But a careful read reveals that maybe it was the Sages who repented. Throughout Rabbi Zeira’s lifetime they shook their heads disapprovingly when they saw him associating with these ruffians. But when they heard the kids cry out, “Who will pray for us?” they realized that Rabbi Zeira’s relationship with them had made an incredible impact. Maybe they still weren’t your typical ‘frum baleibatim,’ but they clearly cared about their connection to the Almighty! And at that point, the Sages ‘repented’ and decided that Rabbi Zeira had been right all along and that maybe they too should be taking a softer approach and reaching out to their fellow Yidden a little more.
If you find yourself looking down on some of your Jewish brothers and sisters, if you can’t see that they’re full of mitzvos like a pomegranate, then maybe it’s time you looked inside your own soul. Maybe, just maybe, it’s not them that needs to repent.
Every individual is overflowing with spirituality! If you’re not seeing it, you’re not looking hard enough! And even if they themselves don’t seem to acknowledge it, don’t ever give up on them! They will come around eventually! May Hashem open your eyes to see the spiritual beauty in each and every person!