In a shiur I recently downloaded (thanks to Hirhurim‘s Joel Rich) given by Rabbi Benji Levene, a grandson of Reb Aryeh Levin, I heard the following story. Rabbi Levene once asked his zaide, “How did you manage to open up so many chilonim, non-relgious people, to relate to other people and open their hearts to so many beautiful things in Yiddishkeit? What was your mazel?”
Reb Aryeh answered:
There was one a son and a father that came to a rebbe and they were holding a winter coat that they owned.
The father said, “Rebbe, we have a coat. One coat only that we own. Coming winter now, I need the coat, I’m an old man. I need to have this coat. My son doesn’t feel the cold the way that I do.
The son said, “Rebbe, my father sits home the whole day and I go out and bring in parnassah. I go out in the cold, he’s at home. I need this coat.
The rav is left with a problem. He can’t say “cut it in half” because then they both won’t have a coat. He has to give them an answer, though. He thinks for a minute and says, “I’ll give you an answer tomorrow. Come back tomorrow, but when you come back each of you needs to take the other person’s side. Then I’ll give you an answer.”
They came back the next day with the coat and the father tells the rebbe, “I have a coat and it belongs to my son.”
The son then says, “I have a coat and it belongs to my father.”
The rav opens his closet to reveal a coat hanging there. The rebbe says, “It’s no problem, you both have a coat for the winter.”
The father looks at the coat and says, “Rebbe can I ask you one more question? When we were here yesterday, was that coat in the closest?” The rebbe answers that it was in closet yesterday.
“So why didn’t you give it to us yesterday? Why did we have to come back today?”
The rebbe replied, “You don’t understand. When you came to me yesterday and the father said, “I have a coat and it’s mine” and the son said. “I have a coat and it’s mine”, I thought, “I also have a coat in the closet and it’s mine.”
“When you came to me today and the father says, “I have a coat and it’s his”, and the son says, “I have a coat and it’s his”, I said to myself, “I have a coat and it’s yours.”
Rabbi Levene concludes, “If you want to open up another person’s heart to yours, then open your heart to that other person. You will see how wonderful, how much magic there will be in the way that other person will open up their heart to yours.” (End of story)
Aside from being a great story for anyone in kiruv or chinuch, I think as a husband and a parent, I will try in the upcoming year to really keep this story in mind. When the uniform clothes that were picked out (and aggreeded upon) prior to going to bed are not exactly what my daughter wants to wear when she wakes up or my son tells me that other kids go to bed much later than he does, I will try to put myself there and open my heart a bit wider.