In seminary, many years ago, I had a rebbetzin. Not just any rebbetzin, but a rebbetzin who, though her mother was blind, had been raised with more sight than I have met in many others.
Rebbitzin Gansburg, may she live and be well, decided one day, out of the blue, in her small kitchen, to teach me what her mother in White Russia had taught her. She told me, “When you do a tovah [a favor] for someone, make sure to give them a bag of small pebbles, for when they want to throw stones at you.”
At first, and for a long time, I didn’t understand this. But eventually I could apply this saying more times than I had fingers to count.
Once I remember helping a mother arrange to keep her child in a particular cheder. We went together to speak to the principal, to convince the teachers, “Let the child stay.”
The child stayed, and the mother was so happy. And actually that child became “The star of the school.” Then one day, that “star of the school” started behaving not nicely to my child. And, as the days went on, it got worse and worse.
I spoke to the parents, but they didn’t help. They turned the tables on the situation. And my child fell and fell from the surprise and the pain.
But, I didn’t have to question, for maybe more than a few seconds, how this could be, or what kind of terrible people these are. I didn’t have to hate or blame. Because, years and years ago, my rebbetzin told me the answer, one day out of the blue. She showed me the lighted path so I wouldn’t stumble because of the stones, and never want to do anyone a good turn again.
I came up with all kinds of theories over the years to kind of make sense of such a crazy paradoxical thing.
For a while I said to myself that it probably happens like this so in case there was any blemish in the giving, Hashem wants the mitzvah to go up to Him whole and refined, and therefore the stones.
Then I saw something else: that many times the stones or rocks caused me to take new directions, make changes I wouldn’t or couldn’t have necessarily implemented without the new impetus caused by the consequences of the stones.
We learn that Hashem created the whole world just to do chesed. And I thought about how doing good is such a great joy, and not to be afraid that it will come back to hurt me.
And how it’s part of the plan, the building, and the structure.
But so what, we say. Stones hurt!
But the Gemara tells us, “Rabi Shimon ben Yochai said, ‘HaKadosh Baruch Hu gave three good gifts to Yisrael and none of them can be acquired except through suffering. They are Torah, Eretz Yisrael, and the World to Come’$$separate quotes$$” (Brachos 5a).
In my morning walk today, I thought about all this. And in the last and hardest ten minutes as I approached home, where a new complex is being built at the end of our street, I noticed seven Goliath-sized dump trucks packed with stones, rubble, and even pebbles. And there I found my answer. I saw it with my own eyes — alsoJerusalem is built from stone.