Isaac Yosef owns Frena Bakery, the only kosher bakery in San Francisco. Four years ago, Carlos Flores walked in to the bakery and asked for a job. Carlos was open about his past. He had been in prison for the last 23 years and was released three days prior. Isaac told him he could start work the next week. What happened next is the meaning of cheshbon hanefesh, introspection of the soul. Isaac started hiring former prisoners, and today, he has had over 40 former criminals working in his bakery, baking challah and other goodies we all enjoy.
We do not often think of who makes the challah we enjoy on our table: The sweat and overnight shifts that allow us to enjoy the oneg, joy of Shabbat.
Last night, in conversation with Isaac and Carlos, I witnessed not only a teaching of teshuva, but a real life situation where both sides must look inside themselves. They made the choice to err on the side of merit.
Maimonides teaches that most human beings are not tzadikim, righteous and not rshaim, wicked. We fall in the middle, beinonim. How do we tip the scales of judgement for righteousness? Simple small acts.
The Chofetz Chaim was asked, “How did you make such a great impact on the world?”
He answered, “Originally I set out to change the world, but I failed. So I decided to scale back my efforts and only the influence my hometown in Poland, but I failed there, too. Then I gave all of my effort to changing my own family and I failed at that as well. Finally, I decided to change myself, and that is how I such an impact on the world.
Everyone thinks about changing the world. But we often don’t think about changing ourselves.
Isaac and Carlos are two unlikely partners and friends. But they decided to change themselves. And because of that, they are now changing the world.
We can, too.