The other night, I went to hear Rabbi Natan Gamzede, the Jewish Prince from Swaziland, speak. For those of you who aren’t familiar with his story, Rabbi Gamzede was born a prince in the African nation of Swaziland where his Grandfather was the King. Rabbi Gamzede eventually converted to Judaism and is now a teacher and lecturer.
Although I had previously met Rabbi Gamzede many years ago in yeshivah and I was fairly familar with his story, I was very inspired by his talk. Perhaps the thing that inspired me most was the level of sacrifice he had undertaken on his journey. Rabbi Gamzede grew up with, quite literally, anything money could buy. In fact, as a child his mother would attempt to shake him from his melancholy state by telling him “why are you so sad? You have everything money can buy!” After his conversion, Rabbi Gamzede’s parents cut off all monetary support and the Prince was now, quite literally, a Pauper. He would take odd jobs shlepping bricks for the building of a new shul just in order to make enough money for bus fare to and from Yerushalayim so that he could date. After marrying, he and his wife relied upon the equivilant of tomche shabbos packages (charitable weekly food donations). Yet, despite this dire level of poverty (not to mention the prejudice they endured) they were happy because they had Hashem and his Torah in their lives. Eizu hu ashir? Hasomeach b’chelko. Who is rich? He who is happy with his portion.
In a way, Rabbi Gamzede’s story reminded me a lot of the life of Ruth, which we will read about on Shavuos. Ruth was a princess who turned her back on all of the material riches and comforts of royalty to come to Hashem and his Torah. She also relied upon charitable food for sustenance, gleaning in the fields with the poor of the nation.
I have to admit that since the blog has started, I often find myself framing things in a baal teshuvah context. Last night, as my wife and I were discussing the lecture, I was thinking about all of the sacrifices that friends of mine had made on their respective paths to teshuvah. Although none of them descended from royalty, many of their personal sacrifices were just as great as those of the “Jewish Prince”.
We often hear the phrase “the past is past” or “don’t look back” when advising someone who is depressed about something they have done. This is good advice. But, it is sometimes just as important to look back on your personal sacrifices and triumphs and realize that you can actually get inspiration from your very own life. After all, each and every one of us are sons and daughters of the King.