My cousin surprised me last week with a visit. The mood on the damp street outside was surly, and the people I observed from my office window were fighting the raw wind. It was noon on the foggy, drizzly gray day when a knock on my door startled me out of my reverie.

I fixed myHe was the last person I expected in the midst of a global pandemic mask in place as I buzzed the door open. I was accustomed to my cousins visiting from near and far, stopping by for a chat whenever they were in town. Levi is a shliach in Edgware, England, and he was the last person I expected in the midst of a global pandemic, but I was happy to see him.

“Welcome,” I called out. Refined and poised, he entered my office and shed his thick wet coat slowly.

He settled himself in the battered leather chair across from my desk as I started questioning him. “What could have possibly brought you to New York during COVID-19?” He rested his arms on the sides of the chair as he leaned forward.

“Actually, had you asked me that this morning I would have had a completely different response,” he responded, his British accent clipped and precise. “But over the last few hours, it became clear to me exactly why I had to travel to New York at this moment in time.”

I studied his eyes, reservoirs of compassion and kindness, as he related to me that there were several legal documents relating to his wife’s immigration that required his attention. Even though they had retained an attorney, he had felt compelled to fly to New York to ensure that they were handled properly. Arriving at the lawyer’s offices in Manhattan this morning, he had started a casual conversation with a woman sitting in the waiting room because she, too, was British.

Within a few minutes, she timidly said, “Obviously, there is no sign of recognition when you look at me, Rabbi Sudak, although you are acquainted with my family. I have changed so much in the two years I have been in New York.” She proceeded to tearfully confess that she was completely despondent and feeling absolutely alone. She was estranged from her family, her past way of life and even from G‑d, and it was causing deep sadness within her.

Levi asked her why she did not reconnect with the things she clearly held dear. “What’s holding you back?” he inquired.

“I am too far gone. You can’t even imagine, rabbi. I am so far removed from G‑d and from Torah and mitzvot that there is no going back for me,” she cried.

“Really?” continued Levi. “Connectedness is fundamental. It's the key to emotional and physical health." Reluctantly at first, she allowed Levi to make a few phone calls to shluchim and his own local family members. Something sparked within her as she learned that they were ready to immediately embrace her, be there for her and provide her with a warm, loving place to feel welcome and provide a sense of familiarity.

“Now,” said Levi, “Please indulge me by taking a test to see if what you are saying about your alienation from G‑d is true or your own misconception. Let’s start with the Ten Commandments. We’ll leave the first five commandments, for now, and begin with the second five that focus on mitzvot between man and man. Commandment No. 6: Have you murdered anyone?”

“No, of course not,” she responded.

“Good,” Levi said. “Commandment No. 7: Have you committed adultery?”

“What? No!” she exclaimed.

“Great,” said Levi.

“Commandment No. 8: Do you steal?”

“I would never,” she declared.

“You are doing well,” said Levi. “Commandment No. 9: Have you been a false witness?”

“No way,” she answered.

“Amazing,” said Levi. “Commandment No. 10: Are you jealous of what others have?”

“Never,” she countered.

“Excellent. That’s five out of 10 already. Let’s go on. Commandment No. 1: Do you believe in G‑d’s existence?”

“Of course!” she cried.

“Awesome. You have already passed the test,” said Levi. “Commandment No. 2: Do you believe in or follow a different religion?”

“Never,” she acknowledged.

“Perfect,” said Levi. “Although you said you are completely alienated from mitzvot, you are acing the test with a score of seven out of 10, but let’s proceed. Commandment No. 3: Do you desecrate G‑d’s name?”

“Not at all,” she answered.

“Eight out of 10,” said Levi. “Let’s skip the Fourth Commandment and get back to it in a minute. Commandment No. 5: Do you respect your parents?”

“Always,” she retorted emotionally.

“You have“Not bad for someone divorced from G‑d,” said Levi scored 90 percent so far. Not bad for someone divorced from G‑d,” said Levi. “Now the Fourth Commandment is to sanctify Shabbat. There are actually 39 categories of work prohibited on Shabbat that correspond to the types of work used in the construction and maintenance of the holy Mishkan. So let’s divide up scoring for this commandment into 39 parts.”

Calmly and deliberately, Levi went through the 39 works of Shabbat one by one with her. And one by one, she said she did not sow, plow, harvest, thresh, winnow, build, weave, sew, hunt, slaughter, etc. When they were done, Levi said, “OK, so we caught you on a few out of the 39, like shopping, carrying and fire. You still passed this commandment with a 97 percent score. And the others with a perfect score. Not bad at all for someone who claimed that she was estranged from G‑d. As the Talmud states, all Jews are full of mitzvot like a pomegranate is filled with seeds.”1

“I didn’t think of it that way,” she said as tears of relief streamed down her cheeks.

“It’s all a matter of perspective,” responded Levi. “When you reconsider, you realize that you’re actually living a different story than the one you told yourself. Moreover, there’s nothing more empowering and important than knowing that no matter what, in essence, you are pure. Your soul is untainted by anything the world has thrown at you. Being aware of your character strengths enables you to actualize your potential and find your true happiness.

“Now it is true that we have been given 613 mitzvot, and all are of equal importance simply because they are Divinely ordained. But the point is not in perfection; it’s in the trying, in the journey, in the discoveries, in the process and in the continuous becoming. Every person is unique, and every situation is unique. Focusing on our personal weaknesses just leaves us with a faulty sense of who we are and who we can become. By realizing our innate connection with G‑d, on the other hand, we gain the ability to embrace our identity.”

The Baal Shem Tov taught that every single Jew is compared to a “desired land” because inside lies precious stones and diamonds, wellsprings and treasure. One need only dig a little, and he or she will immediately find these precious stones, these wellsprings.

Levi turned to me before leaving. “We exchanged contact information and resolved to keep in touch,” he concluded. “Man’s steps are established by G‑d.2 Divine Providence led me to travel to exactly the place where I needed to be today to perform my mission ... wherever our feet tread, we are emissaries of G‑d, each one of us.”