A freilichen Shabbos, A freilichen Pesach Sheni and Lag b’Omer! In light of what Chazal tell us k’dai R’ Shimon lismoch olov etc. may we see true yeshuos even before Lag b’Omer!
A shliach in a city was applying for a position as a Rabbi in a local shul. The shliach contacted the officers of the shul, and it was arranged that he would come speak there on a Shabbos, after which he would be able to meet the congregants and have an opportunity to introduce himself to them.
When the designated Shabbos arrived, the shliach came to the shul. The president of the shul introduced him warmly, explaining that he was a representative from Lubavitch, who will share some Torah thoughts with them, and afterwards perhaps things would develop further.
Now, every shul or institution (or Yeshiva . .) is dependent on the support of donations etc. for its sustenance. In many cases there is one (or 2) very wealthy member/s who usually bear the lion’s share of the financial burden. In this shul, as well, there was one main donor, who happened to be, unfortunately, not very fond of Lubavitch (to put it mildly).
Thus, when the president completed his introduction, this gvir got up and shouted: ‘I protest! I don’t want a Lubavitcher speaking in my shul!’
The president, however, was unfazed, and retorted: ‘We have already arranged for this guest to speak today inour shul, please everyone give him your attention’.
The protestor became even more furious, and screamed: ‘If you let this Lubavitcher speak here, then I’m leaving (and I’ll take my money elsewhere)’! But the president remained steadfast, informing him that if he wished to leave he is free to do so, but the speech will go on as scheduled. The man stormed out, and the shliach gave his speech.
After davening there was a kiddush [during which the president approached the shliach and brought him l’chayim, telling him: ‘you know we usually serve only scotch here, but for you, since I know you’re a Lubavitcher, I bought a bottle of absolute’], and the shliach met a number of people.
But there was one question that was greatly troubling him, and finally he asked the president directly: ‘What caused you to so forcefully defend me, even at the risk of alienating one of your important donors? Of course, I greatly appreciate it, but it was very puzzling to me’ The president told the shliach to come to his house motzoei Shabbos, when he would answer him.
On motzoei Shabbos, the president served the shliach a melaveh malka, and told him the following story:
During the (2nd world) war, there was a youth who found himself, at a river bank, trapped between the Russian front and the German front. He didn’t know what to do (knowing that the one thing that they both had in common was their animosity towards the Jews). Finally he decided that the Germans would kill him for sure, and he was better off taking his chances with the Russians.
He duly crossed the river, and, as expected, as he neared the Russian front, he was seized by their soldiers. He explained that he was a Jewish youth, running for his life, and he could sense that they trusted him. They took him to the medical tent, and told him to take some food and rest up, and didn’t appear to give him another thought. Bone weary, he fell into a deep sleep. A few hours passed, when, suddenly, a group of soldiers burst into the room, grabbed him roughly, and handcuffed him. He was shocked at the startling change in their attitude, but it very quickly became clear to him: In the middle of the night, the German forces had carried out a surprise attack against the Russian positions, with numerous casualties. It was clear that they had received information, and the Jewish boy fell under suspicion of being a spy!
In vain did he try to defend himself, trying – unsuccessfully – to impress upon them the ludicrousness of him, a jewish boy, spying for his mortal enemies the Germans. It was wartime, and the slightest suspicion of such treason was more than enough basis to put him to death r”l. Indeed, they conducted a swift trial, and prepared to execute him. There was nothing more to do or say.
Moments before they shot him, the vehicle of the commanding officer passed by. He stopped, and inquired what was going on. When he was informed about what happened, he looked at the boy sharply, and said “I’m taking him with me”. The commanding officer took the boy with him to his tent, and then, to boy’s utter surprise, he turned to him and asked in a perfect Yiddish: “ver bizt du, vos tust du do?”
The boy was, understandably in a state of shock – moments before he had already been sure he was breathing his last – and it took him awhile until he could speak again. But gradually he calmed down, and told the officer his entire story. The officer reassured him down, telling him that he believes him, and that he has no need to worry. At that point the boy gathered his courage (or perhaps his curiosity overcame his fear) and questioned the officer about what he was doing there. At that, the officer began to share his story:
‘My father’, he began to relate, ‘was a follower of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. When I got my notice to appear for the draft, my father immediately brought me to the Rebbe for a brocho that I be spared. The Rebbe, however, to the great surprise of both of us, responded to our request with the words “ess iz nito vos tzu ton” (there’s nothing to be done). My father began to cry, and begged the Rebbe to give us some advice to save me from being taken to the army. The Rebbe repeated his earlier statement, however, and added “there will come a time, while in the army, when he will have the opportunity to save the life of a jewish youth, and he should be sure to take advantage of this opportunity when it arrives”.
‘I’ve been in the army many years (the commanding officer concluded his narrative to the youth), and have been promoted numerous times, until I reached this very high position, but I never saw the opportunity about which the Rebbe had spoken. Today, when I recognized the Jewish features on your face, I realized that the Rebbe had meant you, and that it was in order to save your life that I had joined the army in the first place!’
The president of the shul now looked at the shliach pointedly, and exclaimed: “I was that boy in the war, all those years ago, and the Rebbe saved me. I owe my life to Lubavitch, and you can be sure that I will pay no attention to any screaming, but will do whatever it takes to get you this position!!”
[In fact, the shliach got the appointment, and went on to be very successful in his new position. It would seem that the Rebbe with his ruach hakodesh was not only saving the life of a Jewish youth so many years later, but was also – through that – securing a job for a shliach 2 generations even further down the line!]
WAIT!! What are you doing about this story? I mean, yes, its a great story, and its really cool and all that, but now what? What will you do about the story? What impact will it have on your life?
Of course, it tells us about the greatness of the Rebbe Rashab (who I presume was the Rebbe in the story), about his ruach hakodesh, and his far-reaching concern for another Jew.
To be sure, that’s all very amazing and inspiring. But, therefore what? Now what? What message is this supposed to have to my tomorrow?
I think, perhaps the specific message is rather elementary: Because, after all, don’t we all owe our lives to Lubavitch?! For many this is understood in a very literal sense, as their prosperity, health or even their very existence can be traced to a brocho of the Rebbe.
But we can all understand it, as well, in a deeper sense. We all owe our lives to Lubavitch because without Lubavitch, without the illumination of chassidus, what kind of a life would we have? As we learn in hayom yom (in the story with R’ Yekusiel Liepler): a life devoid of substance; – “poiarishe yohren” – is a life not worth living. It’s only thanks to Lubavitch tbat we can consider our lives to be worth living.
And if indeed it is so, that we do owe our lives to Lubavitch, then it behooves us (as the president in the story) to pay no attention to the voices of opposition, that would not want to see things run in a Lubavitch manner, and to rather staunchly support Lubavitch.
And I’m not talking about defending it from misnagdim. Rather, I’m referring to those voices, powerful and influential voices, that are insisting that the internal Lubavitcher should not be allowed to speak; – that the internal Lubavitcher should not be running the show.
And those voices, as likely as not, can be coming from inside of each of us. Because there is a strong movement to not allow the internal “shliach” – who is kemoisoi she’ll odom hoelyon mamosh – to be in charge; – he can’t become the rabbi. Lubavitchism, according to this mindset, has it’s time and place, and sometimes we’re even proud of it.
But (this voice declares) it has it’s time and place, you can’t allow it to take over your life. This mindset would promote, instead, limiting your Lubavitch to “Lubavitch lite”, and not allowing it to interfere with your self and your life. You can’t give up – will be the suggestion – on living your life to the fullest. You have to be able to sample and appreciate the various arts, cultures and cuisines of the societies around you.
And, of course, fit in Lubavitch somehow. Find a way to realize some “normal” reasonable balance.
And this voice, this attitude, is very persuasive and very influential. It is the voice of the gvir, the supporter, the wealthy and successful guy. It’s, undoubtedly, hard to ignore.
But, opposing that is the realization that we owe our very lives to Lubavitch. And when you owe your life there, then it’s only natural that you won’t pay heed to any foreign voices and foreign ideas, regardless of how convincing they may sound, and dedicate yourself uncompromisingly to the cause of Lubavitch.
Uncompromisingly, as in Lubavitch heavy! It should be exclusively the words and outlook of Lubavitch, the timeless words of the Rebbe and of chassidus, that are the sole compass that determine our direction in every single decision that we make. Our appearance, our conduct, our way of speaking and our food all reflect a life that is wholly governed by a single-minded devotion to Hashem.
This week, in pirkei avos, we learn in the mishna:
שלשה שאכלו על שלחן אחד ולא אמרו עליו דברי תורה כאילו אכלו מזבחי מתים
You think that now you’re eating, you’re involved in the mundane aspects of your existence. Now you need to focus on enjoying that experience to the fullest, on making sure that the restaurant is the fanciest and the food is the tastiest and so on. Of course, you’ll make a brocho before and after, and treif (ch”v) is out of the question. But that’s it. You don’t want your meal to be turned into a chassidishe farbrengen or a Torah shiur. You go to shul to daven and to the beis midrash to learn, and you come to the restaurant to dine. Live and let live, you say.
But the mishna unequivocally negates that approach. You’re eating? Ess gezunte heit! But the experience can’t be separate from your involvement with Torah. Both with regards to what you eat, as well as what you’re preoccupied with during the meal, the Torah is constant.
Because that is your life. You owe your life to G-dliness, and it must therefore permeate every aspect of your existence! Even the meal is a shulchan echad; – it is not detached from the Oneness of Hashem. And this must be reflected in the meal being and experience of Torah and G-dliness. And the shulchan in this case is an example for all of the mundane aspects of our lives.
By contemplating, and thus realizing, that we owe our life to Lubavitch (and all that goes with it) we’ll have a much easier time to drown out those voices that would have us lighten up on it, and make sure that the right forces are in control of our lives!
L’chaim! May we all do what it takes to strengthen our recognition that we owe our life to G-dliness, and may the Eibishter in turn do His part and truly and visibly take control of our lives and of the entire creation with the immediate hisgalus of Moshiach Tzidkeinu TUMYM!!!
Rabbi Akiva Wagner
לזכות ר’ שלום מרדכי הלוי בן רבקה, לגאולה וישועה קרובה ושלימה, תומ”י ממש בטוהנוהנ”ג