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MY BROTHERS! WHERE ARE YOU FROM?

MY BROTHERS! WHERE ARE YOU FROM?

Thursday, 4 December, 2014 - 12:46 pm

Bill received a bill from the hospital for his recent surgery, and was astonished to see a $900 charge for the anesthesiologist. He called his office to demand an explanation.

"Is this some kind of mistake?" he asked when he got the doctor on the phone.
 
"No, not at all," the doctor said calmly.
 
"Well," said Bill, "That's awfully costly for just knocking someone out!"
 
"Not at all," replied the doctor. I knock you out for free. The $900 is for bringing you back around."
 
Who is the first emissary in the Torah dispatched by a human being on a mission to settle and build Jewish life in a far destination?
 
The first real “shliach,” emissary, was Jacob. His mission is crowned with success: In this foreign environment, away from his parents and the Holy Land, he creates the first Jewish family in history,  from which we all descend. His actual mission commences in this week’s portion, Vayeitzei.
 
Jacob is the first archetype of the Chabad Rabbi. In the opening words of Jacob upon arriving at his destination, we will discover the secret behind successful Jewish leadership and outreach.
 
Jacob arrives, after a long journey from the Land of Canaan to ancient Mesopotamia, at the city of Charan. There he encounters a well, surrounded by a number of shepherds and their sheep lying beside it. Jacob approaches these shepherds.
 
And Jacob said to them, "My brothers, where are you from?" And they said, "We are from Charan."
 
And he said, "The day is yet long; it is not the time to take in the livestock.
 
Water the sheep and go pasture."
 
The day is yet long: Since he saw them lying down, he thought that they wished to return home and that they would no longer graze. So he said to them, “The day is yet long,” meaning, if you have been hired for the day, you have not completed the day’s work, and if the animals are yours, it is, nevertheless, not the time to take in the livestock.
 
The shepherds responded to Jacob’s critique.
 
And they said, "We cannot do that, until all the flocks are gathered together, and they will roll the rock off the mouth of the well, and we shall then water the sheep."
 
This is strange dialogue.
 
Jacob is a complete stranger in the city. He arrives mid-day and sees a group of shepherds who are apparently slacking off. They have gathered their sheep to take a drink and return to their barns. He criticizes them for taking off so early. He tells them they should be out in the field still grazing with their sheep. If they are being paid by the day or the week, they are thieves. Even if they work for themselves, they are neglecting their responsibilities.
 
And the shepherds explain to Jacob that they were not going home.
 
Not only are they not annoyed with his criticism, they don’t get angry  or ignore him. They actually take the time to explain to him the reason for their gathering the flock so early. How did Jacob elicit such a response?
 
Imagine this scene: You're sitting at the cafeteria near your office with some co-workers, sipping an ice coffee and devouring a California sushi wrap. A stranger you have never seen before enters the cafeteria. He begins to speak to all of you. “This is really wrong of you guys to sit around here. The day is still long; you should be sitting at your desks and working.
 
“To specify, if you are paid by the day or the week, then you are simply stealing from your boss; you are not putting in a full day. ”
 
What would your response be? “Mind your own business!”
 
Well, as strange as all this may sound, this is exactly what transpires with Jacob.
 
How did Jacob manage to illicit such an opposite response? What was his magic? How did he get those shepherds to embrace his critique and explain to him politely why they were allegedly slacking off?
 
The answer to this question is both very simple and very profound. The key to Jacob’s success was his opening words. "My brothers! Where are you from?"
 
Jacob called these strangers his brothers. Had he approached them, and said: "Hey, you lazy bums, get up and go back to work," their response would have probably been quite different. But Jacob opened up his conversation with them referring to them as his brothers. And that made all the difference.
 
People really want to grow; people want to change for the better. But often, when we are criticized, we feel threatened and we must “shoot back.” We become defensive and we counter-attack. But when I feel that the person “whipping” me really loves me, appreciates me, respects me, cherishes me, then I tell him: more… more… more.
 
How true this is also in relationships with our spouses, children and colleagues. 

Jacob began his conversation: MY BROTHERS! I love you. I cherish you. I respect you. Jacob warmed them up. He embraced them. The moment he declared to them the words “My brothers!”—everything changed. Now when he criticized their work ethic, they took it completely differently. If one can convey a sincere honest feeling of brotherhood and friendship, then one can get away with saying almost anything and people will accept it.
 
In the process they all grew: Jacob learned of their predicament with the stone, and they gained from his removing the stone on his own.
 
This is the secret behind the extraordinary story of Chabad in our generation. The Rebbe taught his ambassadors to emulate Jacob. Our opening words must be: My brothers!
 
We are not strangers. We are brothers. We are sisters. We love you. We respect you. We are one with you. We may also have disagreements. I may challenge you, you might challenge me. We are internally linked. We are here for each other. We are all children of G-d.
 
What is the difference between a surgeon and a pilot? When someone is in need of surgery, G-d forbid, he will be very cautious and search for the best possible surgeon for his need. Why then is it that when the same person books an airline flight, with all the risks of air travel, he doesn't go searching for the best pilot in the world? The answer is obvious:
 
The pilot is flying together with you on the airplane, and he is exposed to the same risks as the passenger. The surgeon, on the other hand, is not lying on the slab with the patient. If the surgery doesn't go well, G-d forbid, the surgeon remains intact. On the other hand, if the plane goes down, the pilot is going right down with the passengers….
 
Many rabbis are like great surgeons. They are brilliant scholars, erudite legal experts, eloquent orators, fine activists, and lovely people. Yet their approach is that of the surgeon: they try to help the patient, the community, to the best of their ability. But ultimately, they remain outside of it all.
 
The Rebbe taught his disciples, the Chabad rabbis, to be like pilots for their communities: their problems are our problems; their celebrations are our celebrations. These are rabbis who open up their mission with these words: My brothers!
 
This is our mission today. In many ways all of us are lost. We must declare: My brothers! We must hold hands and search together for the way out of exile and confusion.
 
Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

 

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