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ב"ה

THE SURGEON VS. THE PILOT

Friday, 8 October, 2021 - 12:45 pm

 

Husband and wife had an argument. Wife called up her mom and said, "He fought with me again, I am coming to live with you."  Mom said, "No darling, he must pay for his mistake. I am coming to live with you."


The Sages derive from the biblical narrative that Noach built the ark for 120 years—that would contain his family and all animals and birds over the year of the flood.


Why does it take 120 years to build a boat?!


Noach could have fulfilled the Divine commandment with alacrity and swiftness. And then, just having the presence of this major vessel in his backyard, would arouse curiosity and Noach could explain to the people its purpose, hoping they will as a result change their ways. Why the need to have Noach labor for 120 years!


The Rebbe suggested When G-d instructs Noach to build the ark, He says these words:


Make for yourself an Ark…


What does “make for yourself” mean? This ark was anything but for Noach himself. His wife, children, in-laws, and every species of animals, insects, and birds were in that ark. He was not constructing it for himself! So why does G-d tell Noach “make for yourself an ark?” Why does the Torah not simply say, “Make an ark?”


The Rebbe suggested that with this instruction G-d was communicating a message to Noach. When it comes to saving the world, you do not delegate the work.


Sometimes, the Rebbe said, some of us think to ourselves: I am a leader; I am a public figure; I am renowned; I am a celebrity. I am not a simple schleper; I will issue forth instructions so others can do the work. After all, successful people are those who know how to delegate labor.


Comes the Torah and imparts a vital lesson: You may be the greatest of the great; but when saving the world is at stake, you got to lift up your pants, get your feet dirty, and get to work.


What is more, as Rashi says, Noach built the ark for 120 years in order to inspire repentance and save the entire generation. Here too it was insufficient that Noach would simply give “tours” of the ark to curious visitors. No! Noach himself had to shvitz for 120 years to inspire the people! He could not sit on an “ivory tower,” directing traffic and communicating inspiring messages to people who asked questions; rather Noach needed to be in the “trenches.” Civilization was at stake here, and in such a situation, never ever become even slightly detached. Be fully present to get the job done.


I want to ask you a simple question that has been bugging me:


What is the difference between a surgeon and a pilot? When someone is in need of surgery, he will be very cautious and search around for the best possible surgeon. Why? Because his life is at risk, and he wants to ensure that whoever is cutting him open is the most qualified expert in performing this particular surgery.


You know the joke:


A man goes to consult a specialist about his medical problem.

After the visit, the man asks, "How much do I owe you?"

"My fee is five thousand dollars," replies the physician.

"Five thousand? That's impossible. No one charges that much!"

"In your case," the doctor replies, "I suppose I could adjust my fee to three thousand."

"Three thousand? For one visit? Ridiculous."

"Well, then, could you afford two thousand?"

"Who has that kind of money?"


"Look, replies the doctor," growing irritated, "Just give me one thousand and get out."


"I can give you three hundred says the man. Take it or leave it."


"I don't understand you," says the doctor. "Why did you come to the most expensive doctor in New York if you have no money?"


"Listen, Doctor", says the patient, "When it comes to my health, nothing is too expensive."


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? Why does he not ask for the resume of the pilot and call at least 10 people who have flown with this pilot to ensure that the guy knows what he is doing?


When it comes to finding the doctor, we turn over the planet to make sure he is the best of the best of the best. Yet when it comes to choosing our pilot, in whom we entrust our lives during a flight 30,000 feet over the Pacific, we don’t even know his name…


The answer is obvious:

The surgeon is not lying on the slab with the patient. If the surgery doesn't go well, the surgeon remains intact.


The pilot, on the other hand, is flying together with you on the airplane, and he is exposed to the same risk as to the passenger.


Your surgeon you must research well; your pilot you need not research because you know that if he does not know what he was doing, he would never board that airplane.


Some leaders are like great surgeons. They are brilliant scholars, erudite legal experts, 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. Your problem will not effect-them.


But the true leader is like a pilot. He does not only delegate; he is in the trenches. He is with the people; he works hard; he makes sacrifices—and that makes all the difference.

Each of us, in our own lives, often observes a pending “flood” that can flood the lives of others, may it be family, friends, community members, or even strangers. We must never direct activities from a distance with a “joystick.” I have to go into the trenches, with my boots on the ground and get down and dirty.


Do you want to know what that means? Ask 30,000 Jews who ended up in 1940 in Lithuania.


In March 1939 – as Europe stood on the brink of World War II – a man by the name of Chiune Sugihara was appointed by the Japanese Government to open a Consulate in Kaunas,  Lithuania.


Why they did is a story in and of itself. Japan was an ally of Germany. And “allies” sometimes make sure to have spies to see what their friends are up to. So Japan opened this consulate to be able to get some direct information about what is going on in Germany.


Sugihara had barely settled down in his new post when the German army invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, and a wave of Jewish refugees streamed into Lithuania, bringing terrifying stories of German atrocities against the Polish Jews. Desperate to flee the approaching Nazis, these refugees escaped from Poland with no possessions or money. Because the Germans were rapidly advancing, the only escape was to go further east. However, the Soviets only allowed Jews to pass through Russia if they had a transit visa – and so, obtaining a Japanese visa became a matter of life and death.


One morning in July 1940, Consul Sugihara and his family were awakened by a crowd of hundreds of Jewish refugees standing outside the Consulate, all desperately hoping for visas. Facing these women, children, and elderly people with pleading eyes made Sugihara feel helpless. He wanted to help but had no authority to issue visas without permission from the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo. He wired his government three times requesting to issue these visas, and all three times he was denied.


Time was running out for the refugees, and Sugihara had a difficult decision to make. He knew he might be fired, disgraced, and harshly penalized if he defied government orders, but he also knew that he could not allow these people to die. “I may have to disobey my Government, but if I do not, I will be disobeying G-d,” Sugihara said to his wife, Yukiko. “I know I should follow my conscience.”


As the Nazis threatened to invade Lithuania, the Jews of that region knew what their fate would hold, so thousands surrounded the Japanese consulate in Kovno, hoping to obtain a visa to safety.


Guided by the strength of his morality, Sugihara began issuing transit visas. For 29 days, from July 31 to August 28, 1940, he sat for endless hours composing them. Hour after hour, day after day, he wrote and signed—300 visas a day all written entirely by hand. He did not even pause for meals - Yukiko would prepare him sandwiches and leave them by his side. At the end of the day, she would massage his aching hands.


Hundreds of applicants became thousands. Day and night, desperate people lined up outside the Consulate begging for visas; when some of them attempted to climb the compound wall, Sugihara came out to calm them, promising not to abandon them.


And he did not: when he was forced to close the Consulate and leave Lithuania, Sugihara continued writing visas on his way to the train station, in his car, and in his hotel. After boarding the train, he kept signing visas as fast as he could, handing them down from his window. Even while pulling out of the station, Sugihara continues signing the visas and was seen throwing visas to refugees running alongside the speeding train.


And then came the most extraordinary moment: Because many passports had been left unstamped, Sugihara also tossed his visa stamp into the crowd, so that it could be used to save even more Jews. “We will never forget you:” those were the last words he heard from the refugees.


They took his stamp and continues to stamp visas!


With Sugihara`s visas, as many as 6,000 refugees and their families were able to flee, making their way to Japan, China, and numerous other countries in safety. They had escaped the Holocaust, and would become known as Sugihara Survivors. Most of his visas were not for one person but for families; it is estimated that he saved some 30,000 Jews from Nazi extermination.

Here was a regular man, a Japanese diplomat working in the Japanese consulate in Lithuania, who issued visas to some 6,000 Jews and their families, allowing them to escape Nazi-occupied territories via Japan.


Today, there are some 200,000 Jews alive because of this one man.


At the end of the war, the Soviets imprisoned Sugihara, Yukiko, and their son in an internment camp in Rumania for 18 months. When he returned to Japan in 1947, the Japanese Foreign Ministry dismissed him from the diplomatic service. He was fired. With his career as a diplomat shattered, Sugihara became depressed and withdrawn. Not only had he suffered the indignity of losing his career,  but approaching the age of 50 made it hard for him to get a job. Sugihara and his family, therefore, entered into a life of extreme poverty and hunger.


Being a humble and modest man, Sugihara never mentioned his wartime deeds to anyone, and the world knew little of him. Not only that, he himself never knew if his efforts were worth anything. He did not know if the Jews managed to even use is visas to get out on time before Hitler took Lithuania.


30 years later, in 1968, he was located by Joshua Nishri, the Economic Attache to the Israeli Embassy in Tokyo and one of his survivors. The reunion with Nishri was most significant for Sugihara, since - for all those years - he had not known whether the visas he had signed had actually aided any refugees in fleeing Lithuania. The knowledge that so many people made it to safety brought tears of joy to Sugihara’s eyes; he felt overwhelming satisfaction and happiness, with no regrets. Even if only one life had been saved, he felt that all of his hardship would have been worth it.


Chiune Sugihara died on July 31, 1986, the same day when he began issuing all the thousands of illegal visas!


This angel of a man did not pass the puck. Day and night he sat and used those fingers to save Jews. Because when there is a pending flood, you don’t wait to hire people; you pull up your sleeves and get to work.

 

Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

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