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ב"ה

CAN I FEEL THE PAIN OF A CHILD?

Thursday, 2 December, 2021 - 4:40 pm

In 1970 Chaim immigrated to Jerusalem. He applied for a phone in his apartment, but weeks went by without one. Exasperated, he visited the phone company headquarters in the main Post Office in Jerusalem and asked the clerk when his phone would finally be installed.


"Sir," responded the clerk, "Israel has a major shortage of phone lines. There are Government Ministers, Army Generals, and Hospitals ahead of you who are also waiting for phones to become available."


“So you are telling me that I have no hope of getting a phone?

"Heaven forbid!” said the clerk. As a Jew, I am forbidden to tell you that there is no hope.

“There is always hope.”

Excited, Chaim repeated, "There is hope, "There is hope!"

"Yes," explained the clerk, "there is hope, just no likelihood."


A few days before Chanukah, in 1962, the Rebbe penned a powerful letter. This is what he wrote:


It is both timely and meaningful to recall the following episode from his life and teachings:

The Alter Rebbe shared his house with his oldest married son, Rabbi Dov Ber who later succeeded him as the Mitteler Rebbe.


Rabbi Dov Ber was known for his unusual power of concentration. Once, when Rabbi Dov Ber was engrossed in learning, his baby, sleeping in its cradle nearby, fell out and began to cry. The infant’s father did not hear the baby’s cries. But the infant’s grandfather, the Alter Rebbe, also engrossed in his studies in his room on the upper floor at the time, most certainly did. He interrupted his studies, went downstairs, picked the baby up, soothed it, and replaced it in its cradle. Through all this, Rabbi Dov Ber remained quite oblivious.


Subsequently, the Alter Rebbe admonished his son: “No matter how engrossed one may be in the loftiest occupation, one must never remain insensitive to the cry of a child.”


This story has been transmitted to us from generation to generation; I heard it from my father-in-law of saintly memory. It was handed down because of the lasting message it conveys to our times. It characterizes one of the basic tenets of the Chabad movement to hearken to the cry of our distressed Jewish children.


The “child” may be an infant in years, a Jewish boy or girl of school age, fallen from the “cradle” of Torah-true Jewish education, or it may be someone who is chronologically an adult yet an “infant” insofar as Jewish life is concerned, an infant in knowledge and experience of the Jewish religion, heritage and way of life.


The souls of these Jewish “children” cry out in anguish, for they live in a spiritual void, whether they are conscious of this or feel it only subconsciously. Every Jew, no matter how preoccupied he may be with any lofty cause, must hear the cries of these Jewish children. Bringing these Jewish children back to their Jewish cradle has priority over all else.


To paraphrase the words of Reuven in this week's Torah portion: Do not sin against the child! Do not ignore the sobs of the child.


Today, most Jewish organizations believe in outreach, what is often called Kiruv. But here again, we must ask ourselves what is our incentive.


Is it that I believe in outreach because I feel it is the right thing to do; because I am alarmed by the rate of assimilation and I am worried for Jewish continuity; because it makes me feel good; because I seek the reward for this holy work. These are all fine motives. But what the Rebbe is teaching here is something deeper: Can I feel the pain of the child who “fell out of his crib” and is weeping? Can I hear the sob of the millions of young women and men who are pining for true wholesomeness?


When one can hear the sob of the child, their involvement, their level of commitment, their dedication, and most importantly, their success is completely on a different level.  

We read this story during Chanukah. Most Jews living at the time acquiesced to the Hellenist agenda. You can’t fight “city hall,” and of course not a tyrant like Antiyachos, the Syrian-Greek ruler. The Jews surrendered and within a few generations, there would have been no trace left of Jews or of Judaism.


Nobody would have felt guilty because they were not. They did the best they can under the circumstances.


What saved the day during the Chanukah period, and what will save the day today again, is people who are attentive to the cry of Reuven: “Do not sin against the child”! They do not think about their guilt; they think about the child. That is what drove the Chashmonaim-Maccabees to stage a revolt against the Syrian Greeks. They cared for the final result, not for their own “paradise” and spiritual security. They could not watch Yiddishkeit and the Jewish people go down—and they stood up. And they won!


This idea has special relevance today the 4th day of Chanukah.


Each day of Chanukah has a special reading of the Torah, describing the offerings brought by each leader of each tribe of Israel when the Sanctuary was dedicated.


Each tribe represents certain energy and embodies a particular message in the life of the Jew. We read each day of Chanukah about the offering of a distinct tribe because that day is connected to the energy and contribution of that particular tribe.


On the fourth day of Chanukah, we read of the offering brought by the leader of the tribe of Reuven. This means that the 4th day of Chanukah is uniquely connected to the message of Reuven, the man who taught his brothers how to repent and make amends in the truest and deepest fashion.


Today, we are empowered and summoned to answer the question: Do we know how to tune in to the heart of another human being in pain? Do I know how to actually try to see and experience, if even only a little bit, what you are going through?


Because, friends, that makes all the difference.

 

Shabbat Shalom, Happy Rosh Chodesh and a Happy Chanukah


Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

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