Printed from


Friday, 30 January, 2015 - 10:16 am

A man was lying in bed on a Saturday morning. His wife said to him, “Get out of bed and go to synagogue.”

“I don’t want to go,” he said “and I have three good reasons. First, I am tired. Second, I don’t like the congregation, nor do they like me. Third, I really dislike the long cantorial prayers. The cantor goes on and on, and does not even have a nice voice. He is so boring…."

The wife replied, “Those excuses are no good. Get out of bed and go to synagogue for three reasons: First, it is Shabbat and you belong there. Second, for the reputation of the family it is not nice if you do not show up. And third, you are the cantor.”

How does one summarize 65 years of the Rebbe’s influence—from the 10th of Shevat, 1950, when he assumed the mantle of Chabad leadership, till this 10th of Shevat, 2015?

I will make a humble attempt to convey at least one component of the Rebbe’s impact, via a fascinating Midrash on this week’s portion, Beshalach.

Our forefathers experienced a rude awakening on the seventh day after their Exodus from Egypt.

The sea was before them, and Pharaoh's armies were closing in from behind.

Stuck between “a rock and a hard place,” how did they react?

The Midrash tells us that the Jewish people divided into four camps. There were those who said, “Let us throw ourselves into the sea.” They advocated suicide.

Rather die in liberty than yield to slavery, was their argument. This was the fraction that found its heirs in the warriors of Masada, who after two years of defiance, realizing that the Romans would reach them, all committed suicide under the inspiration of their commander Yair ben Eliezer.

A second group said, “Let us return to Egypt.” They were pragmatic. Better to live as slaves than to die free men, was their argument.

A third faction argued, “Let us wage war upon the Egyptians.” We might lose, but at least we will go down fighting. This fraction found its heirs in the Jews who staged the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising during Passover of 1943. They knew they would not survive the German war machine, but preferred to die with guns and grenades in their hands, and sting a few SS troops while going down.

The fourth camp said, “Let us pray to G-d.” G-d is all powerful.

Moses, however, rejected all four options as inappropriate, saying to the people these words:

“Fear not, stand by and see the salvation of G-d, as you have seen Egypt this day, you shall not see them again, forever. G-d shall fight for you, and you shall be silent.”

In a brilliant analysis, Moses's words actually contain a response to all four different groups of Jews:

“Fear not, stand by and see the salvation of G-d,” was Moses' response to those who had despaired of overcoming the Egyptian threat and wanted to plunge into the sea. To them Moses said, “Stand by.” Don’t advance into the sea. Don’t jump; just stay put.

“As you have seen Egypt this day, you shall not see them again,” is addressed to those who advocated surrender and return to Egypt.

“G-d shall fight for you,” is the answer to those who wished to battle the Egyptians. Do not stage war; let G-d do the battling.

“You shall be silent” is Moses' rejection of those who said, “This is all beyond us. All we can do is pray.” Now is not the time for prayer. Remain silent.

What, then, were they supposed to do?

G-d said to Moses, “they shall go forward.”

They were instructed to advance to Mt. Sinai, so let them continue their journey. How will things work out? Well, if G-d wants He can split a sea.

Like every story in Torah, the four camps of thought can be understood also on a psychological and emotional level.

When dealing with adversity in life there are four different approaches: 1. Escapists. 2. Conformists. 3. Fighters. 4. Passive Believers who want G-d to do the work and get them out of the mess.

All views have a logic and merit to them, and ought to be employed at certain times. But ultimately as a guiding vision for life, they are all wrong. What was the correct approach? “Move forward.”

And when they did, the sea parted before them.

G-d was telling them: I who have given you life, and promised you that you can and will achieve your objectives and reach Sinai and the Promised Land, have also given you all the faculties and resources necessary to fulfill your life’s mission.

When faced with challenge, with adversity, instead of being paralyzed by doubt—forge ahead. Movement is the key to success. Moving forward will bring a breakthrough. How, we may not always know. But move—and things will open up.

Sixty five years ago in 1950, when the Rebbe assumed leadership of Chabad, the Jewish world, still rattled from a Holocaust unparalleled in its brutality and scope, was also divided into four camps. Today, in 2015, we still encounter all four camps when facing our contemporary challenges, individually and communally.

There is also the fifth approach—the one articulated to the Jewish people by Moses, and which ultimately infused all four camps with a new sense of direction: “Go forward.”

This is the message of the Rebbe: 
“Don’t escape reality, and do not submit to it.” G-d is one in heaven and earth, and the Torah is the blueprint for real life and the real world. USE IT TO MOVE FORWARD, ALWAYS.

Britain’s Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks shared this moving personal account:

As a young man, full of questions about faith, I travelled to the United States where, I had heard, there were outstanding rabbis. I met many, but I also had the privilege of meeting the greatest Jewish leader of my generation, the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. Heir to the dynastic leadership of a relatively small group of Jewish mystics, he had escaped from Europe to New York during the Second World War and had turned the tattered remnants of his flock into a worldwide movement. Wherever I travelled, I heard tales of his extraordinary leadership, many verging on the miraculous. He was, I was told, one of the outstanding charismatic leaders of our time. I resolved to meet him if I could.

I did, and was utterly surprised. He was certainly not charismatic in any conventional sense. Quiet, self-effacing, understated, one might hardly have noticed him had it not been for the reverence in which he was held by his disciples. That meeting, though, changed my life. He was a world-famous figure. I was an anonymous student from three thousand miles away. Yet in his presence I seemed to be the most important person in the world. He asked me about myself; he listened carefully; he challenged me to become a leader, something I had never contemplated before. Quickly it became clear to me that he believed in me more than I believed in myself. As I left the room, it occurred to me that it had been full of my presence and his absence. Perhaps that is what listening is, considered as a religious act. I then knew that greatness is measured by what we efface ourselves towards. There was no grandeur in his manner; neither was there any false modesty. He was serene, dignified, majestic; a man of transcending humility who gathered you into his embrace and taught you to look up.

A man once asked me, why do Chassidim have a picture of the Rebbe in their homes? I answered: For the same reason people hang a mirror in their home. The Rebbe’s picture is essentially a mirror, but with one difference: When you look at the mirror you see what you look like; when you look at the second type of mirror, the image of the Rebbe—you see what you CAN look like; you see what a human being is capable of making of himself. You see not what you are, but what you can become.

We and our children need tons and tons of such mirrors…

We were given a mission to take the world from Sinai to Moshiach, to redemption. What you need to do is move forward—inspire another soul, do another mitzvah, touch another heart, share the light and the love with people around you.


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky


There are no comments.