*Translation by Yehoshua Siskin (http://inthelandoftheJews.blogspot.com)
1. What's the most beautiful story you know about the Lubavitcher Rebbe? I was asked to answer this question when being interviewed this week in connection to the 28th anniversary of the Rebbe's passing, which was observed two days ago on the 3rd of Tammuz. It took some time for me to choose but I believe that the following story is the most beautiful one that I know.
Rabbi Moshe Feller, chief Chabad emissary to Minnesota, was asked to write an article for a newspaper on Judaism, Torah, and hassidism. He tried to explain in the article what Torah does for another person and wrote that when a person faints and loses consciousness, it is said you must get close to their ear and shout their name in order for them to wake up.
In the same way, he wrote, when a person is far from their Judaism, far from their identity and themselves, we need to shout their name and that they are a Jew in order for them to be reminded of who they are and wake up.
Rabbi Feller sent the article to the Lubavitcher Rebbe for his approval. Only one word was changed but with great significance. The Rebbe crossed out "shout" and wrote above it "whisper." Not to shout into the other's ear, but to whisper into it.
How do we awaken those who are spiritually unconscious, how do we address those who are cut off from their roots? The man who influenced millions recommends that we change our approach.
Don't shout at them that they are not okay, don't roar at them with your beliefs, but rather whisper. You are about to enter a delicate place -- the soul. Don't approach them with brutality. Approach them with confidence but also with love, with determination but with tenderness too.
It would appear that this approach could benefit us all, in every area of life.
2. And exercise caution: Avoid ridicule of what you do not understand - at all costs!*
The Torah portion of Chukat (read this coming Shabbat in the Diaspora) begins with the words *"This is the law of the Torah,"* and then describes a subject shrouded in mystery until today: the ritual of the red heifer. Generations of sages examined this mitzvah (divine commandment) that has no clear explanation.
But is there a reason behind every mitzvah? Could there be both revealed and hidden explanations involved -- or none at all? Are we obligated or even able to understand everything? Do we only perform mitzvot whose purpose we understand or do we sometimes simply say: "This is the law of the Torah"?
Today, if something sounds ancient or not up-to-date, the easiest thing is to ridicule or dismiss it. There is a tendency to think that if a Torah law or commandment is not applicable to the here and now, then it is certainly irrelevant and may even become fodder for jokes about our tradition.
Here's an idea from the Rambam, among the greatest Jewish thinkers of all time, regarding this matter: *"It is fitting for a person to contemplate the judgments of the holy Torah and know their ultimate purpose according to his capacity. If he cannot find a reason or a motivating rationale for a practice, he should not take it lightly . . . One's thoughts concerning it should not be like his thoughts concerning other matters."* (Mishneh Torah, Me'ilah 8:8)
In other words, on the one hand we should study and make every effort to understand. The Jewish bookshelf is based on thousands of years of study. It is fitting to delve deep inside before making assertions we are convinced are valid. On the other hand, even after we have thoroughly investigated a subject, there will always be matters we do not understand. And even when we do not comprehend certain subjects completely or not at all, perhaps because they are not in keeping with the times, we need to exercise extreme caution not to minimize or ridicule them.
We should never demean our heritage since, in doing so, we would only be demeaning ourselves.
3. And we never know when we may suddenly realize we are part of that heritage. Here is a story:
Fish and Chips: From Miami to Carmiel
A reader from Carmiel sent me a notice last week regarding "Kikar Miami." At first glance, it looked like any other restaurant advertisement until I read the fine print: Each patron who says something positive or optimistic about the Land of Israel would receive a 10% discount. The discount was meant to coincide with the Shelach Torah portion, where most of the spies who scouted the Land of Israel returned with a gloomy and pessimistic report.
I called the restaurant. One of the workers told me how people who came to the restaurant praised Israel's highly diversified landscape that includes deserts as well as snowy mountains. Some customers explained that the fruits, vegetables, and cheeses in Israel are the tastiest in the world. Others mentioned the special holiness of the Land. And then there were new immigrants who shared their aliyah stories and how emotional it was to see with their own eyes how the prophecy of the ingathering of the exiles has been fulfilled.
I asked about the proprietor and his story. So let me just say: "Pleased to make your acquaintance, Paltiel Koenigsberg." Now 40 years old, he owned two restaurants in Miami, Florida, until two years ago. He was born in New York and his wife is originally from Venezuela. His wife's sisters married Israelis who had moved to the United States and it was ironically through these former Israelis that he began to fall in love with the Land of Israel.
During the corona pandemic he began to understand that MIami was not his home. HIs family sold the restaurants and left for Israel. Paltiel made aliyah with his wife and six children (meanwhile a seventh child was born in Israel), his three sisters and their families, and his mother-in-law, a total of 25 new immigrants in all.
He had never heard the word Carmiel until his arrival in Israel. He had originally thought to live in Beit Shemesh because of the large American community there. But in traveling through Israel, the family fell in love with the North in general and with Carmiel in particular. "When I first came up north," he recalled, "suddenly everything was calm. Even the children in the back seat stopped fighting.
"We arrived in Israel exactly two years ago during parashat Shelach and the story of the spies and their negative report about the Land. Only two spies - Kalev and Yehoshua - were optimistic. We too felt a little like spies when we first came to Israel to check it out but our impressions were out of this world. From one day to the next we feel less American and more Israeli. We even managed to vote once and perhaps will soon do so a second time. We thought about how to mark the anniversary of our aliyah and now, since we have our own business in the Land of Israel, we decided to share our story with the public."
The Shelach discount is now over, we are reading the next parshiyot, but you can still continue in the spirit of it.