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Through The Eyes of a Woman

Shlach / 28th of Sivan: The Rebbe's Arrival in the U.S.

I would like to share with you two small points the Rebbe made on Shabbos Mevarchim, Parshas Shlach Lecha, the 28th of Sivan.

Although the Rebbe did not openly refer to it, this is the day that he and the Rebbitzin, aleha hashalom, came to the United States [in 1941]. This heralded a new era in the United States, which had repercussions throughout the entire Jewish world. And though the Rebbe did not, in his humble way, make one reference to this fact in the entire farbrengen, he did perhaps hint at it by saying that the Hebrew date chaf-ches (twenty-eight) forms the word koach (strength). The Rebbe said that the 28th day of every month has in it, in a mystical way, a certain potential to give koach -- to bring out the full strength of the events of that entire month.

Every month has a special quality. Since the month of Sivan is the month of Matan Torah, when the Torah was given to the Jewish people, the 28th day of Sivan is a day which is still connected to the events of Matan Torah. It is a day when the koach of Matan Torah is fully manifested. Of course, this might be in a mystical way, of which we are not necessarily aware, but that does not lessen its value.

I have often mentioned that one of the unique talents of the Rebbe is his ability to point out the value of every single detail, however "minor" it may seem. Let us examine an example from the parshah of the week:

The Rebbe referred to the story of the meraglim (the Spies), saying that the meraglim were emissaries of Moshe Rabbeinu, who sent them to Israel on a specific mission. Their mission was very simple: all they had to do was go to Eretz Yisrael and describe the conditions in the country -- is it strong; is it weak; what are the people like. They weren't supposed to give their commentaries and opinions, just the facts.

What was their flaw? When they came back, they said, "Oh, this land is very frightening. The people are so strong! We're never going to be able to do it. Lo nuchal laalos -- we will not be able to go up and conquer this land." That was their downfall. "Who asked you? Who asked you whether we'll be able to? You weren't sent for that! You weren't sent to Israel to come back with predictions. You were just going to report the weather."

But when they came back they said, "Oh, this is just too much. We will definitely fail; there is no way we can conquer this land. We'd better stay here." The people then became distraught. They started crying, and wanted to go back to Egypt. The problem of the Spies was that they forgot what their mission was, and they messed up. They didn't do what they were sent to do!

The Rebbe mentions this incident and explains that when the meraglim were sent, it wasn't really by direct command of HaShem. There wasn't a mitzvah in the Torah to send meraglim. HaShem said to Moshe, "If you want to send meraglim, OK. I'll let you send them ledaascha -- on your cheshbon, if you wish to. I am not commanding you or asking you; it's not something I specifically want. If you want to do it, gei gezunterheit, do it in good health. But I'm not telling you to do it."

The Rebbe explains that there are two domains of activity in life. One domain is governed by the express mitzvos of the Torah. There are certain things we must do: we must keep Shabbos, we must keep kosher, we must keep taharas hamishpachah, etc. These are things we have to do. There is also a tremendous gray area, limited only by what we may not do (the prohibitions of Torah), in which we have, to a very large extent, free choice -- you may do something (it is permitted), but you don't have to. If you want to do it, go ahead; if you don't want to do it, you don't have to.

Let's consider the example of two people who have some free time. They're not busy every minute of the day; they have three hours in the day that they're just free -- there are no mitzvos that they have to do. One person decides, "You know, I have this free time. I know an old lady next door. Let me just see how she is doing." She goes to visit and finds out that the elderly neighbor needs some company, she needs someone to go shopping for her. So she decides to help this woman during her free time.

The other person spends her three hours doing her needlepoint or going swimming, or just relaxing in bed and reading a book. Now, this person who stayed home didn't do an aveirah. Reading a book is not an aveirah; sleeping is not an aveirah; eating chocolate is not an aveirah. But, you have that option. You can either do a mitzvah with your time, or you could just do neutral things with your time.

The Rebbe explains that HaShem is hinting to the Jews that sending the meraglim wasn't a mitzvah and it wasn't an aveirah; it was just a thing that they wanted to do. The meraglim had the potential to elevate their mission to something divine -- they could have come back and said, "This land is strong. And we know that with HaShem's help, we'll conquer it." They could have used it as an opportunity to instill emunah (faith) and bitachon (trust) and inspiration in their fellow Jews. But instead, they took it and turned it into one of the most tragic events in Jewish history.

This is to teach us the tremendous responsibility we have in what is called bechirah chofshis -- free choice. We have free choice in many, many things in our lives. And HaShem truly gives us the koach -- here the Rebbe referred again to the idea of koach -- to do as we should. Yet, we must always be aware of the purpose of our shlichus, our mission in life, because the problem with the meraglim was that they forgot why they were sent.

At every minute we have to be conscious of why are we in this world. Why are we alive? What is the reason HaShem sent us here? Keep this in the forefront of your consciousness at all times.

It's like suddenly getting a severe pain in your leg and ending up spending four weeks in a hospital bed. If you don't realize your mission in life, you could spend those four weeks in absolute agony, misery, complaining for four weeks... You could just have a totally negative experience. However, you should remember all the time: "I was sent to this world for a purpose. And this purpose is to make this world a dwelling place for HaShem, to reveal G-dliness in everything that comes into my life. So what difference does it make if I'm in my house, or if I'm in a hospital, or if I'm in an airplane." Being laid up in bed in one or several hospitals could be a mission that HaShem is sending you on to meet people that you would never have met had you not been sick. Perhaps there are people that only you could reach or help in some way.

This is the way you must think. Suppose you're fired from a job and you cannot figure out why you were fired. Realize that HaShem obviously wants you to go from this job to another, because there are people you have to come in contact with in this place of work or in that one. All your moving around is not only for the reasons you know -- every individual that you come in contact with in your entire life, and every event that takes place, is really for the purpose of revealing G-dliness in the world. If you keep that in mind, you see every event with totally different eyes.

I would like to tell you a story about Rabbi Mendel Futerfas, a Russian Jew who now lives in Kfar Chabad, and is the head mashpia of the Yeshivah there. Reb Mendel spent many years in jail in Russia for spreading Yiddishkeit, and for helping Yidden to escape from behind the Iron Curtain. He is a real mesirus nefesh Jew. I could probably spend many hours just telling stories about Reb Mendel; many miracles happened to him.

Reb Mendel came out of Russia about twenty-five years ago; when I was still a young girl in New York, he had just come out. At that time his wife was living in England, so when he left Russia, he first came to London to be reunited with her. The next Yom-Tov -- I think it was in Tishrei -- he went to the Rebbe for the very first time. Although he had known the Rebbe in Russia, this was before the Rebbe had taken the leadership of Chabad upon himself. Thus it was the first time he was meeting the Rebbe as his Rebbe. You can imagine what an emotional event it was, not just for Mendel, but for everyone else who knew his story and the tremendous mesirus nefesh that he had, to bring Yiddishkeit to Jews and Jews to Yiddishkeit under the worst circumstances.

Anyway, Reb Mendel was sitting on the plane going back from New York to London, which is about a five or six-hour flight. He barely knew English -- he had only been in London for a few weeks, and in New York for another few weeks, but even so he had spent most of his time speaking Yiddish and Russian. On the plane, he looked over at his neighbor, who looked to him to be Jewish -- he didn't ask him his name, but he could tell a yiddishe face. His neighbor didn't look like a frum person, but how could Reb Mendel, being so full of Yiddishkeit and so full of life, not try to make contact with this Jew? But how will he talk to him? He can't speak English!

So he thought and thought, "It must be hashgachah peratis." It can't be for no reason that this person is sitting two inches away from him for six hours! Finally, he got an idea. He took out his tefillin, and pointing to them, he said to the man sitting next to him, "I Jew, you Jew. I tefillin, you tefillin." His neighbor consented and donned the tefillin. With these few words of English, he got this Jew, who was far away from Yiddishkeit, to put on tefillin -- without any eloquent English oratory.

So I think we have to take Reb Mendel's lead and say: it's hashgachah peratis that this person lives next door to you, or that storekeeper happens to be on your block. They are people that HaShem planted in your life. You know it's not a mistake if there is an old lady who just happens to be part of your world. Just smiling, or giving shalach manos is a start. You can bring Yiddishkeit to Yidden and Yidden to Yiddishkeit in a lot of little ways. They may be little to you, but very big to the person next to you.

What the Rebbe is saying is that we all have free choice. We could either ignore these people, these opportunities, these events, or we could see everything in our life as a G-d-sent opportunity to use our free choice to sanctify HaShem's name in the world.

Finally, the Rebbe mentions, there is a verse in the Torah which refers to the concept that HaShem gives a person free choice. HaShem does not compel a person to do what He wants. As we can see, there are many people living very happy lives and not doing what HaShem wants, and yet HaShem doesn't strike them down with a bolt of lightning. They continue to live very happily without feeling they are being coerced to do as HaShem wants. The Torah states, Nasati lifneichem hayom es hachaim ve'es hatov, es hamaves, ve'es hara... ubarcharta bachaim. HaShem says, "I am placing before you today two choices: Life and death, good and evil.... Choose life." The Rebbe explains that HaShem pleads with us: "Please choose life." HaShem is not standing over you and forcing you, or commanding you; He asks of you: "Please! It's for your benefit to choose life!" And when HaShem asks you to do something, he also gives the ability and the strength.

Of course, making choices in life is not so simple. Very often, there seem to be many obstacles standing in our path when we want to do what HaShem wants. We sometimes feel it's not fair that HaShem asks us to do these things and then makes it so hard for us to do what He wants us to do. The Rebbe says that very often these difficulties are partly in our minds. If we see them as difficulties and as obstacles, that is what they will be. But if we decide that they just don't exist, then it's like what Reb Mendel did in Russia when he said, "Look, the Czar has his thing to do and I have my thing to do. Let him do his thing and I'll do mine. I'm not going to let him prevent me from doing what I have to do."

This is how you should feel about all those people that laugh at you, all those people that want to make life difficult. Just say, "Well, that's their job; they're here to make life difficult for me. Let them go ahead and try. But I know what I have to do."

Your attitude is all important. If you have the attitude that, "I know what I have to do," and you go ahead and do it, you'll see those obstacles will just vanish, or diminish into nothingness. Many people can attest to this in their own lives. This is what the Rebbe says about the meraglim: they saw the giants as an obstacle. Other people would see them and say, "We're soon going to witness HaShem just dissolving these giants; it's nothing!"

This is our challenge in life. And we have the koach to see it through.

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