Only until Mashiach comes

Friday, 8 April, 2022 - 6:48 am

A few years ago, we had the privilege of hosting a supper for a group of senior officials from non-Chassidic (known also as “Litvak”) organizations that are active in kiruv and in disseminating Judaism in Israel and abroad. When I say senior, I mean those who are in truth responsible for the organizations, top to bottom, including (and mainly) the financial aspects. These are talmidei chachamim (Torah scholars), very intense on the one hand, but very pleasant on the other. They happened to be in Basel and a joint friend, who is a Chabadnik, gave them my number.

It was a fascinating evening – several hours of deep and razor-sharp discussions. Neither side was apologetic or unduly ingratiating. I had never met them before, and they didn’t know me either. But they said, “Listen, Reb Zalman, we get the impression that we can be completely candid with you. Is that correct? You are the host and we are your guests. We don’t want to be impolite, but we have many questions about Chabad in general and about the shelichut network in particular. May we speak freely?” I said they could, but only on condition that I may be allowed to answer freely as well.

They asked every question that a non-Chabadnik might ask. Starting from the classical questions regarding the question as to whether the Rebbe is the Mashiach or not, and all the way to questions about Chabad’s attitude towards political Zionism.

One of the questions was this: “We send out couples of shlichim to places throughout the world. As you know, in many places we are the “competitors” of the Chabad shlichim. Our shlichim serve for a set period, usually five years, and some of them even for ten years, but then they return home and others take their places. The Chabad shlichim, though, take upon themselves to stay for their whole lives. Why is this so? What is the idea behind it?”

L’chaim!” I said, and finished off my shot of whisky. First of all, because a Chabadnik must have a L’chaim, and also because I needed that whisky in order to answer the question. “So,” I said, “first of all, we don’t intend to serve for the rest of our lives, only until the Mashiach comes. Secondly – and this is the main point – anyone who goes to be a shaliach, and it doesn’t matter which organization or group is sending him, will encounter a brick wall, sooner or later. At some point he will have to face a solid wall that cannot be overcome. He wants to move forward; he understands that it is necessary to break through some boundaries – but there is that wall in front of him. It could be a financial barrier, or an emotional one, people interfering with his activities, or bureaucratic issues such as building permits or the use of certain real estate.

“It’s like this: if he has committed to five years, and this is his fourth, if he is sane, he will probably not clamber to the top of the wall, and certainly he will not break through it. Because when one climbs a wall, and certainly when one breaks through one, one gets injured, and that is painful. So he says to himself: There’s only one year to go. Let’s get through it in peace. Why go crazy now?

“But if his mission is lifelong (“until Mashiach comes”, they corrected me this time), he understands that if he does not overcome this wall now, he will remain behind it for the rest of his life. So he will do everything, everything, to break it down. And he will succeed.”

They liked that answer, but then one of them immediately asked the obvious question: “Okay, but how, really, do you overcome or break down such a wall?”

My wife, who had just at that moment come in with medium-rare delicacies, said: “I’ll answer that one. He packs a small bag and says to me: ‘I’m going to New York, to the Rebbe, for one day, or maybe for Shabbat.’ And that’s it.”

The next question was, “What happens when you are at the Rebbe’s gravesite? Does the miracle always happen? You come, write to the Rebbe, put the note on the tziyun and the wall disappears?”

“There are plenty of miracles,” I said. “But what really happens is that I get the strength to cope with what I’m facing. It is still possible to get hurt; one still has to cope with pain or difficulties, but when you return to your mission with the knowledge that Hashem gives you the strength to deal with everything, when you come back with the powerful understanding that you can beat this world, then the world can’t beat you.”

Dear friends, this coming Tuesday we will be marking 120 years since the Rebbe’s birth. Like every sort of light and abundance in the world, one can obtain some of it, or miss it. Whoever shows up with a suitable container – receives some of it. Whoever doesn’t – doesn’t.

I believe wholeheartedly that on the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s birthday a wondrous light of Jewish pride and might appears in the world, an unequivocal statement to each and every one of us: “You can do it.” Anyone who will be willing to let go of their sarcasm and joking, cynicism and pessimism, and perhaps also of their limited realism, for just a moment, will know how to fuel themselves with a feeling of mission that will place them on a higher spot in terms of this world. A mission that has the power to break through and overcome any inhibiting factor. A Chabad-like mission. And don’t worry, it’s not lifelong – it’s only until the Mashiach will come, speedily, in our days, Amen.

Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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