“You can, but you don’t want to.”

Friday, 19 February, 2016 - 6:42 am


Dear Friends,


Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov was once sitting with his disciples in his Beit Midrash (study hall). They were learning or praying. Outside, in the street, a non-Jewish wagon-driver was going by in his wagon, but because of the winter mud he could not continue. The wagon was heavy, and the horse just couldn’t pull it through the mire. The wagon-driver therefore stuck his head through the window of the Beit Midrash and asked the Baal Shem Tov’s students to help him extricate the wagon from the deep mud.

When the students saw how heavily-loaded the wagon was, and how deep the mud puddle was, they said to him, “We can’t.”

“You can, but you don’t want to,” responded the wagon-driver.

The Baal Shem Tov, who had the principle of learning something from everything that one sees and hears, said to his disciples: “Listen to what the wagon-driver is saying. It is a message for life. It’s easiest to say ‘I can’t,’ but most of the time it’s really ‘I don’t want to.’”


After last week’s Parasha, in which we learned about the contents of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), this week, in Parashat Tetzave, we learn about the special garments that the Cohanim wore, their different types, design, components etc. Rashi, when relating to the prohibition of tearing the priestly garments, mentions also the Holy Ark’s wooden shafts, which we learned about last week.

These shafts were attached on either side of the Holy Ark. They were meant to be used when the Jewish People traveled, as a means of lifting the Holy Ark and carrying it. It turns out that these wooden bars must be attached to the Ark at all times, even when no traveling is being done and the Ark is sitting in the Holy of Holies. It is even a Torah commandment: “They shall not be removed from it.”

The Ark is taken out from the Holy of Holies when there is a war, and then it is carried before the camp and helps Bnei Yisrael in their battle. But this doesn’t happen every day, certainly not when they are already settled in Jerusalem, in the Temple. What is the reason, then, that they have to always be inserted into their rings in the Ark?

The Sefer Hachinuch explains simply: “We were commanded not to remove the Ark’s shafts from it, in case we will have to go out with it quickly to some place.” Because you never know what’s going to happen tomorrow, the Ark has to always be ready to go.

From this the Lubavitcher Rebbe learned the most important thing: Even if you consider yourself to be a Holy Ark, and perhaps you are indeed a learned Torah scholar, holy and righteous, you must still learn from the Holy Ark, in which the Tablets are kept. Like the Ark and its wooden bars that are always in place, you too have to be always ready to go out in response to any call for help that reaches you. Even when a person is learning or praying, or doing anything else, as important as it may be, he must be ready to move, as if the bars were attached to him; he must be willing to go out and lend a hand.

And if you say that you are busy, or you can’t, the Ukrainian wagon-driver will stick his head through the window and tell you, loudly: “You can, but you don’t want to.”


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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