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Escaping this world?

Friday, 5 June, 2020 - 3:59 am

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

In observing the events that have recently unfolded in my birth country the United States of America I was filled with dismay and horror.

Much has been written and said about the tragic events. Chabad.org posted R’ Tzvi Freemans article which I am linking to here. I am sure you have read and heard much about this and are equally appalled. 

I would like to use this forum to think out loud about how to channel my rage into practical contributions to the betterment of society. There is much to say, way beyond the scope of one article, but let me begin at least.

There is a famous motivational story told, of two salesmen from competing companies who are sent to a foreign country to assess the market for shoes. 

 

Salesman One scouts around for a few days and then heads for the telegraph office to contact company headquarters.  He writes:  "Research complete.  Unmitigated disaster.  Nobody here wears shoes."


Likewise, Salesman Two does his research and heads for the same telegraph office.  Once there, he composes the following: "Research complete.  Glorious opportunity!  Nobody here wears shoes!"  


On the one hand, the world is a mess. 

A real jungle. 

There was a WhatsApp meme going around after the launch of the spaceship last week.

‘Congratulations to the astronauts who left earth today. Good choice!’

If I had the option, would I want to run away from the world because of its degradation? 

Nope. That would be running away from the purpose of creation. 

The junglelike behavior that we are seeing in the world, is the very reason we have been sent down here on earth. 

Not so that we should be giving-in to our animalistic urges and self-centered temptations.  Rather, we have been sent here by G-d to do our job of transforming this junglelike world where G-d’s presence is obscured, into a luscious garden for G-d to be recognized and revered.

How? 

It is precisely for this reason that we have been given the Torah which is G-d’s communication to humanity on how to live. When we follow the ‘user manual’ that the ‘manufacturer’ (G-d) has provided to us, we are able to transform this world into the sweet-smelling garden that it truly is. 

The Torah is the transformative Divine key that unlocks the hidden potential within humanity and within the universe. 

Note. The Torah is not a book for angels in heaven. The Torah is given by G-d to us physical beings of flesh and blood in THIS MATERIAL WORLD .  Not despite the fact that we are imperfect. Rather, precisely because of our natural unsaintliness. Because we have challenges in being moral. Because murder, theft, and infidelity are possibilities in this world. This is why Hashem gave us the Torah.

The Talmud (Shabbos 88b) relates that when Moses ascended Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, the angels challenged him saying, “What is this mortal doing amongst us?” Moses replied, “I have come to take the Torah to the Jewish people.” Whereupon the angels, addressing G-d, petitioned, "leave the Torah with us and we will honor and cherish it.” G-d turns to Moses and says “go ahead, answer them” and Moses responds, "My dear angels, just take a look at what the Torah commands – 'I am the Lord your G-d who has taken you out of the land of Egypt,' 'Honor your parents.' Do you have a father and mother? Have you been enslaved in Egypt? Have you a selfish and evil inclination?” clearly demonstrating that the Torah was intended for souls vested in physical bodies confronted with the realities of our material world.  

To come back to the shoe salesman analogy, humanity can definitely not send a message to Heaven that there is no ‘market’ or no need for a Divine code of morality here in this world. 

On the contrary. The recent events have shown that there is a huge gaping hole in our world that needs Divine guidance more urgently than ever before.

My friends, this is not a time to give up on the world and run away from contributing to healing our fractured society. This is a time to roll up our sleeves and get to work! 

It seems overwhelming. What can I, as an individual possibly do? Who will my reinforcement of morality and mindful living make a difference in the world?

Rabbi David Lapin, from South Africa, once shared this experience.

As soon as I entered the rabbinate of South Africa, I became concerned about retaining my intellectual independence – something I am fiercely protective of – while serving as a community rabbi at the will of a synagogue’s board of directors. Therefore, I believed that I also needed to secure an independent source of income. And so I first went to work for an international commodities trading company, and later I founded the leadership consulting firm which I currently lead.

At about that time, an opportunity arose to join a company of commodity traders in Johannesburg, and this is what I did. But I was not sure I was on the right track. Was I right to divide my time between my business and my rabbinic duties? It seemed as if I had two full-time jobs and my family was paying a heavy price as a result.

There came a time when I felt I needed the opinion of someone much wiser than me, someone who had a global perspective that embraced modernity, history and the future. I decided to seek the advice of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

In 1976 I came to New York, but I had not realized that to see the Rebbe one had to make an appointment many months in advance, and at first I was turned away. Only when I wrote a letter to the Rebbe in which I made the argument that my questions impacted the larger Jewish community – and which I insisted be presented to him – did he invite me to wait until he finished his appointments for the night when he would make time to see me.

I will never forget meeting the Rebbe. I recall that he got up from his chair as my wife and I came in, greeted us and insisted that we sit down. At that moment, I realized that we were going to have a real conversation – this was not going to be just a symbolic encounter.

Indeed, the meeting lasted about fifteen minutes, during which time I felt that he was looking right inside me and communicating with me on a level that transcends the mind, getting straight to the heart and the essence of being. In addition, I sensed a kindness and warmth – all at once I was in the presence of a great man, an intellectual genius, a leader of the Jewish people, but also a grandfather who cared about me. In short, it was an amazing experience.

I asked him about the responsibilities that I faced and the limitations that I felt, which seemed overwhelming. How could I manage it all? What should I give up – my business or my Torah teaching? Where should I direct my energies?

His answer to me was that I should give up nothing and continue working in business while still teaching Torah. I do not remember his exact words, but the gist of it was that my being in business increased my ability to bring people closer to Judaism; my profession increased my influence and was a vehicle of kiddush Hashem, of sanctifying the name of G-d. He stressed that I would have greater impact if I was involved with both business and Torah.

I was still very young, and I couldn’t imagine how I could continue to do both. So, I burst out with: “I don’t think that this is realistic. I’m already up to here… I feel very humbled and very honored that you would even talk to me this way, but it just isn’t realistic!”

I remember clearly his response to my outburst. He said: “I’ll tell you what your difficulty is. You think that human interaction is like a chemical reaction. But it isn’t. In a chemical reaction, there are two elements which interact with each other, and they result in a third compound. But people aren’t chemicals. When people interact, the result is a nuclear reaction. A nuclear reaction occurs at the core and then it radiates in a spherical, rather than a linear, way. As the outer rings of your sphere get bigger and bigger, the number of people you are touching gets bigger and bigger – indeed, there is no limit.

“When you touch the heart of one person, there is a nuclear reaction because that person in turn touches so many other people. So, each person you touch – even if it is a moment’s interaction – represents a nuclear reaction in terms of impact. That’s what it really is.”

He was right of course, and way ahead of the research that, since then, has proven his words to be true. For example, the Framingham Heart Study showed that people’s mood affects others three times removed – that is, one’s friend’s friend’s friends. We impact people not just with our words but with our moods and our energy.

Rabbi Lapin concluded:

“I remembered this whenever I stood in front of a class of fifty people. I contemplated that these fifty could in turn be impacting at least one hundred and fifty others. This meant that, both in my work as a rabbi and as a business person, week after week I was affecting tens of thousands of people without realizing it. That’s what the Rebbe tried to get across to me. He was talking about the huge amount of holiness that I had the potential to bring into the world.

“I got it. Indeed, he changed my entire mindset when he said, “Don’t underestimate what each person is capable of doing. Just remember that when you touch one person you are causing a nuclear reaction.” And that’s something that I’ve never forgotten.”


These above words were penned by Rabbi Y.Y. Jacobson in an article he wrote on his TheYeshiva.net website and I shared them because they resonated deeply within me.

The words we use. The actions we engage in. They all create ripples of change. 

We need to all be spreading belief in G-d as the Eye that Sees and the Ear that Hears, emphasizing that G-d’s will is the absolute moral compass that decides what constitutes good and what is evil. 

We need to study about this. Learn the words to use. Get comfortable in sharing moral ‘elevator speeches’ as we often don’t get much time to impart lessons to others. Most importantly we need to reframe the way we view ourselves and our universe to embrace an overarching G-d’ly moral outlook. 

Click here for an article outlining G-d’s rules of Universal Morality. And here for a collections of articles on Jewish Universal Ethics. And here for the Rebbe’s words to Mayor David Dinkins about the ‘melting pot’. 

And most importantly we need to ‘walk the talk’ and make sure that we make every effort to live our lives in the most moral way possible.

Acts of goodness and kindness will make the world a better place. Words of kindness, of dialogue and of peace will lead the discourse of society to a more peaceful place.

And it will propel the world forward ever closer to its utopian next phase. As more mitzvahs will hasten the coming of Mashiach!!!! We need Mashiach more than ever, it will bring HEALING and PEACE to a plagued and fractured world. May he come NOW!!!

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS below find links to my three ‘Facebook Live’ posts about Torah and its pertinence to our times shared this week on Chabad.org facebook page.

Torah: A Beacon of Light for our times

Torah: Oseh SHALOM – the path to Peace

Torah: EMMET – Eternal Truth

PPS I am still not so adept at Facebook, so telephone, WhatsApp and email are still the best way to reach me.


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