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Sand and Water

Sand and Water


When Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch (the “Tzemach Tzedek,” 1789–1866) was in Petersburg to attend the rabbinical convention of 1843, he received a special permit from the Russian minister of war to address the Jewish soldiers serving at the military installation in nearby Kronshtadt.

(This was in the days of the infamous “Cantonist” decree, when by order of Czar Nicholas I, six- and seven-year-old Jewish children were conscripted into the Russian army for a period of twenty-five years and indoctrinated into Christianity, G‑d forbid. The fact that the rebbe was granted permission to address the Jewish soldiers at Kronshtadt was nothing less than a miracle, since the primary purpose of their conscription was to tear them away from their faith.)

When the rebbe arrived, he was greeted by the waiting soldiers, who said to him: “Rebbe! We’ve been toiling all morning to prepare for your coming, polishing our buttons in your honor. Now it’s your turn to work hard: polish our souls, which have been dulled and coarsened by our many years of disconnection from Jewish life.”

Following his address, in which he encouraged their heroic efforts to cling to their faith, the rebbe said: “You polished your buttons with sand and water. The soul, too, is polished with sand and water: with the holy letters of Tehillim (Psalms) recited with a generous infusion of tears.”

One of the soldiers spoke up: “But Rebbe, battles are won with joy, not tears.”

“So speaks a soldier!” said the rebbe, with obvious satisfaction. “Yes, you’re right. A soldier enters the fray of battle to the tune of a joyous march, not with tears. It is by the power of his joy that he is victorious even in the most dangerous and challenging endeavors.”

From an address by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson; translation/adaptation by Yanki Tauber.
Originally published in Week in Review.
Republished with the permission of If you wish to republish this article in a periodical, book, or website, please email
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Eric S. Kingston North Hollywood, CA March 1, 2006

A very nice post by Martela, LA Reply

Anonymous September 23, 2005

In answer to Anonymous, Miami Beach, FL, a broken heart is the master key of Heaven, but joy breaks all boundaries. Reply

Martela LA, CALIF/USA September 11, 2004

Sand & Tears In reading this week's parsha portion, I am touched for I, too, since the age of tenderness 5, or 6, was held hostage in a religious home and indoctrinated with Catholicism, by parents who has been taught by their parents via assimilation. What JOY it is to study Judaism with my soul knowing my roots. Genealogy studies revealed Jewish great grandparents who escaped an expulsion in 1691 from France. When I recite the prayers at our shul on Shabbat, it is with tears and joy to know that these people had prayed for me...their children's children to know the Torah and that the Ruach did not let me rest until I returned [Teshuvah] to the G-d of Avraham, Yitzak, & Yacov and Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah.

The battle has been fought, the victory has been won...and I am but a servant/soldier of the Most High G-d. He trains my fingers for battle and my arm for war....sometimes it is a spiritual battle; sometimes it is for physical struggle.... What person knows best discipline but the soldier? For all of these things I am thankful, for parents who loved us, and were honoring their parents.....and I do not have anger...

Hashem also hid Esther until such a time as this...I marvel at His Ways... Reply

Anonymous Miami Beach , FL September 10, 2004

I didn't understand the Rebbe's answer to the soldier, is it with tears or with joy? Reply