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A Barrel Overflowing With Faith

A Barrel Overflowing With Faith

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Editor's Note: The following article originally appeared in Hebrew in Yedioth Achronoth, where Mr. Shamir was a correspondent. Today Shlomo Shamir is a reporter for Ha'aretz. Clearly the article depicts the correspondent's own impressions and recollections from his two-hour meeting with the Rebbe and is not necessarily an exact depiction of the Rebbe's original words.

I had prepared a lengthy list of questions. I had prepared my inner self as well. For many years I had been looking forward to my meeting and discussion with one of the spiritual giants of our generation, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Now there I was, outside his door, waiting to go inside in just a few moments.

A few young students hovered over large, yellowing volumes of the Talmud in a hall next door. The modestly furnished waiting room was empty and quiet. The secretary opened the door for me. I stepped inside. The Rebbe rose a bit from his seat, grasped my hand and invited me to sit opposite him. His eyes were blue, his beard gray and his smile warm enough to melt all of New York's snow drifts.

About Faith

I spent two hours in his room. At 1:00 AM the door opened behind me and his aide whispered in Yiddish, "It's late already." But the Rebbe continued. He spoke for an hour and a half without pause. A long monologue about faith.

Not about the need for faith, not about the sanctity and value of faith, nor the means of bringing Jews near and far closer to faith, but rather about the faith which already lives in the hearts of all the Jews of our time, particularly those living in Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel).

The Lubavitcher Rebbe overflows with boundless love for the nation and the land of Israel. He believes in them and in their faith. He believes that the Land of Israel is filled with faith; that its inhabitants are a people of great faith. They believe in G‑d and in His promise to Abraham, our forefather, "To your children I shall give this land."

"Every single Jew living in Israel today is a great believer," he said, "sometimes without even knowing it. The Land of Israel is a 'barrel overflowing with faith,' just waiting for the spark to ignite it into a great flame.

"Take, for instance, a Jewish man who lives in Eretz Israel and is a member of the Communist party. He's a communist, right? I believe that he is a great believer. There he is, living with his wife and children in a country surrounded by enemies who wish to annihilate him and his children. What's keeping this Jew in Eretz Yisrael? Faith in Marxism? No, I don't think so. He lives in Eretz Yisrael, and every once in a while rises up to defend it, because -- perhaps unbeknownst to him-- he believes in G‑d and in the fact that Eretz Israel was given to the People of Israel. We only have to awaken inside of him the awareness of his faith, then guide him into keeping the commandments. We must teach him that observing Shabbat, the Kosher dietary laws and putting on Tefillin are the natural extension of the faith which is alive inside him."

How Is It Done?

How do we do it? How do we find a path to these great and precious believers? Need we launch a campaign of religious hasbarah (publicity, propaganda - an oft-used term in Israel Ed.)? Must we first acquire good and wise leaders?

Not in the least. "No," said the Lubavitcher Rebbe. "There's no need for religious hasbarah, and great leaders are needed to create something when there is nothing. But the faith exists already. It's inside each Jew, waiting to be liberated."

And he said this too: "The Torah calls the nation of Israel "Army" ("Tzivot Hashem") only once: in the story of the Exodus from Egypt. We live in a similar condition today. We are just before our own exodus from Diaspora to redemption, so the nation of Israel today is like an army.

Each of us is a soldier. You. I. The young man studying next door. And just as in the army the most important factor is discipline, so is the demand of us today to have discipline. Our first obligation is to obey the command. Only later may we ask for explanations. It's been said already: 'We will do and listen.' First you do. Later, whoever feels the need can get explanations and interpretations.

"We don't need leaders today. We are the soldiers and we are demanded to act, to fulfill, each according to his ability. And the goal is: Ignite the spark."

How? The Lubavitcher Rebbe provided a straightforward, clear and courageous answer. Not through hasbarah. Time is too short and pressing. Today we must urge, we must demand -- not ask, beg or explain -- but demand. Demand as much as can be had, as difficult as it may be to be gotten, the more the better.

The youth of today is seeking challenges, seeking difficulty. The starting point must be: Grab as much as you can. We must demand a lot. Not beg and plead, nor worry about asking too much. We must speak to the believers with the firmness and sincerity of one who wishes only the best for his fellow. More than anything else this sincerity will make its mark.

"We've seen already," said the Rebbe, "that in times of emergency, a crisis, when a fire is raging, our youth is ready for real selflessness and sacrifice. Our youth wants to hear a command -- not arguments. A command to undertake something hard and exhausting, not something light and easy. By nature the Jew isn't afraid of hardships. By nature the Jew is defiant. We're a 'stiff-necked people' and a people of self-sacrifice. A nation of habitual rebels.

"Today people aren't as interested in understanding as they are in knowing. Even science today aims more to know than to understand. What we need is religious knowledge, not religious hasbarah. And if anyone in Israel has questions and doubts, as we said before, far more difficult questions and doubts can be raised concerning his very desire to live in this land, in Eretz Yisrael [yet he does it gladly]. I'm not saying that one should not explain or debate once in a while -- but we're not permitted today to waste much time on arguments and hasbarah. We're living in an epoch of deeds and we must demand deeds. Many deeds."

A Commanding Finger

He had elongated, shapely fingers, like those of a pianist. To emphasize a point he would raise an emphatic, demanding, commanding index finger.

He continued: "There are many among us who are living in despair. They've despaired of our spiritual condition, they don't believe that anything can be changed. Some raise their eyes to the Heavens: 'Only God in Heaven can help.' This is dangerous.

"It's very dangerous nowadays to walk around in despair, relying on help from Heaven alone.

"My father-in-law [Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe] once told me: The Talmud says that before the arrival of Moshiach, 'Insolence will rise, the wisdom of sages will be used for lowly things, truth will be absent, the face of the generation will resemble the face of a dog,' and so on. And the Talmud concludes: 'Upon whom can we lean [rely]? On our Father in Heaven.' "My father-in-law explained: 'Leaning [relying solely] on our Father in Heaven' is another one of the calamities the Talmud is enumerating.

Nowadays a Jew is not allowed to say, 'G‑d in Heaven will help me, for there is nothing more that I can do. Besides, even if I do anything, it will not help.' This is a terrible, dangerous mistake. Now, of all times, each one of us is obligated to do, to deliver the spark into the 'barrel full of faith.' And every Jew has such a spark.

"I too have chassidim who walk around in despair, and ask me, 'What's all this labor for? What difference will it make if we get a Jew to put on Tefillin after years that he hasn't?' I answer them, 'We live in a time of spiritual mortal danger and in such a time we must do everything, even if there is doubt whether it will help.

"And one never knows whether one's actions have helped or, G‑d forbid, not. I remember years ago, my father-in-law began to send out yeshiva students to faraway cities and towns in the United States, to seek out Jews and bring them some Judaism. I remember how one day two students returned dejected from such a tour. 'We traveled for weeks and made no headway, no one would listen to us,' they complained to me.

"I told this to my father-in-law and he answered me, 'They may not be aware of it but they were successful. Only today I received a letter from an elderly woman in one of the towns they visited; she writes me that the sight of her bearded visitors aroused in her a flood of memories from her parents' home; and she's asking me to send her books and guidance on how to return to the Jewish way of life.'

"We learn from this story that the doer must never despair, even if he does not see instant results. He can never know when the seed he planted will shoot up."

It was late. The Rebbe rose from his seat, gesturing that the conversation was finished, but not complete. When I mentioned that I had prepared a few questions and perhaps I should send them by mail, he said, "Why by mail? Come in again and we'll talk."

While shaking my hand he said, as if summing up his long monologue, "And if you or anyone else asks, 'Why me of all people? Why must I do and act?,' I'll answer with a question:

"'And why not 'I'?'"

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Rabbi A.J. Wach Cape Coral, Florida,USA February 6, 2011

Wisdom of the Rebbe B"H A unique individual who had the best interests of his people at heart! A great teacher who led by example! May he continue to inspire and expedite the coming of the Messiah! Reply

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