Rabbi Meir Shapiro of Lublin, a great leader of Polish Jewry, was once sitting in a meeting together with a number of other rabbis and dignitaries to plan a response to a pressing communal issue.

Time was short and the risk was great. There was a paucity of information and a multitude of options. Suggestions were flying around the room, each more unpromising than the next. They were gambling with the future with little way to assess the strength of their hand. They had reached an impasse; there seemed no logical way forward.

Rabbi Shapiro proffered a suggestion. It didn’t seem to be the greatest of ideas; it was the longest of long shots, yet most of the people around the table seemed willing to give it a go.

Yet in every crowd there is at least one cynic. “What’s the use?” he exclaimed. “Why waste our time flogging a dead horse? It won’t work, it can’t be done, and we’d be fools to try.”

The skeptic was seemingly right. The chance of eventual success was minimal, at best. Yet Rabbi Shapiro was unfazed.

“Thanks to your objection, I finally understand a perplexing passage in the Torah,” he responded with equanimity. “The Torah relates how ‘the daughter of Pharaoh was walking down to bathe by the banks of the Nile, when she saw the basket [containing the infant Moses] amongst the bulrushes. She sent out her arm and took it.’”1

“A common rabbinic interpretation of this verse is that Moses was too far away in the water for her to reach him naturally. She reached out as far as she could, and G‑d miraculously extended her arm long enough to rescue the child.

“I’ve often wondered,” continued the Lubliner, “If the basket was clearly too far away to reach, why did she bother stretching out in the first place? She could not possibly have been expecting such a show of divine intervention, so why waste her time or energy on an impossibility?

“But that’s precisely the point. Nobody can guarantee success, but that does not excuse us from reaching out and trying our best. If a child is in danger, you don’t think, you just do. Our community is crying out for leadership and, although success or failure are in G‑d’s hands, we’ve got to do anything and everything we possibly can to turn the tide in our favor.”