April 18, 2024
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April 18, 2024
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Rebbe Shlomo Halberstam, the Bobover Rebbe, zt”l, of the post-Holocaust era, revived his community with love, resilience and faith. The Rebbe restored kavod to thousands of survivors and helped them rebuild their lives, and was the paradigm of fatherly love, chein v’chesed, grace and righteousness.

Family weddings in Bobov were majestic; thousands joined the Rebbe to share in the celebration, dancing into the wee hours of the morning. For all the survivors, their families and the community, simchas uplifted them with a sense of victory, affirmation, continuity, faith and celebration. All felt certain that, “Netzach Yisrael lo yishaker—The promise of the eternity of Am Yisrael is true.”

At the height of the dancing and fervor, the Rebbe took a breather and stood at his shtender. Scanning the thousands of revelers, the Rebbe caught sight of an elderly chasid dancing, his arms on the shoulders of a taller chasid in front of him in the circle. The Rebbe called over a young man—who was nearby—and whispered to him, “Ti mir a toiveh, please do me a favor: go stand between that elderly Yid and the tall fellow in front of him, so that the zakein (elderly person) need not exert himself and have to stretch uncomfortably during the rikud (dance).”

Amid such rejoicing and dveykus (clinging to Hashem), the Rebbe not only perceived the vulnerability and possible discomfort of another person, his mind computed and communicated a solution. At the height of his spiritual bliss, the Rebbe remained aware of the seemingly minor needs of another.

ויאמר אל משה אני חתנך יתרו בא אליך ואשתך ושני בניה עמה

He sent word to Moses, “I, your father-in-law, Yisro, am coming to you, with your wife and her two sons.” (18:6)

Our Sages describe Yisro as a spiritual seeker who traveled the world, experiencing a multitude of paths, faiths and idolatrous practices. Rav Simcha Zissel, the Alter of Kelm, puts his finger on what drove Yisro’s search: until he came in contact with Yiddishkeit, Yisro had understood the goal of spirituality to be transcendence and escape from the day-to-day reality of this world. As much as one might desire to escape the mundanity of this world, this is—indeed—an elusive goal.

Rashi notes that Yisro’s comment to his son-in-law, Moshe, reflects the life-changing insight he’d learned from taking in the Torah perspective: “If you will not come out for my own sake, come out for the sake of your wife; and if you will not come out for your wife’s sake, come out for the sake of your two sons.” Yisro reminds Moshe that Yiddishkeit is not just about our own transcendence. Being a leader and teacher of Klal Yisrael cannot come at the expense of “normal” social, cultural and familial responsibilities.

When we bring to mind a “holy moment” or envision a “spiritual person,” we might think of someone with their eyes closed—“vertically” focused—reaching beyond this world. Interacting with a “mundane moment” or being a “people-person,” by contrast, is characterized by a “horizontal focus,” reaching out to the world. These two modes of being seem to be mutually exclusive; however, Yidishkeit insists that we be completely given over to both. We must pursue our inner, vertical world, and, simultaneously, to the minutiae and needs of the outer, horizontal world.

And this is why truly holy people—even amid their “biggest” moments—notice little things. Even when our service of Hashem and fulfillment of mitzvos is flowing with passionate devotion, intensity, focus or transcendent dveykus, we can still remain aware of the needs and wellbeing of those around us. The text of tefillah doesn’t actually take us out of the world—it awakens us to the needs of the world and focuses our devotion on taking responsibility for others. This reminds us that our “vertical” striving is not in conflict with our “horizontal” connectivity.

God is found within people and between people—within all of our relationships. The Heichal haBracha—the Rebbe of Komarna, zt”l—teaches that the relationship between love of others and love of God is hinted to in the gematria, the numerical value of “Ve’ahavta lereacha kamocha, ani Hashem” equals 907. It is the same value as “Ve’ahavta es Hashem Elokecha—And you shall love the Eternal One, your Divinity.” This “equating” of the two mitzvos reveals that “ve’ahavta,” too, is rooted in God’s Oneness.

The first discourse that the Lubavitcher Rebbe delivered on the upon accepting the mantle of leadership of the Lubavitch movement was a “statement” that the three loves—love of God, love of the Torah and love toward a fellow Jew—are all one, intertwined and a veritable unity. They are in no way three competing values; they are two complimentary sides of one coin. Fulfilling “ve’ahavta” completes the mitzvah of ahavas Hashem, bringing us closer and deepening our bond with the Ribbono shel Olam. The Alter Rebbe explains that the mitzvah of “ve’ahavta l’reacha kamocha” is a commentary on the commandment “ve’ahavta es Hashem Elokecha.”

May Yisro’s reminder to Moshe Rabbeinu serve to refocus our own attention on those who are closest to us. And may we all draw close to Hashem, together.


Rav Judah Mischel is executive director of Camp HASC, the Hebrew Academy for Special Children. He is the mashpiah of OU-NCSY,  founder of Tzama Nafshi and the author of “Baderech: Along the Path of Teshuva.” Rav Judah lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh with his wife Ora and their family.

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