By Rabbi Sruli Baron
Director of the MyLife: Chassidus Applied Essay Contest
The MyLife: Chassidus Applied Essay Contest is drawing to a close with the winners set to be announced this Sunday.
Out of the hundreds of essays submitted to the MyLife: Chassidus Applied Essay contest, one grabbed our attention with its sheer audacity.
In the very first paragraph the author states that this essay does not qualify to win. You see, the minimum age requirement for participation in the contest is 15 years old. This entrant states clearly that she is only 14.
Then why write an essay?
Menucha Rochel Dubinsky of Newton, Massachusetts, age 14, submitted her Chassidus Applied essay in order to send us all an unequivocal message. “When I saw it was for ages 15 and up, I was discouraged, but not for long. I wanted to show people that age does not stop people from learning and inspiring others to learn.”
Menucha Rochel’s essay was beautifully written. In a respectful voice, yet brimming with a good measure of Chassidishe Chutzpah, she declares: Chassidus is for everyone, regardless of age.
In a bold manner reminiscent of the Daughters of Tzelafchad, who made their case before Moshe Rabbeinu at the end of the 40 years in the desert demanding their family’s portion in Eretz Yisroel, this young teenager demands that the time has come for the “portion of Chassidus” of young children and teenagers in the world to be equally recognized.
Drawing on various Chassidic themes, she makes her powerful point directly from her heart.
“People often underestimate them, just as they underestimate simple people. They all are important in the eyes of G-d. Children, as do adults, have the power to change the world by changing their own self. Though children are many times put down because of their age, these seemingly unimportant figures can do so much. For this contest you chose to limit the writer’s age to 15 and above. I do not understand why, and I will not try to find the reason. I will just proclaim here: age is not a boundary! Just as the level of piety does not affect the importance of the individual’s actions, at least not in the direction most people think it does, so does the age not interfere with one’s achievements.”
She quotes the Hayom Yom of 5 Adar 1 to strengthen her case: “There is not the vaguest shadow of doubt that, wherever our feet tread, it is all in order to cleanse and purify the world with words of Torah and Tefilla (prayer). We, all of Israel, are emissaries of G‑d, each of us as Divine Providence has decreed for us. None of us is free from this sacred task placed on our shoulders.
“It is clear that G-d wants and expects each and every one of us, regardless of the many differences we have, to learn the sacred Torah and fulfill the commandments. ‘None of us is free from this sacred task placed on our shoulders.’ Not even me, a 14 year old who is not allowed to participate in an essay contest, an essay contest for topics in Chassidus like this one. Am I too low for Chassidus? Am I too young? Too unlearned? Maybe so, but it makes no difference to G-d. I am writing this to show the world that it does not matter what your background is, or what your age is. In Judaism, there are no boundaries!
“I do not expect to make it to the contest, because according to the contest guidelines, I am underage. But not for G-d. He enjoys every moment that I, a simple 14 year old, use for the holy purposes of learning Chassidus, or even reading a Posuk in the Chumash. He cherishes every instant that I use to help somebody, or to Daven. And though it may be hard at times, I know that that is why He enjoys my good deeds more than anything.”
Menucha Rochel learns the daily Tanya with her father as well as the Hayom Yom. She often learns Likkutei Sichos, and enjoys the popular Back To Basics Curriculum. When asked what message she would like to share with people her age, she responded “I want to tell all the Jewish girls, kids and teens, worldwide, to never think you are too young to change the world. Keep learning and inspiring others to learn about Chasidus, or Yiddishkeit in general.”
Everyone on our essay contest team felt that this essay should be given special attention, and felt that it was worthy of even breaking the rules and allowing it to be eligible. After all, if the B’nos Tzelafchad initiative elicited a divine exception, as did the cry of “lomoh nigorah?!” from the Jews who missed bringing the Korbon Pesach, how can we ignore the plea of this young brave soul?
Rabbi Simon Jacobson, dean of The Meaningful Life Center and conceiver of the contest said, “Menucha Rochel has definitely given us what to think about, as far as the age restrictions for future contests. Her point is well taken, and we encourage all young people to get involved in learning and applying Chassidus just as she has.
“This illustrates the impact of the essay contest, with young people demanding entry, and essayists as old as 85 submitting as well. Chassidus is for people of all ages, from the very young to the elderly. Chassidus can be a source for all to find inspiration and answers to life’s challenges”.
Our distinguished panel of judges have just about finished evaluating all the essays. The essays that receive the three highest marks will be awarded cash prizes. The first place winner will receive $10,000, with the second and third place winners receiving $3,600 and $1,000 respectively.
The winners of the MyLife: Chassidus Applied Essay Contest will be announced this Sunday night 9 Nissan (April 17), 8-9 PM during the weekly MyLife: Chassidus Applied Broadcast on COLlive.com.