By Rabbi Shimon Posner – Chabad of Rancho Mirage, California
So the often-voiced question of surplus yungerleit for Shlichus positions has been confined to print and bearing in mind my mother’s admonition “if you don’t say something, people can think you’re agreeing with them,” I gingerly approach a topic where angels tread lightly.
When I entered Kollel, shortly after our wedding, there was a guy on his way out of Kollel who went through every city on the map and showed conclusively that there are no places left to go on shlichus, so he ended up pursuing other interests.
That was in 1988.
He wasn’t wrong, technically. All of the cities with a Jewish population to speak of were accounted for.
How was he to know that with glasnost/perestroika were already clandestinely well underway, that within months, Shluchim would be clandestinely on the way over?
How was he to know that the Far East was to be fertile, untapped ground for a heretofore untapped market of post-army Israeli backpackers?
How was he to know that there was this new technology where people sit at their desks and “kinda-like send faxes to each other, but it’s not really like faxes”? R’ Yossi Kazen OBM would meet me outside 770 on Friday nights with printouts of conversations he’d be having with people all over the world. It seemed interesting that there were so many like-minded geeks, but I totally missed recognizing the advent of the internet and Chabad.org? How was I to know?
This guy, leaving Kollel at a time he believed that new places of Shichus weren’t in existence, was not wrong — technically. The oft-told quote that probably was never said has the Commissioner of US Patents ready to close the office because “there is nothing left to invent.” That was (supposedly) in 1899. The point is, that opportunity is always there for those who follow it, be it in the markets, medicine or… Shlichus.
And to follow Shlichus — to truly be adamant that it must be done — it needs to burn deep in the belly. Not “if I can” and “if things work out.” Yes, I know the anticipatory twinkle in the eyes of a fresh Kollel yungerman telling me he’s “looking into things.” I know the lump in the throat of a two-year married yungerman who approaches me to see if I “have anything” for him. I know the three-year married yungerman’s desperate look in his eyes and I know the four-year married yungerman’s fallen look in his eyes. And I know I have not seen him since. His more boisterous counterpart confronts me with “why you and not me? Why is your blood redder than mine?”
I don’t have answers to either of them. I can say (with reservation) that their energy, their disappoint, poignantly reminds me that what I am doing is important.
Then there are those who think that Shlichus is a birthright, akin to joining the family business. I’ve met a fair number of men who entered their family businesses. Some think they are going to “take it to the next level” without having any clue what the foundation was or even that there was one. Some get braggadocios and others depressed (related conditions) at realizing that they won’t be replicating their dad, whom they either adore or despise. In extreme cases, they give up.
Their mistake is simple and often overlooked. The market is constantly shifting and new talent and new means are constantly affecting your products and services. You never inherit a business as much as, by way of inheritance, you get a foot in the door. Whether they know it or not, if they think that arrival is designated by birth rather than by achievement, the market will overtake and replace them in quick order. And if this is true in the market, how much more so in the marketplace of ideas? How much more so on Shlichus.
What is Shlichus? Today’s Parshas Vayeira gives us a good insight into Hashem’s narrative of Avraham, “Ki ye’daytiv, for I have known him, that he commands his sons and his household after him, that they should keep the way of the L_rd to perform righteousness and justice.” It is a home imbued with the intimacy evoked in the word yidaytiv, where chassidishe nigunim prevail, a home that exudes a quest for menschlichkeit. These are not inherited, these are developed, and percolated through the ups and downs of life by a resolve to integrity.
I do not know why these yungerleit have to suffer so. It evokes the image of the chossid who was told he must be a baal agolah because in some far-off kretchmeh awaits a soul that he must touch with his anguished Krias Shemah.
My zaide, R’ Sholom Posner was a Shliach in Pittsburgh (I’m not sure if the title Shliach existed at that time). He succeeded in changing the face of the city. He became affectionately recognized as the Z‘kan, the elder of the Shluchim. He arrived in Pittsburgh when he was over 50 years old.
The message is the same for those longing for Shlichus and those smugly, naively, ensconced in it. Who said we were meant to be comfortable? Who said we were to be content in our lives and arrive at our station? Is not the fire in the belly preferred? Not simply because this, the market rewards and complacency it denies, is not anguish, the ‘what I would want it be’, rather than the ‘what is’, hallmark of Chassidus? The preference of our gehinnom to the gan-eden of the unschooled? Are we not suffering from the addiction of the comfort zone, junkies of serenity?
Yes, these things are all brochos, but is not a bracha an inherent challenge?
Rabbi Chaim Mordechai Hadakov once called my father (Rabbi Zalman Posner) late at night, if I’m not mistaken, he woke him up.
“Reb Zalman, do you have a Jewish school in Nashville?”
Yes, my father answered.
“Reb Zalman, are all the Jewish children in Nashville in the school?”
And he hung up the phone.
Don’t try this at home. Rabbi Hadakov could get away with it because he adored my father and let him know it. Famously curt and stoic, when he saw my father he reached up and placed his hands around his neck.
The message is worthy. A sense of displacement, of dissatisfaction, of anguish that why can’t I do more, why can’t I do better, is all-powerful. (If you find yourself conflating anguish with depression -which we all do from time to time- there’s this book out called The Tanya that teases out the nuance between the two. Good read.)
Rabbi Mordechai Mentlik OBM, farbrenging in 770, once burst into tears and in anguish cried, “I don’t know how to explain it, but it must be different, ess muz zein andersh!!!”
And from there, wherever we stand in life, we march forward, besmicha, as Chassidim.