<b>By Dovid Zaklikowski for COLlive and <a href=http://www.hasidicarchives.com target=”_blank”>Hasidic Archives</a></b>
Young, idealistic, and naïve, Izzy Rosenfeld arrived in Nashville, Tennessee, in the early 1950s. He had come to assist Rabbi Zalman Posner, whose Congregation Sherith Israel was growing.
Mr. Rosenfeld, who had little experience with Jewish life outside the hothouse environment of New York, was put in charge of youth programs, prayer services, and the Hebrew school.
Though he had heeded the Rebbe’s call to reach out to unaffiliated Jews, Mr. Rosenfeld was shocked by the assimilation and apathy he encountered in Nashville. “I felt like I was in another world,” he said. “It was foreign to me.”
He wrote to the Rebbe soon after arriving, describing his dismay at seeing community members drive to services on Shabbos, and children bring non-kosher snacks to Hebrew school. When a family wanted to become more observant, he noted, the first thing they did was move to a city with more Jewish life.
In that environment, how could he hope to convey the beauty and depth of Jewish observance to his young students?
In response, the Rebbe quoted the well-known saying of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chassidim, that a soul may descend into this world and live for 70 or 80 years only to do a favor for another. If this applies to a material favor, the Rebbe added, how much more so should it be said of a spiritual one.
“You find yourself [in Nashville] for less than 70 or 80 days, and you already did many favors for Jews, etc., etc., and you already have many complaints like the seeds of a pomegranate.”
The question about how he could hope to be successful, the Rebbe said, only a prophet could answer. Nonetheless, the Rebbe had not given up hope in the Jewish nation, referencing a quote from the Baal Shem:
“It is written (Malachi 3:12), ‘For you [the Jewish nation] shall be a land of desire, says the L-rd of Hosts.’ Just as the greatest scholars will never discover the limits of the enormous natural resources which the A-lmighty has sunk into the ground – for ‘Everything came from the earth’ (Kohelet 3:20), neither will anyone ever find the limits of the great treasures which lie within the Jewish nation – G‑d’s ‘land of desire.’
“The Baal Shem Tov concluded: I want to make the Jewish nation yield the kind of produce which the A-lmighty’s ‘land of desire’ is capable of yielding.”
If you doubt your own abilities, you will never succeed in uncovering the “treasures” in those around you, the Rebbe wrote. Continue your holy work of educating and guiding the youth.
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