Ordinarily Extraordinary

Friday, 29 January, 2016 - 9:21 am

Rabbi Michoel Gourarie recently shared this story:

In January 1987 a few days after our wedding, my wife and I together with my parents and younger sister had the great merit to visit Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneersohn (wife of the Lubavitcher Rebbe). She was quite elderly and frail at the time and passed away just over a year later. Her Yartzeit (day of passing) is this coming Monday (22 Shevat - 1 Feb).

After chatting for a few minutes she turned to my younger sister (who was ten years old at the time) and asked how she likes America. My mother, answering for her explained that she is really enjoying America because of the abundance of kosher chocolate and nosh, which at the time was difficult to get in South Africa. The Rebbetzin immediately called one of the house attendants and asked him to bring out a big box of delicious chocolates which she gave to my sister as a gift.

Almost a year later, in October, a group of ten rabbinical students arrived for the first time in Johannesburg to study. One of them belonged to a family that had a close connection with the Rebbetzin. He informed my parents that when he went say goodbye, the Rebbetzin asked him if he could take a package for the Gouraries. Excited and intrigued they went to the airport to pick up this mysterious parcel. When they opened they were amazed to see a beautiful box of chocolates. In her frail state, just three months before she passed away the Rebbetzin remembered a little ten year old girl in South Africa that liked chocolates that were hard to get.

My sister and all of us have never forgotten this small but powerful incident.


In this week’s parsha Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law offers him some advice. Seeing that “The people stood before Moshe from the morning until the evening,” he suggests appointing judges that, “Shall judge the people at all times, and it shall be that any major matter they shall bring to you, and they themselves shall judge every minor matter.”

Sounds like a great system. But let’s stop for a moment to think what the alternative would have been. Say Yitro never showed up and Moshe was indeed the only judge. There were roughly 3 million Jews. It’s impossible for one person to serve as judge for all of them.

What likely would have occurred is that – like an audience with any great personality – there would be a pecking order. Not everyone would be able to ask her question. Some would be granted the opportunity and some would be turned away. Perhaps it would be based on status. Or, the big, burning issues would be addressed and the little ones would be refused.

Yitro’s advice was not so brilliant because he figured out a system of hierarchal courts. That’s rather ordinary.  What’s extraordinary is that he ensured that no problem was overlooked. No dispute or concern was considered too little.  Everyone and every issue deserves to be heard.


My wife Esther, along with several thousand of her peers, is currently in New York at the annual Chabad Lubavitch Shluchos Conference. The conference is scheduled to coincide with the Rebbetzin’s yahrzeit this coming Monday.  As I reflect on the courage and leadership of these sacred women, I am reminded that their success is not due to grand ideas and extraordinary people.

Rather, it’s the Rebbe and Rebbetzin’s devotion to the simple, the forlorn and the lost – along with the leaders and superstars – that allows them to succeed. Considering each person and each act as sacred is what really changes a person. And – one by one – a world.

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