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Staying in Lockdown

Friday, 19 June, 2020 - 10:00 am

The original lockdown happened many years ago.

Long before any governors issued stay-at-home orders, the Jewish people were condemned to a 40-year lockdown. (I guess several months isn’t looking as bad anymore).

As this week’s parsha Shelach tells, due to the sin of the Spies, the generation that left Egypt and received the Torah was denied its final prize – entry into the Holy Land. Instead, they would all die out in the wilderness. Their children would inherit the land of their fathers.

Initially, G-d wanted to wipe out His people and start anew with Moshe. But, once again, Moshe prayed for his people and G-d forgave them – with the caveat that only the next generation would merit to enter the Promised Land.

Only two adults that left Egypt, the two ‘good’ spies, were allowed to enter Israel. They were rewarded for resisting this travesty.

But, why wasn’t Moshe allowed to enter Israel? Why did Moshe pass away in the wilderness? He did not sin! In fact, it was his prayers that saved the Jewish from complete obliteration! Why didn’t he deserve to enter the coveted land of Israel?


Yosef Cabiliv was a soldier in the IDF. In the aftermath of the Six Day War, he was patrolling in the Golan Heights when a mine blew up. He blacked out. The next thing he knows, he wakes up in a hospital room. Without his legs.

From being a young, talented, agile soldier, he was suddenly disabled. Not only were his legs shattered, now his life was in shreds. Unable to cope with his new condition, he entered a severe depression.

No matter how hard his family and friends tried, they were unable to lift his spirits. From self-pity to frustration, he vacillated from one negative emotion to another.

His parents told him how much they loved him. His friends tried to comfort him.

All to no avail.

Then came the summer of 1976.

A trip to America was arranged for the Disabled of the IDF. It was an opportunity for them to relax and forget about their hardships. Yosef went.

Someone suggested that they stop to meet the Lubavitcher Rebbe in New York. The Rebbe readily agreed and held a special audience for them.

(Parenthetically, at this gathering the Rebbe insisted that they should not be called the “Disabled of the IDF” (נכי צה"ל). Rather they should be called the “Exceptional of the IDF” (מצוייני צה"ל), because they are truly on a higher level).

After speaking the Rebbe walked amongst the wheelchairs and greeted each person individually.

As Yosef recalls:

“When my turn came, I saw his face up close and I felt like a child. He gazed deeply into my eyes, took my hand between his own, pressed it firmly, and said 'Thank you' with a slight nod of his head.

"I later learned that he had said something different to each one of us. To me he said 'Thank you'-somehow he sensed that that was exactly what I needed to hear. With those two words, the Rebbe erased all the bitterness and despair that had accumulated in my heart. I carried the Rebbe's 'Thank you' back to Israel, and I carry it with me to this very day."

Yosef reclaimed his life and became a successful real estate developer.


Unlike other Jewish leaders of his day, who sought global solutions, the Rebbe remained steadfast on his focus on each individual. To the Rebbe, every Jew was an only daughter or son, a precious soul.

The Rebbe never gave up on a single person. Everyone else was looking for solutions. The Rebbe was looking for the human being, for the soul. The Rebbe restored Yosef’s value in his own eyes.

His followers took his cue. Multiply that by the hundreds of thousands. No wonder that the Rebbe’s fingerprint can be felt throughout the landscape of modern Jewish life.

The key to changing the world is changing one person. That, however, requires unwavering devotion to – and absolute belief in – each person.


Astute students of Torah will tell me that my question was misplaced. Moshe’s denied entry to Israel was due to a completely different story – about hitting a rock instead of talking to it.

Another perspective, however is offered by the Midrash. According to the Midrash, the story about hitting the rock was sort of a pretext that disallowed Moshe’s entry into the land – a technical issue that could not earn such penalization of its own accord. The real reason Moshe did not enter the land was not punishment. Rather it was devotion.

If anyone deserved entering the land – Moshe did. And, G-d would have gladly allowed Moshe to enter the land. Alone.

But, as a devoted shepherd, Moshe refused to enter the land without his people.

But all the people that he led out of Egypt were buried in the wilderness. Unable to abandon his people, in life and death, Moshe is also buried in the wilderness, in a self-imposed lockdown.

According to the Midrash, when Moshiach comes and the dead are resurrected, Moshe will finally march into Israel – together with his generation.


The true mark of a leader is not the number of followers. It is the investment that she or he makes into each individual.

As we prepare to mark the 26th yahrzeit of the Lubavitcher Rebbe on Thursday, let us remember his true legacy. Let’s follow in his footsteps with untiring commitment to each individual.

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