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ב"ה

Unaccomplished?

Friday, 20 November, 2020 - 9:05 am

When reading the life-story of Yitzchak (Isaac) in this week’s parsha Toldot, I am amazed to see that although we are familiar with Yitzchak from birth onwards, the Torah begins the narrative of his life from the point of his marriage to Rivka (Rebecca). To be sure, we know a fair amount about him from previous Torah portions. We know that he was circumcised at eight days old; that his parents threw a grand party when he was weaned; that his father almost sacrificed him at 37 years old; and that his father sought an extraordinary girl for him to marry. According to the Midrash, Yitzchak also spent three years in the Garden of Eden. But all of that is a detail in the tale of his parents. In his own right, we are introduced to Yitzchak in the account of his nuptials.

We learn a great deal from the chronicles of our Matriarchs and Patriarchs. Why would the Torah choose to ignore Yitzchak’s spiritual accomplishments? True he was under forty at the time; but he must certainly have qualified for the ancient version of Accomplished Under Forty.

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This past week I participated in the longest Zoom event ever. Due to the pandemic, the annual Kinus HaShluchim (International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries) was held virtually. What started as a Saturday night rolling farbrengen through the time zones turned into a 136 hour Zoom Farbrengen. After all, Chabad has centers in virtually every time zone, so at any given hour the dialogue and inspiration continued.

It reminded me of the very nature of Chabad’s recent history. A tiny group of Chasidim seeking shelter in America has been transformed into a leading Jewish organization. No movement has defined and revived Jewish life in the last half century as has Chabad-Lubavitch.

On the other hand, Chabad-Lubavitch can hardly be called an organization. It is a spiritual workhorse that defies the contemporary qualifications for successful growth. After all, how can a bunch of bearded, black-hatted Rabbis and mothers-of-six-or-more Rebbetzins be considered the stalwarts of modern America’s Jewish society? Yet the facts do not lie.

What lies at the core of Chabad-Lubavitch’s success? It can’t be the dress code – there are plenty of others that fit that category. It can’t be the consultants – on a per-capita basis other Jewish organizations’ consulting budgets are greater than Chabad-Lubavitch’s overall budget.

To me it is the leadership of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of righteous memory. His approach was not one of becoming the most accomplished scholar or the most pious rabbi. He certainly made his mark in virtually every field of personal spiritual accomplishment. But what set the Rebbe apart was his insatiable drive and unassuming attitude to impact the world. The Rebbe’s greatest concern was for another person. While others were spending millions of dollars on studies on Jewish commitment to Israel and the like, the Rebbe was mobilizing an army of followers to light Shabbat candles with one more Jew.

The Rebbe’s synagogue was a humble basement that barely accommodated the local followers – let alone the worldwide visitors. I remember standing for hours outside waiting to see the Rebbe for a brief moment. There was no room indoors. To the Rebbe, every resource should be spent on helping others – not on propping up the image of Chabad.

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The fundamental difference between Yitzchak’s ‘under forty’ accomplishments and his subsequent achievements is that the prior successes were feather s in his own cap. They were indeed sacred, but they were personal. By contrast, his feats attained after marriage are not simply his own. Rather than achievements, they are contributions. By creating treaties with the people of the land, Yitzchak influenced the most powerful leaders of his generation. By building a family, Yitzchak passed on the sacred tradition to others. By guiding and blessing his children, Yitzchak secured the future of the Jewish people. By continuing the Jewish legacy, the world was changed forever.

Was Yitzchak unaccomplished before building a family and influencing others? Not at all.

But, perhaps his greatest accomplishment is not his own, but the ‘unaccomplishment’ of influencing others.

When everything is said and done, I’d rather see a world full of caps with feathers, than see my own cap full of feathers.

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