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True Thanks

Friday, 14 January, 2011 - 4:00 pm

In reading this week’s Torah portion of Beshalach, I am fascinated at the Song of Praise that the Jewish people offered G-d upon the splitting of the sea. It is a remarkable expression of gratitude.

The question that lingers within me is, “Why only then?” Why did the Jews not offer thanksgiving to the Almighty as soon as they left the borders of Egypt?

In hindsight, we can argue that Pharaoh would chase after them. Thus their freedom was not truly secured until after the Egyptian army drowned at sea.

Yet, certainly they had no way of knowing all that. So why didn’t they acknowledge G-d’s kindness immediately?

***

Rabbi Herbert Weiner, author of Nine-and-a-Half Mystics, once asked the Rebbe, "How do you assume responsibility for the advice you give people on all matters, business and medical included, especially when you know that your advice is often binding?"

The Rebbe replied, "When a person comes to me with a problem, this is how I try to help him. A man knows his own problem best, so one must try to unite with him and become battel, as disassociated as possible from one's own ego. Then, in concert with the other person, one tries to understand the principle of Divine Providence in his particular case."

***

This Shabbat celebrates sixty years since the Rebbe officially assumed leadership of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. Perhaps the Rebbe’s legendary selflessness can shed light on my dilemma.

The Torah depicts the Jewish people standing at the sea – prior to its miraculous piercing – as being between a rock and a hard place. They were then in a situation more desperate than their slavery in Egypt. To their rear was a charging army, and the raging sea awaited them. They were stuck with (apparently) no options.

The great Chassidic Rebbes point out that it was precisely at that moment – when they were urged by G-d to forge ahead – that they developed true faith and submission to G-d. There was no rational way for them to prevail. They could not think of a way to help themselves. The Jewish people at that moment were utterly dependent on G-d. In Chassidic parlance, they developed genuine bittul.

It was only then that they were able to express the deepest degree of gratitude to G-d. Their thanks was no longer a self-centered expression of appreciation. They had matured into selfless beings. The thank-you was no longer a sense of self-promotion, but an absolute tribute to G-d’s greatness.

This is the ‘thank you’ the Torah wants to leave us with. And this is the attitude the Rebbe so aptly lived with, day in and day out. Let us follow his shining example.

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