by Devorah Block
It is Shabbos Parshas Acharei – Kedoshim, and far away in the hills of Tzfas something extraordinary is taking place. It is Shabbos Aryeh Leib, a yearly Shabbaton for Chabad seminary girls which was initiated in the memory of Rabbi Aryeh Leib Kaplan A”h, the head Shliach of Tzfas. It is an oasis in time – a weekend of connection, inspiration and focus in the midst of a world spinning so rapidly that it’s sometimes hard to catch your breath.
Where to start? From the weeks of preparation which were a whole experience onto their own? Or the Farbrengens? Shabbos meals? Performances? Workshops? This Shabbos had so many different dimensions, and all of them were infused with tremendous meaning and an uplifting sense of togetherness. You see, along with the noise and drama of a seminary girl, comes an almost larger than life spirit of idealism, passion and the electric energy of raw potential. Now multiply all of that by 312 and you might begin to imagine the kind of energy that was prevalent throughout the weekend.
Thursday afternoon, Daled Iyar, had Machon Shoshanat Yerushalayim, Bnot Haya Mouchka, and Chaya Mushka Seminary girls pull up to Beis Chana Tzfas and spill over onto the festively decorated lawn to sign in, receive their tags and meet and greet each other. As old and new friends reunited, dinner was served in the thematically decorated dining room. The opening program began: A welcome video, dvar malchus from our Rebbe, a clever skit introducing the theme and our mascot Tiferes (you’ll hear more about her later) and the highlight – a heartfelt and inspiring address by Mrs. Sara Kaplan, the wife of Rabbi Aryeh Leib Kaplan A”h. Following her speech, Chaya Mushka Seminary girls presented a song in memory of Rabbi Kaplan A”h, its powerful lyrics describing the immense dedication, sacrifice and accomplishments of this Shliach who was hand picked by the Rebbe. A dvar malchus from our Rebbe ended off the event, and we all headed to the apartments to catch our breath and settle in.
But not for too long. That same night we all participated in two different thought provoking workshops (out of six choices) presented by top teachers. One of the workshops that I attended was about Shlichus, and left me with a very powerful message. Rabbi Zalman Kaplan explained that as Shluchim, our job isn’t to show everyone that we’re perfect, because we’re not – and pretending won’t get us anywhere. Our job is to be real. To show our communities that we are struggling and encounter challenges just like everyone else, however we have been blessed with the tools to deal with our challenges and overcome our struggles – tools given to us by Torah and Chassidus, and that we are here to share with them as well. It was apparent that each girl left the workshop they attended with real food for thought. We then headed straight to a powerful Farbrengen with Rabbi Dubov, Shliach in Wimbledon, UK which lasted late into the night.
The theme of this year’s Shabbos Aryeh Leib was as fundamental as it was inspiring. Drawing from that week’s Sefira, we explored many different facets of the idea of Tiferes – hamony. Balance is the most crucial ingredient of our lives and specifically of our Avodas Hashem. Just take a look at the cup of coffee that you are sipping as you read this. Ground up coffee beans and hot water, while authentic, does not create the desired kind of drink. But when you balance out the hot water with milk, and the bitter beans with some sugar – now that’s a cup of coffee! So too, Chessed and Gevurah on their own are completely legitimate, but they do not represent beauty. In fact, they can easily go from being pure and unadulterated to becoming destructive. However, when Chessed and Gevurah are fused together, each making space for one another in their approach – now that is what we call Tiferes – beauty, harmony and truth.
Similarly, in the Pirkei Avos of the week we read שהיא כל? האדם לו שיעבור ישרה דרך איזוהי
Which is the right path for man to choose for himself? האדם מן לו ותפארת לעושיה תפארת
Whatever is harmonious for the one who does it, and harmonious for mankind.” There are two paths one can take in serving Hashem, and both are valid. One is when a person focuses ,תפארת לעושיה – on learning and working on himself and the other is a when one focuses on Gemilas Chasadim and working with others – תפארת לו מן האדם.
Rabi Yehuda Hanasi teaches us that the דרך ישרה, the true and straight path, is when these two approaches are blended together. In other words, when a person is as equally involved and devoted to his learning as he is to his communal activities. That is why when you look at the life of a true chossid you will always see this duality. The same person who delves deep into a Maamar in the morning, will be working the streets, laying Tefillin on virtual strangers in the afternoon! The same woman who makes her rounds in the hospitals to support and encourage the sick, will also make sure to learn her Chitas and say her daily Tehillim.
Here is where you are probably thinking to yourself the million dollar question…. How do we do this balancing act? What do we do when one role comes at the expense of the other, and we have to choose? Ah, my friend. This is something that we all need to ask ourselves. Throughout Shabbos, the discussions at the meals and Farbrengens encouraged us to dig deep within and find that internal balance in each and every circumstance.
On Friday night, there were two simultaneous Farbrengens taking place – the incredible warmth in the room was in stark contrast to the cold and rainy weather just outside the door. Rabbi Schapiro and Rabbi Barnatan Farbrenged into the wee hours of the morning, touching upon the above topic and many others while slowly adjusting our perspectives in a way that only a late night Farbrengen can do. On Shabbos day, we got to hear from Rabbi Chitrik, Rabbi Goldshmidt, Rabbi Rosenfeld, and Rabbi Dubov – each bringing their own insight and inspiration to the table. During the meals we also heard beautiful Dvar Torahs from our very own seminary-mates. In a sense, shabbos was one extended Farbrengen, and one of the highlights was when all 312 of us sang niggunim together. As our many different voices blended as one, not only did we understand the meaning of Tiferes, we felt it.
After a truly uplifting Shabbos filled with inspiration, camaraderie, song and delicious food, we gathered in a special hall for a culminating banquet – the “cherry on top” of this incredible Shabbos. The room looked magical. Between the dim lighting and the exquisitely set tables, we felt we were in for a treat. Rabbi Chaim Kaplan opened the program, speaking about the life and Shlichus of his father Rabbi Aryeh Leib Kaplab A”h, and how it epitomized the idea of Tifferes. The evening included a play that displayed real-life Tiferes dilemmas, and an extremely empowering keynote address by Rabbi Dubov. Rabbi Dubov captivated us with the story of Mike – a simple store owner who came to Yechidus with the Rebbe and requested one thing: to give the Rebbe a hug. The Rebbe immediately got up from his desk and embraced this fellow. He left us with the message that this Shabbos was a huge embrace to the Rebbe, and that there is no doubt that the Rebbe is reciprocating with his Brachos. Following the speech, we were swept away with the theme song and a beautiful choir led us in singing some stirring niggunim together, ending off with a unified rendition of Ani Maamin. During the international Roll Call, as the room throbbed with singing and cheering, I felt my heart swell with an irrepressible feeling of “Ashreinu.” How lucky we are to be in the Rebbe’s army, that the Rebbe entrusted us small, youthful seminary girls with a mission of such great proportions, to literally turn over the world.
So, you’re wondering what happens when 312 seminary girls come together for a Shabbos? I’ll tell you what happens. 312 hearts are filled with love. Love for each other, for the Rebbe, for Hashem, and for our mission. At the same time, 312 brains are filled with understanding and perspective. Of what we’re doing here, of what Chassidus is all about, and especially of what we’re aiming for – Moshiach. And as these brains and hearts mingle, what happens is 312 girls become 312 warriors – each one empowered and prepared to take on their portion of the world and transform it totally and eternally.