I want to tell you about one telephone call I received yesterday that in one moment put me in my place and changed my agenda.
Like every year, I was busy with what people are busy with at the end of the civil year: paperwork, end-of-the-year fundraising for the Chabad House and receiving and sharing end-of-the-year jokes that fly around in the WhatsApp groups.
This year, of course, more than anything else, everyone is busy with the Corona, its spreading, the vaccinations; we are thinking about what was and also about what will be, how long it will last and what have we learned from it. But then Natan called.
Natan is our 13-year-old son who is learning in a yeshiva in Antwerp, and he said to me: “Abba, there is a campaign here in the yeshiva of preparing for the 10th of Shvat. We have to convince as many Jews as possible to make good resolutionsin honor of that date. You are my first attempt. Are you willing to take upon yourself some hiddur (performing a mitzvah especially well), or a mitzvah, or some other good thing for the 10th of Shvat? If you do, you have to tell me what it is, because I have to add it to the report that will be sent to the Rebbe.”
Here’s a short explanation for the uninitiated: The 10th of Shvat is the day in 5711 (1951) when the Lubavitcher Rebbe began to indeed serve as the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The spiritual preparations for this day include, as is commonly done in Chabad, internal and external work. As part of the internalwork, students invest in themselves and devote themselves to study and prayer more than usual, while outwardly they influence other people to take upon themselves to strengthen their observance of Torah and mitzvot, even in some minute detail. The report to the Rebbe means that my name, including my mother’s name, and the resolution I made will be recorded and sent to the Ohel (the gravesite) of the Rebbe.
So, I was sitting on the couch, the telephone in my hand, and my 13-year-old son on the line, having just pulled me away in one moment from the big world I thought I was living in – and sometimes I even imagine that I am running – to one simple, serious point of truth. Suddenly I remembered that with all due respect to everything that this world offers us, there are people, and in this case it’s my son and his friends in the yeshiva, who aren’t relating at all to this world, because their entire world right now is Torah and prayers and preparation for the great day, the 10th of Shvat.
“Yes – a good decision,” I said, and then became serious. “Let me think about this. I can’t just pull it out of my hat, it’s not so simple,” I said, and was drawn into several hours of soul-searching and wondering, memories and yearning, confessions and gratitude.
2020 or 2021, Corona and lockdowns, for or against the vaccination – suddenly everything was dwarfed for me by what is really important: to make a good resolution, to be slightly better in some way in my life.
Another point: if you want to accept something upon yourselves, let me know, so I will write to Natan, and he will add you to his report. 😊
Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski