According to a YouGov poll from January 13, 74% of responders believe that the USA is on the wrong track.
Read that again. Seventy-four percent. Three out of every four people believe that we’re heading in the wrong direction.
Truth to be told, I don’t need any YouGov poll to tell me that. I speak to people every day. I hear anger, fear and frustration.
So I dedicate this article to all those who are concerned about the future.
Actually, who am I fooling? I’m also deeply concerned about it. So maybe I should simply talk to myself.
Reading the news nowadays, as you all know, is not good for your blood pressure. I was trying to pinpoint the exact feeling I have when being bombarded with the endless stream of worrisome news.
Is it anger?
Is it frustration?
Is it worry?
Maybe all of the above. Yet, it seems to me that the most prevalent feeling is the feeling of helplessness. The feeling of being small. How all of this is much bigger than me, and I can’t do much about it.
It’s as if someone threw us into the middle of the ocean with only a kayak and a pair of broken oars. The waves are crashing, a storm is brewing, and all we can do is watch in horror, not knowing what will come next.
One night in January, 70 years ago, a few dozen chassidim gathered in a converted mansion in Brooklyn.
I wonder how many of them realized how consequential that night was going to be.
During that evening, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, formally accepted the role of leadership of the Chabad movement, a year after his predecessor, the sixth rebbe, had passed away.
For the chassidim present, it was an exciting event. For them, a rebbe was someone who would guide them, inspire them and lead the movement, which was still reeling from the the devastating losses of the Holocaust.
The Rebbe’s vision was far greater.
Seventy years later, we can start to appreciate his vision. Look at the thousands of Chabad Houses around the world, serving millions of Jews, building communities, providing Jewish education and transforming the Jewish landscape.
But that is only the tip of the iceberg.
The Rebbe pioneered ideas that at the time were revolutionary, yet today we can’t think of a world without them. The recognition of the great potential of people with disabilities (both physical and intellectual), the importance of language and choice of words, the understanding that women’s leadership is the key to the future of the Jewish people . . . the list goes on and on.
(Oh, and did you know that the food stamps program was inspired by the Rebbe? Google “the Rebbe and Shirley Chisholm.”)
How did the Rebbe achieve all of this?
I looked for clues in the Rebbe’s words that night, 10 Shevat, 5711, January 17, 1951.
One theme that keeps emerging from his talks is: there is a great mission ahead of us, and you need to be part of it.
Here is one quote from that night:
“In Chabad it was always demanded that each individual must take responsibility for their own spiritual work, and that they must not rely on the rebbes. In Chabad we each have to work independently, with every limb and fiber of our being. . . I am not refusing to help you, heaven forfend. I will help as much as I am able. But unless you work independently, what will be gained if I distribute new teachings, if we sing inspiring melodies, and wish each other l’chaim?!”
In the Chassidic discourse he delivered that night, he made it clear that while we are not at the levels of the spiritual giants before us, we have the ability—and the responsibility!—to finally bring down G-d’s presence to this world.
If I may, let me translate the Rebbe’s words for the current state of affairs.
The Rebbe is essentially saying: If you are concerned about the world, if you are anxious about what’s happening in America, there is one person who can change it.
That person is not in Washington, or Wall Street, or Hollywood.
To find that person, simply look in the mirror.
We are not small.
We are not helpless.
Yes, we—I, you, he, she—were all given a holy mission by G-d.
We were all told by G-d: You CAN and you WILL make the world the perfect world I expect it to be. You can, and will, make the world a better and holy place.
What if YouGov would create a poll that asks people:
“Do you think that your action can change the course of history”?
I am guessing that 99.9% will answer “no.”
And that is the problem.
The reason why we feel helpless is because we let our individuality, our uniqueness endowed by our Creator, be lost to the collective. Instead of viewing ourselves as holding the key to change, we think that change is something that needs to come from somewhere else.
And we stop appreciating the impact of our individual actions, too.
Simply by doing our part, by being the best people we can be, by doing more mitzvahs and adding more holiness to the world, we are making a real difference.
As the Rebbe would say, most times we don’t even appreciate the magnitude of the difference that we make.
So, dear 76%’ers (and again, I am talking to myself, too):
Feeling helpless is fake news. It’s disinformation. We need to fully reject the notion that we are helpless, and instead focus on the true reality.
We matter. Our actions matter. Every single one of them.
And the world needs us now more than ever.