Eliezer Shemtov
Trying to make a difference

You Will Not Drown

Kóraj

There is a song in Yiddish, Fort a idele in a shifele, which describes an extreme situation of despair, the different options tried and their respective results:

A Jew travels in a little boat

The little boat breaks up and he’s drowning

He shouts out “Tatenyu!” (Daddy dearest), “Save me! Save me!”

“I cannot help you. I cannot help you.”

 

A Jew travels in a little boat

The little boat breaks up and he’s drowning

He shouts out “¡Mamenyu!” (Mommy dearest), “Save me! Save me!”

“I cannot help you. I cannot help you.”

 

A Jew travels in a little boat

The little boat breaks up and he’s sinking

He shouts out “Rebenyu!” (Rebbe dear), “Save me! Save me!”

“You will not drown! You will not drown!”

 

What is the message of this song and what does it have to do with this week’s Torah portion, Korach [1]?

The song expresses one of the roles of a Rebbe: to show you that you can even when you are convinced that you can’t.

How can the Rebbe tell you that you can when you and your own parents have already given up?

The answer lies in the special vision that the Rebbe has in general and of human potential in particular. Not only does the Rebbe have the ability to see; he can get the other person to see it as well. And not only to see it, but to activate it and act on it. And succeed.

How does it work?

The Rebbe, because of his spiritual characteristics, possesses an extraordinary clarity of perspective. When one is clear about the fact that the world has a Creator, implying design and purpose in every detail, it becomes clear that if one finds him or herself in a certain situation, it is because he or she was put there on purpose and was given the necessary resources to carry out the objective for which they were put there.

When you want to know where and what your mission is, you turn to the one with the ability to see: the Rebbe.

Why is it necessary to turn to the Rebbe for the answer? Cannot each individual decide for himself? 

In this week’s reading, Korach, we read extensively about this topic. Korach, the central character of the reading, was not okay with the authority of Moses and Aaron. “[All the members of] the whole congregation are all holy and G-d is in their midst; why should you [Moses and Aaron] rise above the congregation of G-d? [2]” Korach and his 250 cohorts challenged.

The end of the story is that G-d intervened to confirm that everything Moshe had instituted was by Divine command.  

From the Chassidic perspective, what was at stake here was not simply a matter of rebellion against authority in general; it is more than obvious that any social order needs leaders and authorities to lead and impose order. It was a rebellion against the specific type of authority exercised by Moshe. 

How did Moshe’s authority differ from other types of leadership?

The authority of a leader emanates from those who chose him to lead, as expressed so eloquently by the Uruguayan hero General José Gervasio Artigas: “My authority emanates from you and it ceases before your sovereign presence”. People generally choose the leader they consider capable of helping them to achieve their objectives; the leader is at the service of the citizens. 

Such a system implies two things: 1) those who decide the course of the group are the members of the group themselves and 2) any member of the group can eventually occupy that leadership role if the people so decide. Korach would agree with such a system.

Moshe’s leadership was of a totally different calibre. His authority came directly from G-d and therefore did not depend on the will of the people. His was a role not defined by popular vote, the result of personal considerations and preferences. His was not a leadership that consisted of taking the people where they wanted to go, but where they must and therefore can go; where they can and therefore must go.

If one considers the Universe to be the result of a cosmic accident and one’s birth to be the result of a biological accident, then the only thing that matters is one’s personal preferences  and who can help him or her obtain and defend it. When, however, you consider all of existence  —both macro as well as micro— to be the result of Divine design and creation, then what becomes most important is to know: what does my Creator want in general and from me in particular? From that perspective, you seek to yield your truth to His truth.

In order to know what His truth is, you need to resort to one who has the qualifications necessary to be able to know it. The first and foremost qualification is having subjugated his personal will to G-d’s. The first one to lead with that type of leadership and authority was Moshe. Throughout our history, the Jewish people merited to enjoy that kind of leadership, carried out through the “Moshe” of each generation [3]. 

This week —Thursday, 3rd of Tammuz— we commemorate the 26th anniversary of the physical disappearance of one who many consider to be the Moshe of our generation: the Rebbe, may his merit shield us. It is a good opportunity to familiarize ourselves with the Rebbe’s role and contribution so that we can live our lives and bring the whole world into greater harmony with the objectives for which G-d created us.

So the tool of this week is: 

It’s not enough to admire the Rebbe’s personal virtues. We must and can take advantage of the possibility that each of us has to achieve more clarity in our own personal life, by accessing and nourishing ourselves from the wellsprings of his teachings. 

You will not drown.

————
1. Números 16:1-18:32

2.  Ibid, 16:3

3.  Tikunei Zohar 469; Bereishit Rabá 56:7

About the Author
Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov, born in in Brooklyn, NY in 1961. Received Smicha From Tomchei Temimim in 1984 and shortly after was sent by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, may his merit shield us, together with his wife Rachel to establish the first Beit Chabad in Montevideo, Uruguay and direct Chabad activities in that country. He has authored many articles on Judaism that have been published internationally. Since publishing his popular book on intermarriage, "Dear Rabbi, Why Can't I Marry Her?" he has authored several books in Spanish, English and Hebrew dealing with the challenges that the contemporary Jew has to deal with.
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