It is written, “You shall love Hashem your G-d with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might…” Make all people love Him, just like Abraham your father did. (Sifri on Devarim 6:5)
With all your might: With each and every measure that’s measured out to you. (With all your experiences) (Rashi)
There’s no wise person like one who’s been through it. (Talmud)
How do you express love for your Creator with all of your experiences?
The Chernobyl Rebbe dedicated his life to saving Jews who were being held captive. He specialized in collecting ransom money and negotiating their way out of Russian prisons.
Once the Rebbe himself was captured and put into prison. While under lock and key he prayed for his own release and begged to understand the justice of his having been imprisoned. He dedicated his life to helping others gain their release. What was the reason why he had been subject to that fate?
Having accepted the divine decree but still seeking understanding, he fell asleep exhausted with his tear-drenched siddur. That night, in a dream, a beautiful elderly woman visited him.
She spoke to him and asked, “Why was Abraham our father told to go, (lech lecha), for your own good? What’s so good about having to uproot and wander continuously?” She answered the question that she herself asked and said, “Abraham specialized in the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim, taking care of guests. Every wayfaring soul found rest for his body and food for both his body and soul in Abraham’s generous tent.”
However, until he was told to leave his homeland, Abraham was a well-established landed gentry. He had never experienced the full depth and anguish of being a wanderer. Now that he was cast into the role of rootless existence he would know, not just through the power of imagination, but through the school of rugged experience what it means to be without shelter and food. In this way, the mitzvah that he specialized in, his chosen career, his mission in life will have been enhanced. Not only his head and hands will be there to serve the people but also his heart as well. That is why he was told to go “for yourself”; for your own benefit.
The beautiful elderly woman took leave and upon awakening, the Chernobyl Rebbe understood two things. 1) That woman was no other than Sara our mother. 2) The reason he was in jail was also for his own good. He had never been on that side of the bars and now he knows the extent of helplessness and frustration that accompanies those who are there.
Now, he could do what he had always had but with fresh enthusiasm and power of empathy. The experience of jail added color and depth to his being that could not be bought in a store or learned from a book. With this treasure, this valued resource of his experience he could deliver something unique and powerfully personal.
Looking back at the trail of lives we may find, as Abraham, that there are warehouses of untapped treasures buried in boxes labeled “difficulties” and “failures.” Those experiences are convertible to Divine service at any moment we choose. “If you’re picked on,” I needed to tell one of my children, “you know never to pick on others. You know what it feels like, now.”
I remember sitting in a reception area when I noticed a picture of an old weathered face on the cover of Sports Illustrated beside me. The name beneath was “Mickey Mantle.” I couldn’t believe how aged he looked.
In the article he described in graphic detail his personal and public failures, due to a life of alcoholism. When his son died a drug-related death, he woke up and got help. The article concludes with a profound admission of having disappointed so many people, fans, family etc. “Now,” he concluded dramatically “Mickey Mantle is gonna hit more home runs than ever.”
In one moment like one wave of the bat I was moved to tears, not just because of nostalgia for the Mick, (I was there when he hit his 500th homerun) but rather for the great truth in his simple and honest words.
The way to love your Creator is the same way to reach the fences. Use the total wisdom of your experiences, be discerning and swing with all your might.
Rabbi Lam, in association with “Foundations” and the “Aish Kodesh Institute” will be presenting a Unique Seminar Experience in Swan Lake, N.Y. The dates are Dec. 11-13. For details Please contact the Foundations office at Phone: (800)700-9577 Fax: (914)352-0305.