Friday, February 03, 2012

61 years ago today...

Kol Nidrei night. As the sun cast its last auburn strands over the town, the Jews of Liozna waited for the awesome day to begin. Men stood with eyes shut tight, their taleisim framing their beards as they focused their minds ahead of the prayers. The women's gallery was abuzz with the murmurs of Tehillim. Even the children stood quiet and attentive. At any moment, the Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman, the "Alter Rebbe" of Chabad, would signal to the chazan  to begin. 
Only, he did not give the signal. Instead, Rabbi Schneur Zalman purposefully removed his talis and left the building. Incredulous Chassidim looked blankly at each other, unsure of what had just happened. One or two of the bolder youths darted out of Shul to discover where their Rebbe had gone.
A cool breeze softly blew over the quiet dark town as the Alter Rebbe walked to its outskirts. He passed the houses of merchants and cobblers, even the shacks of water-carriers as he headed out to the forest. There, the Alter Rebbe chopped wood and carried it back to the edge of town, stopping to knock at the door of a ramshackle hovel in the poorest section of the shtetl. Inside lay a mother beside her newborn infant, alone as everyone had streamed to Yom Kippur services. The Alter Rebbe lit a fire and boiled water for the woman, only returning to Shul when he was satisfied that she and her baby had been adequately cared for. 
Sixty-one years ago today, our Rebbe related this story in his first address as the new leader of Chabad; the man committed to steer modern Jewry through the turmoil of changing times. 
With this story- and a number of others- the Rebbe crystallized the key to keeping your inspiration alive in a world of stress and ubiquitous distraction. The Alter Rebbe could easily have selected any member of the community to assist the woman in distress and they would surely have obliged. But, he chose to care for her personally. His example, explained the Rebbe, teaches us that the key is to put everything you love (the Alter Rebbe certainly loved the prayer experience, especially on a day as powerful as Yom Kippur), care about and appreciate aside and step out of your comfort-zone to personally help someone else. 
People typically believe they should invest in themselves to grow and be fulfilled, yet the reality is that it is only when you invest in others you reach true heights.

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