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Tuesday
Oct282014

FROM ONE EXTREME TO ANOTHER

In the sicha for Parshas Ki Sisa 5752, the Rebbe says as a practical directive that every Jew is given the ability to accomplish all things from beginning to end and everything in between. In this column, I will share stories about people who made the long, incredible path from one extreme to another.

 

A STORY, BEFORE ALL THE STORIES

Some years ago, I was in the middle of a sicha with the people at my Chabad House, between Mincha and Kabbalas Shabbos, when in walked a young man, a former member of a kibbutz. To my surprise, he was wearing a sirtuk and hat. In a completely undisciplined move, I stopped my talk, dropping the topic I had been talking about, and began wondering out loud about this miracle that had just come to shul.

I explained that although these were merely items of clothing, external details, they demonstrated an enormous inner change, a new way of life that people call becoming a baal t’shuva. I asked my congregants, many of whom grew up in religious homes, how many times in life we made or could make such sweeping changes that were comparable to a fellow from a kibbutz cutting off long hair and growing a Chassidic beard, and switching the earrings for a flag in the lapel of his sirtuk and a Chassidic hat.

Don’t we all need to make a change in life? Are we perfect? Halevai a beinoni! But we usually remain the same. Perhaps we add a half an hour here and there for a shiur, we do a favor and read a segment of a sicha at the Shabbos table, but where is the total transformation? Where is the going-from-one-extreme-to-another as the Rebbe tells us we are capable of doing?

YOTAM YONATAN
FROM BEIT SHAAN

He gets up every morning at 4:30, and puts on the familiar yarmulke decorated with Yechi, puts his helmet over that, then puts on gloves and a warm jacket and gets on his bicycle to ride to work in the industrial area of the kibbutzim, a twenty minute ride from Beit Shaan. Yotam is a mashgiach who supervises the kashrus in a fish factory and he is responsible for the sorting area. He oversees dozens of employees (most of them Arabs) who sort through thousands of fish a day and send them all over the country.

Make no mistake about it, although his feet are on the ground, his head reaches (nearly) to the sky. With his eyes, he supervises the fish on the conveyor belt, but in his head fly maamarei Chassidus and quotes from Kabbala which, at the end of the day, will be put into words and will be publicized as articles the likes of which only Yotam can write.

Yotam’s life is not easy. He contends with complicated situations at home and at work. At home are three little ones who visit doctors now and then. His wife still hasn’t caught up with the quick pace of Yotam’s spiritual advancement and there is a lot of work that needs to be done to bridge their differences. Yotam knows we have the ability to accomplish everything from beginning to end and everything in between. Therefore, even when an Arab employee threatened him with a knife and said he would attack all the Jews, Yotam simply submitted a report to the manager; by the afternoon he had returned to his computer and continued typing his deep articles.

Yotam was born and raised on an irreligious kibbutz. After the army he went to India and visited ashrams. He told me that he registered for a ten day course of meditation at one of these places. The guides explained that we don’t bow to the idol but only to what it represents … Although most of the participants left the course in the middle, Yotam was determined to complete it. He waited for the enlightenment that would supposedly be his at the end of the course. He came to realize that he had to find enlightenment, but it wouldn’t happen in India, among idols.

Yotam returned to Eretz Yisroel where a friend from Teveria referred him to Arachim’s seminar. He went from there to Machon Meir, then to R’ Yitzchok Arad’s Yeshivat Daat. He discovered Chassidus and immediately began implementing its practices.

In the yard at the kibbutz, he built a pit for his morning immersion, and at the kibbutz clubhouse he organized davening, farbrengens, and shiurim for the other young people of the kibbutz and surrounding area. Along with studying computers, art and more, he mastered Halacha, Gemara, and Chassidus. As I mentioned, in his free time, Yotam writes deep articles based on Chassidus and Kabbala.

From one extreme to another.

AND THE SOULS THEY MADE IN ARGENTINA

R’ Shaul Elituv, today a Chabad rosh yeshiva in Kfar Sitrin, was on shlichus in Argentina between 5748 and 5762. His shlichus was cut short (exchanged) because of a change in the regime and the economic downfall, but the fruits of that shlichus flourish to this day and are producing new fruits.

Take Ari Sandman, a young Argentinean from a very wealthy family that owns a chain of stores and factories, as an example. His connection with Chabad began thanks to his sister who became a baalas t’shuva, married and has a Chassidic home. That is how the entire family developed a connection with Judaism. Ari arrived at the Chabad Yeshiva in Argentina for the first time with hair down his back and sporting a number of earrings. What interested him was music, music and more music. He had the CD’s of all the musicians in the world. He did not lack for money and nearly every day he bought more CD’s that had just come out. Once he entered the yeshiva, he was immediately befriended by all the staff and bachurim-shluchim who arranged chavrusos with him.

Thanks to the yeshiva’s concentrated efforts, Ari made quick progress, perhaps too quick. Within a few days he had cut his hair and was soon wearing a hat and suit. He was not satisfied until he flew to the Rebbe for Yud Shvat 5749 and returned with dozens of sifrei Chassidus that he bought.

His way down was as fast as his way up. Ari began moving away from this new path until one evening he went to the yeshiva, approached R’ Elituv, and said he wanted to donate all his s’farim to the yeshiva and his two pairs of t’fillin because he wouldn’t be using them anymore anyway.

R’ Elituv tried to reach a compromise with him. He was willing to hold his s’farim for him until he wanted them back, but he refused to take the t’fillin. Ari insisted on leaving everything in the yeshiva. As a last resort, R’ Elituv invited him to his home for a talk. Ari brought along a friend for the talk which lasted all night. The blessed results are apparent till today on the two friends, their families and (yes, you are reading correctly) on hundreds, perhaps thousands of their mushpaim and mekuravim.

THANKS TO $10 A MONTH

During that conversation they had, Ari explained that it was all over for him. R’ Elituv spoke with him and his friend, trying every avenue of persuasion that he could think of, but got nowhere. He finally managed to extract a commitment from Ari that he would do one Chassidic practice and keep it; it would be his only connection to Judaism. Ari agreed to continue giving maamad money every month which R’ Elituv would send to the Rebbe.

Once a month, Ari would bring him $10. R’ Elituv would add him to the list of Chassidim who had given maamad money and send the money to the Rebbe.

To understand where Ari was at, R’ Elituv said that one day, Ari showed up in an emotional state. He said that the previous Yom Kippur he had been on a flight when the plane suddenly began shaking and it seemed it would drop into the ocean any second. It was terrifying, and he decided never to fly on Yom Kippur again. In the same breath, Ari said it was hard to bring the $10 every month so he would give R’ Elituv $120 for the year.

R’ Elituv explained that this was not possible. “I cannot accept money for the year. There’s no such thing. You need to come every month. Period.” This is how he maintained the connection with the young man.

Ari was appointed by his father to run one of the family’s stores. He worked there from morning to night. R’ Elituv would visit him in the store now and then and put t’fillin on with him. Ari met a Jewish girl who would visit the Chabad House occasionally and listen to shiurim. She influenced her boyfriend to attend one of the classes and he began taking an interest in Judaism and Chassidus once again. This time, R’ Elituv made sure that Ari took it slow. Ari eventually married the girl and established a fine, religious home in Eretz Yisroel.

Today, Ari is a sofer who is known both for his beautiful writing and his fear of Heaven. R’ Landau of B’nei Brak is one of his customers who orders mezuzos from him.

THE CONSERVATIVE CHAZAN WHO
BECAME A SHLIACH

Asher Schvetz was Ari’s friend (in the previous story) and he too grew up in Argentina without much of a connection to Judaism. His hobby was drumming and bands, which led him to become a chazan in a conservative congregation in Buenos Aires.

One day, he showed up at R’ Elituv’s Chabad House and said he wanted help learning Hebrew. He was preparing to study at Hebrew University in Yerushalayim and wanted to prepare by improving his command of the language. R’ Elituv said he was happy to help him, that he had talmidim in the yeshiva who would be happy to help him, and he had a special method for learning Hebrew – studying from a Chumash.

The fellow showed up every day at the Chabad Yeshiva to learn Hebrew. He was smart and sensitive and realized that it wasn’t appropriate to show up at the yeshiva with earrings. He adjusted to the atmosphere and the bachurim taught him “Hebrew” from the Chumash. Under the direction of R’ Elituv, the lessons took place right before the Tanya class and Asher remained for part of it.

He wasn’t embarrassed to ask pointed questions when something seemed odd to him. He sometimes debated R’ Elituv and others. Ultimately, Asher strengthened his connection with the yeshiva, with the Rebbe, and with Chassidus.

At the yeshiva, Asher met his friend Ari and other young people who were interested in Judaism. Today they are all Chassidim and some of them are shluchim in Argentina and other countries.

Asher went through a hard time. His parents opposed him, his friends mocked him, but the Rebbe gave him lots of kochos. When his parents saw that he was serious, they were very concerned. His mother realized that when he would marry, his wedding would be different than what they were used to. She wasted no time and asked to see what a Chassidic wedding looked like. She attended a community wedding where everyone danced and rejoiced while she sat and wept. She didn’t like it and she intensified her opposition to her son’s new path.

One day, Asher came to write a letter to the Rebbe in which he asked for a rectification for all the sins he ever did. The Rebbe told him to be particular about tzitzis. He went to learn in the Chabad Yeshiva for a while and then learned and received smicha in 770.

Asher got married and went on shlichus in Argentina. Today, he is known as Rav Asher Schvetz, one of the successful shluchim in Argentina. He runs a network of Chabad mosdos with sixty employees; he put up some buildings, is connected with big philanthropists who help expand his activities, and is beloved by G-d and man.

FOR THE SAKE OF HEAVEN

To conclude R’ Elituv’s stories, I should mention that back in 5744, when he was on K’vutza by the Rebbe, he merited great displays of closeness from the Rebbe. He has dozens of responses to questions he asked and many responses during farbrengens to issues that he raised in the Kovtzei Haaros of the bachurim and Anash.

One day, he submitted a note with a question to the Rebbe. How is it that in Birkas HaMazon we ask, “May we find grace and good understanding in the eyes of G-d and man”? Why should we find grace in the eyes of man?

The Rebbe responded, “Intend it for the sake of Heaven, in order to have an influence on them in Torah and mitzvos.”

It seems as though the Rebbe’s bracha was fulfilled with R’ Shaul Elituv and his students; all of them are successful in their shlichus in the eyes of G-d and man.

THE REBBE WAS WITH
ME ALL THE WAY

Twenty-five years ago, a young Israeli soldier walked into the Chabad House in Beit Shaan and wanted to buy a Tanya. Back then, our Chabad house was in a building next to the Bekaa Highway. I figured that she may have just happened to pass by on the main highway, saw the Chabad House sign, and came in. It was only years later that I found out what a long journey it was for this woman, from her childhood until today, when she is an outstanding teacher and mashpia. It was quite a long road, but at every “station” a shliach of the Rebbe amazingly appeared to escort her to the next station.

Her first stop was in her childhood on a tiny moshav in the Beit Shaan valley. Once every two weeks, a Chabad tank visited the moshav, drove through the roads of the moshav (two and a half roads) while playing Chassidic music, and stopped in the center of the moshav. The driver gathered the children, told them a Chassidic story, and taught them about tz’daka, p’sukim, Shabbos candles, and more.

Till today, she remembers the orange pushka and the booklets with the stories of tzaddikim that were given out on the tank. Even now, she tells her little children stories from back then. That was her first acquaintance with shluchim of the Rebbe and with the hafatza of Chabad.

Her second stop was in the army. She served on a huge base in the south of the country. She was shocked and disappointed by the secular and liberal atmosphere there. She looked for a spiritual refuge, a point of light somewhere in the army and the big base.

It was Erev Purim and she heard that at the end of the fast there would be a Megilla reading at the shul on base. She was the only woman in the women’s section of the shul and this stood out, of course; one lone soldier from the entire base who came to hear the Megilla.

The Lubavitcher who arranged the Megilla reading was an army reservist and he wondered about this lone soldier who didn’t look religious. She related, “Afterward, he was waiting for me outside the shul and he was the next shliach. He advised me to go to Kfar Chabad where we would write a letter to the Rebbe about my mother’s eye operation. In retrospect, we realized that thanks to the Rebbe’s bracha, my mother’s eyesight was saved for fifteen years in contrast to the doctors’ prognostications. In Kfar Chabad they told me about the Chabad house in Beit Shaan, and so I went there in order to buy a Tanya and to be connected to the Rebbe.

“My next stop was with my wedding and my moving to Yakne’am. Over there, we were adopted by the shliach, Noam Dekel. He provided us with all our religious and Chassidic needs. Thus, wherever we went we found loyal shluchim who were mekarev us, taught us, and dedicated endless time to us.”

She underwent a slow, painstaking, and grounded process. Slowly, her husband joined her. They registered their children in Chabad schools and their home became a Chassidic one. She was still in a war between her past secular life and her present Chassidic one. In the house everything was kosher, but when going out to work it wasn’t all that clear. It took years before she left the house with a head covering and proper clothing. Every day was a battle.

Now, she is a teacher and mashpia in the community. She knows that it is all thanks to the Rebbe who looked out for her and sent his shluchim to guide her at various stages of her life.

A few years ago, she spoke at the Kinus HaShluchos in Eretz Yisroel and excited everyone with her fascinating life’s story, inspiring everyone to recognize how the Rebbe guides each of us through the winding pathways of life, enabling us to truly transform ourselves from one extreme to the other.

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