By Rabbi Yisroel Shusterman, Dean, Cheder Chabad of Monsey
One of the famous Chassidic Jews of our generation was a Russian Chosid named Reb Mendel Futerfas. Reb Mendel repeatedly put his life at risk with his efforts to promote Jewish education behind the Iron Curtain, and for some 14 years was incarcerated in prisons and labor camps for his “crime” of teaching Torah. While in the Siberian gulag, he interacted with other prisoners—some Jewish, some not. Among these prisoners was a circus performer with an incredible skill as a tightrope walker.
Having never been to a circus, Reb Mendel was totally baffled by the man’s profession. How could a person risk his life walking on a rope several stories above ground? (This was in the days before safety nets were standard practice.)
“To just go out there and walk on a rope?” Reb Mendel challenged incredulously, being both skeptical yet intrigued.
Opportunity arose for him to display his skill to Reb Mendel, when the prison guards allowed for an “in-house” circus, where this tightrope walker would perform. To the bated breath of the audience below, he climbed the tall pole to the suspended rope he had set up. He virtually glided across the rope to the pole at the other end, and then, in a flash, made a fast turn, reversed his direction and proceeded back to the other side. Along the way, he performed several stunts. The crowd went wild.
Later, when Reb Mendel asked him how he did it, the performer explained, “When you see your destination in front of you and you don’t take your eyes off of it, then your feet go where they need to go, and you don’t fall.”
“Most difficult was the turn, to change direction. During that split second, when you lose sight of that first pole, and the other pole has not yet come into view, there is some real danger there. But . . . if you don’t allow yourself to get confused and distracted during that transition, your eyes will find that pole, and your balance will be there.”
This week’s Torah reading (Devorim [Deuteronomy] 31:1-30), in which we learn about the last day of Moses’ life, is called Vayeilech (Moshe) (“And Moses went”). The commentaries point out that even on the last day of his life, Moses was on the move—walking forward, achieving, growing—making the most of every precious moment of life.
Moses’ message to us is that so long as we have a breath of life, there needs to be vayeilech - explorations of new horizons, journeys to new frontiers, with direction and purpose..
How do we walk this tightrope called “life” without stumbling? The answer is: by establishing clear and proper goals, and remaining focused on those goals The Torah provides us with a roadmap to a meaningful and fulfilling way of life. It sets down goals, and defines purpose.
It is also noteworthy that this Torah reading is often read on the special Shabbat, as this year, that serves as the bridge between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, called “Shabbat Shuvah.” On this Shabbat we also read a haftorah in which we hear the words of the prophets exhorting us, pleading with us, beckoning us to improve the quality of our lives; to even change direction, if need be.
When you know what your purpose and destination is, and you do not take your eyes off that “pole”, then you know where to put your feet. Even when conditions turn, and we momentarily lose sight of the pole, we need not despair. Shabbat Shuvah teaches us that a change of direction ought not to send us plummeting. On the contrary, we can and should shift with changes of circumstances, catch our balance, and let the next pole come into view.
(Excerpts from Chabad.org - from Rabbi Moshe Bryski)
May you have a meaningful and uplifting Shabbos!
If you would like to dedicate the weekly Parsha Perspective in honor or memory of a person or occasion, please contact Rabbi Shusterman at email@example.com.