״Your Challenge May be your Purpose״
As the summer turn into fall, I decided to go on a spiritually invigorating trip to the most remote location I have ever visited. A journey of a lifetime, to reenergize my Soul before the High Holidays come upon us.
On a recent Monday night, I boarded a charter flight from Miami to Almaty, Kazakhstan, with two hundred Fellow Chabad rabbis. We flew over twenty-one hours each way in order to gather for two days of spiritual inspiration, at the site of the resting place of the Rebbe’s saintly father, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson.
Nestled just three hours from the border of Western China and Afghanistan, Almaty is city of striking beauty as it lies at the foot of the Himalayan Mountain range that towers over it.
The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson’s father, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson (born 1878) known to many as Reb Levik, was the charismatic, dynamic and influential spiritual leader of the large industrial city of Yekatrinoslav (known as Dnieprepotrovsk today), Ukraine before he was arrested by the KGB, the Communist secret service, for his crimes in spreading Judaism. The Communists exiled him to the remote eastern Asian city of Almaty in order to render him unable to influence other Jews away from the socialist paradise that left no room for faith. Here he lived his final years in great suffering, poverty, and hunger until he calmly returned his soul to his maker this past Wednesday in 1944.
Rabbi Yitchok Tiechtel joined with 200 Chabad Rabbis from around the world to honor the life of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Scheerson at his gravesite in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
I was able to experience a sense of his isolation as we walked through a winding path to his resting place through Christian burial plots, life-size rock statues and communist symbols engraved on many graves. It broke my heart to think that this giant of a man, the father of the most influential rabbi in modern history, was relegated to such unbearable circumstances.
Reb Levik’s spiritual greatness lives on today as countless stories of miraculous salvation unfold for many who make the trek to visit his tomb with heartfelt prayers for his Divine intercession. For the duration of our thirty-six-hour visit, I was deeply disturbed as to why would G-d have sent such a saintly soul to suffer in such dire conditions?
As I sat writing this article on the long plane ride home, I was enlightened with the answer in the weekly Torah portion. The Torah is our gift from G-d and the weekly portion is our compass. Our sages tell us that we can always find the answers we seek in the Torah portion of the week.
The Torah tells of the lowest moment our People have ever fallen. Having just received the Ten Commandments on two Divinely-produced Tablets on Mount Sinai, the Jews chose to turn their backs on G-d with a shocking betrayal—they created a calf of gold and bowed down to it! As a result, Moses smashes the Two Tablets. When eventually G-d forgives their indiscretion, he instructs Moses to make the new tablets “for himself.”
The Talmud in the Tractate of Nedarim, reveals to us that the seemingly superfluous word “for himself” was an instruction to Moses to carve the Second Tablets out of sapphire and to keep the leftover shards for himself. Indeed, these precious shards made Moses a very wealthy man.
It seems inappropriate on all levels: why would G-d throw an instruction for Moses to casually “keep the change” into a serious story of Divine reconciliation? And how is it even ethical for Moses to profit from what is clearly public property? Besides, who cares about Moses’ personal financial statement during this time when the future of the Jewish nation lay in the balance?
In a moving sermon in 1908, Reb Levik’s Rebbe, the Fifth Chabad Rebbe known as Rashab explains the significance of this wondrous windfall:
These sapphire shards were the product of man’s epic fail at Sinai. Having just recently caused the destruction of the First Tablets, G-d’s gift to mankind, the Jewish Nation was crushed. They felt hopeless and irredeemable. They had gone too far.
Moses’ wealth being the product of broken, shameful pieces, inspires us to the positive and purposeful elements behind our failures. Instead of seeing them as useless black holes, we can view them as opportunists for growth and even greatness.
Our problems are our purpose. Our mistakes don’t happen to us; they’re sent to us from Above. Though we cannot always appreciate why, we are fortified with the faith that our dysfunction is our destiny, and our failures pave the way to our fortunes.
If G-d wanted you to be perfect, He’d have made you so. He wants us to climb out of our sinkholes as we overcome our challenges with character and courage. Indeed, our purpose lies in the potholes. That’s where the gold lies.
Moses’ wealth deriving from the broken shards of the Second Tablets proves that our prosperity is reached through making the best of our pitfalls. What you have is what G-d needs from you now. Instead of resenting your lot, celebrate it, embrace it and launch from it. Even in our perceived mistakes, we have purpose. In fact, your perceived detour might be precisely the exit you were supposed to take to reach your specific destination.
As I clearly saw in Almaty this week, despite the communists’ sincerest intent to isolate Reb Levik in Kazakhstan, he continues to inspire and uplift countless thousands of passionate disciples that continue to travel across the world to visit him,a full eighty years after his passing. In a mysterious way, his faraway exile ultimately led to his far greater influence.
May we all begin to appreciate the value in the broken parts of our lives, and see the purpose in the challenges of life.