It’s Not a One (Or Two) Way Street

Over the past weeks, two articles about shlichus captured the attention of Chassidim around the world. A third opinion piece argues that neither column truly got “the point”.

By Arik Shemtov – Detroit, Michigan
[email protected]

Over the past few weeks, the discussion in the streets seemed to all be about two articles on The op-ed by Rabbi Gershon Avtzon (Should We Rethink The Way We Talk About Shlichus?) and the response by Rabbi Shimon Posner (Perhaps The Dissatisfaction Is The Point?).

To me, they both seem to be dealing with a much more general age-old question: Is it good to have expectations of yourself?

“The key to happiness is low expectations”, and seeing the disappointment of those who have not fulfilled their expectations, argues the first op-ed (as I understood it), “maybe it’s time to lower ours.”

The response argues: “Why lower our expectations, better to increase the urgency.”

I don’t know which one is right. Neither is my English as rich as Rabbi Posner’s.

But let me suggest a third approach:

Lubavitch is not a derech, as much as it is a nekudah (a point; an aim). A derech takes you in one direction, a nekudah faces different directions at once1.

If you start from the nekudah and only take one path, you may reach the destination of that path, but you have plucked it away from its (source, and multi-faced) nekudah. Eventually, that path will dry up.

One path: The Rebbe has a goal, a mission, and we are his soldiers. The Rebbe’s chinuch is mesiras nefesh and “who said we are meant to be comfortable.” If you travel on shlichus the Rebbe is proud of you, and if not, you missed the train, and “the least you can do about it is feel anguished…”

“The fire is burning, and we won’t lower our ‘expectations’ until Moshiach comes,” they continue.

I would venture to say that even if someone takes solely this approach (to the extreme) and succeeds, then even while on shlichus, he will not feel happy inside and always feel like he isn’t good enough… (“But it is good to feel that way,” they proudly argue, while pulling out 7 different volumes of Sichos Kodesh to prove their point). 

As the dust settles, ultimately, such a conscience will manifest in friction with others and a need to look and put down the “lower class,” since they look down at themselves. This is a trend which is merachek and gives a bitter taste to the idea of shlichus.

(Please note: this is (as stated above) an extreme and obviously not the norm ch”v, but we can all relate to an extent. Just look inside yourself, even as you’re reading this, a part of your brain is subconsciously looking for a subtle flaw in what I’m writing, thereby proclaiming yourself a nuanced thinker…)

Second path: “It’s all nice and fine, just lower the volume, please. The train has boarded and filled, and you’re lucky if you get a back seat.”

“Every Yid is a shliach.” is the banner they carry with pride. (Ironically, that is a term heard always heard around the Kinnus, and less so on a random Tuesday afternoon). “Shlichus is a mindset,” they tell you with an enlightened twinkle in their eye (as if that’s less demanding than the practical term of shlichus). And “unreasonable expectations are not good for your mental health.”

Is there a third? Is there a core point (nekudah) that can bring out how the view of both Rabbis Avtzon and Posner work hand in hand, without the compromise of the first or the heartache of the second?

Imagine a mother telling her child: “You’re a good boy, but it’s really a tough world out there, and I just don’t know if you’ll make it. Well, thankfully there’s an extra room in our basement, so let’s get a bunk bed, and you’ll move in here with your wife…”

Or, imagine a mother telling her child “It’s a tough world but you’re tougher. And lest you think you can just opt out and not live up to our prestigious family name, you should know, you’ll always be second to the best.”

Both should make you shudder.

Instead. the Rebbe would tell us2 “I see who you are, you are a shliach already, you are a shliach even whilst living in my basement. And therefore, the question begs: what are you doing, living forever in my basement??!!”

Expectations coming from a void, from needing to prove yourself to others or yourself, is just a tormented ego mapping its own destruction. It will leave you feeling either dented (when lost) or swollen (when achieved) and forever awkward and out of place with yourself and others.

But if coming from where you are already3, it leaves no room for heartache, guilt or inferiority. It’s all an expression of where you were before you even started. If you failed the first time, just reboot and start over. 

Ultimately, you know you are in the right place. And there is no lack of confidence when claiming what is yours4 already.

In such contexts, lowering the bar is just a symbol of dishonesty and lack of confidence in what you have to offer.

So too in chinuch. A teacher is one who can honestly tell his student “I see you are a shliach even if you don’t travel on shlichus, but that’s why I know that (one day) you will.” If he can’t say that, then even when he sees a shliach, he is just looking at a costume. No wonder then, that his message will sound either diluted or brutal. 

The Rebbe taught us how to approach a fellow Yid. “You’re a Yid and a perfect one. No matter what. And that’s exactly why you should put on Tefillin.”

It’s time we apply this method to ourselves…

  1. Likkutei Sichos vol. 3 p. 969.
  2. Leil Simchas Torah 5746 (an iconic sicha about shlichus, printed in Likkutei Sichos vol. 29 p. 358)
  3. והיינו שכל עניינו אינו אלא התפשטות מהעצם הבלתי משתנה. See also Basi Legani 5730 ois 6-9.
  4. This letter is based on Mayim Rabim 5738, Hadron on Masechta Keilim 5750.

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  1. Well put. The only area I would differ with is the aspect that “I know that one day you will.”

    If you tell a kid that, they will take the chitzoniyus of it and will automatically feel “less than” if they don’t end up going on Shlichus.

    Shlichus is not literally like putting on tefillin. (Even though I get the gist, and I generally appreciate the comparison.) It is not true that every kid going through the system that wants to go on Shlichus will practically have that opportunity, even if they are extremely driven, etc. In fact, most won’t.

    That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try, with many succeeding, and that doesn’t mean that at the point that they need to stop and settle, they should feel less than.

  2. Perhaps the formula is:

    “I see you are a shliach even if you don’t travel on shlichus. You will do your best to go on Shlichus. If it comes a point and it is clear that your Shlichus is in business, Chinuch etc. Like the Rebbe told many people, you will be happy and proud of that, because that’s your Shlichus in life, and your Shlichus from the Rebbe.”

    1. please read the article again before you comment exactly the opposite of what he is trying to bring out;
      For example:

      “Imagine a mother telling her child: “You’re a good boy, but it’s really a tough world out there, and I just don’t know if you’ll make it. Well, thankfully there’s an extra room in our basement, so let’s get a bunk bed, and you’ll move in here with your wife…””

      So maybe the formula is ” its clear that you have to live forever in my basement”…

      1. its more like “even if the basement is the best place for you, because you are really a shliach your real place is shlichus”

      2. My point is that if your mission in life is to be the Rebbe’s shliach in business or Chinuch — that is not a “basement,” and it shouldn’t be presented as such.

        It is exactly what you are supposed to be doing and you should be happy that you are not part of “neshomos hatohos.” You should be pumped up from doing exactly what you were put into this world to do.

      3. The “nekuda” discussed in the article can apply to these circumstances also. And in my opinion, that is how it should be presented.

        1. There are stories that people asked the rebbe whether they should go on shlichus or not, and usually the rebbe would say not – (because shlichus is something that has to come from u, and the rebbe wouldnt force people to do it – and the fact that the person asked showed that he wasnt 100 percent sure about it..)

          When on the other hand if they wrote that they are ready to go on shlichus, the rebbe would usually give his brocha – unless the rebbe specifically wanted him to do buisness etc..

          so unless u see a clear sign that “your shlichus” is to do something else, the default is that You are a shliach and u should step up to that with all that u got!

          1. I’m talking about people looking for something to work out. For years and years. Trying hard. At some point, they have to settle down, and that is a sign that settling down (not on Shlichus) is their mission in life. And not at all a “basement.”

  3. The statement that *all Shlichus opportunities are taken already” is a big lie!! There are places that could use many more!!

    1. If only these spots were allowed to filled there are tons of young couples that are waiting (literally) to go out on Shlichus but since the processes is so hard & long some just don’t even try… i thing head Shluchim should be going around asking to bring more young Shluchim down to all these places make it easier for them which will bring about tons more going out on Shlichus…

  4. In other words, if you see yourself as a chossid and a shliach (shlucha) of the Rebbe, you will express that and manifest that, no matter what circumstances come your way. You will always see if you can do more, but from a place of joy because that is who you are.

    Another important point is that Hashem is the One running the world, not us, and He May have a different plan for us to fulfill than the one we thought was ideal. Happiness means accepting Hashem’s Plan and running with it to fulfill it and thereby reach far more of your potential.

    For example, if you see you need to go into business, but you are a chossid, you end up finding all the yidden who work there and bring them home for shabbos, send shalach monos etc. You are fulfilling your shlichus in the place Hashem sent you. I think a great example is the Chossid R Lazar Raskin who is featured in nshei newsletters who is a bus driver and uses that position to put on tefillin with many people. Or when my father worked at Microsoft and brought home people for shabbos, Yom Tov etc while he was there.

    1. Not everyone is cut out to be a teacher but you can still be a shliach with the talents and in the position Hashem has placed you

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