When a bus of boys coming to farbreng got stuck in the mud, it took two vehicles and coordination to get it out. At the ensuing farbrengen, we derived two important lessons.
By Rabbi Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin – AlephBeisGimmel.com
I’m not one to put up my feet and relax – summer or not – but I still found myself in the Catskills this past Shabbos. My dear mother, zol zain gezunt, is spending the summer in the mountains, and I try to take every opportunity to fulfill the precious mitzvah of kibud av va’eim.
It turns out that the Yeshivas Kayitz of Oholei Torah is spending the summer not far from where I was for Shabbos. In order to make the most of my time there, we arranged for them to come over for a Farbrengen on Sunday afternoon.
It rained a lot over Shabbos. When the boys arrived on their bus, they found that the long unpaved road leading into the colony had turned muddy. The bus was wider than the usual family cars and vans and the well-worn ruts they created, so the driver took the road slowly, balancing carefully on the narrow strips on either side of the deep grooves in the road. Just as he reached the end of the road, his back tires slipped off the road and became mired in the mud.
The boys clustered around the bus, watching with interest as a couple of the more confident ones were trying to get the bus unstuck. They found some pallets that had been lying around and were wedging them in under the wheels, with little effect. The driver tried pulling forward or backing up, but the tires just kept spinning in the slick mud.
They didn’t give up easily, but neither did the mud. Once or twice it seemed like the wheels were gaining traction, only to spin and slip back into the mud. Conceding that they might need help, they finally put in a call to Chavivim, a group of volunteers who bring roadside assistance to their fellow Yidden.
Two vehicles answered the call – a powerful pickup truck and a heavy suburban. Competent and well-equipped, they pulled out a heavy-duty towing strap and connected their vehicles to the bus. “Put your bus in neutral,” one of them instructed, “and we’ll pull you right out.”
We all stepped back to watch from a safe distance. On the count of three, the two vehicles hit the gas. The bus rocked a little but it didn’t budge, and now it was the Chavivim spinning their wheels in the wet mud. “OK,” the guy told the bus driver. “This time, let’s try it with you driving too.”
The bus got into gear. At the count of three, the strap went taut and all of the vehicles rolled forward. The boys cheered as the bus got back on the road and pulled away to find a place to park. Baruch Hashem!
Everyone finally made it indoors and we started the Farbrengen. With the high drama of the bus fresh in everyone’s mind, I started with the famous teaching of the Baal Shem Tov: from everything a Yid sees or hears, he can learn a lesson in serving Hashem. “So, boys… what did you take from this story with the bus?” I asked.
The symbolism of the mud and the solid ground jumped out at everyone. It’s something to which we can all relate. There are times in all our lives when we slip out of the safe grooves in the road and find ourselves stuck, tires spinning, unable to get any traction.
We settled on two practical lessons for those situations:
First, even a big, powerful bus – a heavy-duty, high-torque vehicle – will be totally immobilized if it’s not on solid ground. The makeshift foundation of the wooden pallets was not enough, and it was only when it was safely and fully back on solid ground that it was able to move under its own power.
Our journey through life is the same. We build up our strength, our abilities, and our techniques, but all of that counts for nothing if we’re not on solid ground. We must ensure that we go through life on solid foundations.
The path our lives take might turn steeply upwards, demanding more strength and resolve to see things through. It might turn steeply downwards, requiring firm and determined application of our brakes. It might veer left or right and require careful and accurate steering.
None of that is possible if our wheels are not firmly in contact with the ground. Not the slippery, illusory ground, the mud that is the false reality asserted by the world around us and embraced by our nefesh habahamis, but the actual, firm ground revealed to us by the Torah and innately recognized by our neshama and nefesh Elokis.
The foundations of our life, the reality on which we build and within which we operate, must be Hashem, Emunah, Bitachon, neshama, Torah, Mitzvos, and so on.
Secondly, to stay on track – and certainly to get back on track – we need help. We need a Rebbe. We need a Mashpia, a Rav, we need chaveirim, chavivim, good friends who can be there for us with heavy-duty towing rope, with a dose of honesty and true ahavas yisroel.
But, like the bus Hashem showed us this week, that doesn’t mean we can stay in neutral. To get out of the mud, we need to get into gear ourselves. We need to want to escape the mud and, keeping in mind that we can’t do it on our own, we need to do whatever is in our power to make that happen.
We’re in this world, in the mud, facing our challenges, because Hashem wants our effort, our Avodah. It is precious to Him. He gives us everything we need – external assistance and internal strength and – and He is waiting to see us get into gear and hit the gas.