Sunday evening marked the culmination of the annual International Conference of Shluchim, attended by most of the 5,000 Chabad shluchim living in over 100 countries around the world along with some of their baal habatim. Speaking at the event were David Friedman, the U.S. Ambassador to Israel; Rabbi Yitzchok Schochet, rabbi of Mill Hill Synagogue in London, UK, and a member of The Jewish Press’s “Is It Proper?” panel; and Sholom Hurwitz, son of Rabbi Yitzi Horowitz, who was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease six years ago. Sholom read a speech that his father wrote with his eyelids (the only way he can communicate). Below are excerpts from the prepared remarks of all three speakers.
Ambassador David Friedman
Among the millions of Jews helped by Chabad, I include myself as a very grateful beneficiary – both physically and spiritually. The physical benefits arrived in a curious and unpredictable manner. About 22 years ago, Chabad of the Five Towns opened up a storefront shul. … At that same time, I was suffering with pain the likes of which I had never before experienced – a herniated disc just below my neck.
I tried every therapy and medication on the market, but nothing seemed to work. My wife, Tammy, ever resourceful, took the advice of her mother, zichrona livracha, and stopped by the Chabad storefront to ask if they could check our mezuzot.
Thirty minutes later, I met [Chabad shliach] Rav Zalman Wolowick for the first time. In addition to checking the mezuzot, Rabbi Wolowick brought an extra pair of tefillin which he suggested I use while my tefillin was checked as well. I used the borrowed tefillin that day. The next morning I awoke 100 percent pain free for the first time in two months.
Later that day Rabbi Wolowick stopped by to inform me that the ink on the four parshiot of my shel rosh tefillin had bled across all four parchments and was no longer even legible, let alone kosher. Baruch Hashem, I have been pain free ever since.
But as wonderful as it is to be without pain, life requires so much more: purpose, meaning, charity, love, wisdom, and kindness. And so from that point forward, I decided to study with Rabbi Wolowick every week. We chose to study the Neviim, beginning with the Book of Joshua.
Now, those of you who followed the nomination process by which I became ambassador to Israel – and in particular my appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – may recall that not all the senators were supportive of me. Some accused me of having no prior diplomatic experience. They were right. Others pointed out that I had never before worked for the United States government. They were also right.
So many doubted that my life experience were sufficient to enter this highly-challenging position. But I never had a doubt. To my thinking, I had been preparing for this job my entire life. My father, of blessed memory, a practicing rabbi for more than 50 years, gave me the skills and the courage to lead. My mother, of blessed memory, taught me to value the dignity and holiness of every human life. And my teachers, too many to mention, gave me a sense of perspective about the greatness of America, the miracle of Israel, and the divine bond between them.
I will mention one teacher – again, Rav Zalman Wolowick. When we started learning Sefer Yehoshua, I had no reason to think my studies would have any practical application. But I learned more about leadership from Yehoshau, Shoftim, Shmuel, and Melachim than from any other sources at any other time. To understand the strength of Yehoshua, the many mistakes of the Jewish people during the weakened leadership of the Shoftim, the holiness and purity of Samuel, the tragic insecurity of Shaul, the warrior poetry of David and the wisdom of Solomon – you put that all together, you study it, you think about it, and you try to understand the complementary roles of G-d and man in the world, and you are more than equipped for public service.
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Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz (speech read by his son, Sholom)
Many of you have sent me messages of encouragement, and I can’t begin to tell you how it energizes me. Especially the ones that come from you who have struggles of your own. It’s incredible the love and strength that you are capable of.
One thing I have learned is that there is hardly a person who doesn’t have struggles – whether it be health, money, shidduchim, or something else. In my case, it’s impossible to hide, so I am on display. But that doesn’t mean that your struggles are any less.
You need to realize that your struggles are directly from Hashem. He wants something from you that can only be realized through your difficulties. It doesn’t mean that your shlichus has to end; rather, there is something else being asked of you, a new stage of your shlichus. You don’t have to fight it; rather, find a way for your struggle to take you to the next level.…
When I went for the first round of tests, the doctor said, “You have bulbar ALS.” I asked him to explain. He said, “It’s very serious. You are going to lose your muscles and you will be paralyzed. It’s the most aggressive form of the disease; you have two years to live.” I was shaken to the core.
Leaving the office into the empty hallway, I broke down in a fit of bitter tears. When I composed myself, I exited the building and I saw a man falling to the ground having a seizure and I ran to help him. At that moment, I realized that there is still a lot that I can do. I resolved that no matter what the results of further “tests,” I was going to remain positive and find a way to make a difference.…
Unfortunately, in this galus, we have challenges, but it’s those challenges that bring out the best in the Jewish people. Just like Yitzchak Avinu, who revealed the G-dliness in the world, we reveal the G-dliness in the Jewish people. And it’s our challenges that reveal the G-dliness within us, our families, our communities, and the whole Jewish world.
I give you a beracha that you shouldn’t know of any struggles, pain, or suffering. We should be blessed with happy and healthy children, and our children should be blessed with good and healthy parents.
And I bless my wife and children that Hashem should give them a miracle, that I should return to complete health and be able to be the husband and father they need and want.
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Rabbi Yitzchok Schochet
Next Shabbos, we will read in the Torah the story of Yitzchak and Rivkah. When Rivkah became pregnant, we are told, “vayisrotzatzu habonim bekirba” – the fetuses struggled, agitated in the womb. The Midrash explains that every time Rivkah passed a place of pagan worship, Esav wanted to emerge. When she passed a place of holiness, Yaakov wanted to emerge.
You have to wonder: Why would Rivkah pass by a place of pagans? Why would she not avoid a place that is antithetical to Judaism? It defies comprehension! What is “Rivkah” doing in Turkey or Slovakia or Oklahoma – places far removed from her spiritual needs and comfort – when she can restrict herself to holiness, to remain in Crown Heights or in Israel?
My father, a”h, once told me: Our matriarch Rivkah was simply carrying on the work of her predecessor, our matriarch Sarah, who alongside her husband Avraham devoted [herself] to propagate and enhance G-dliness in the world. “Avraham megayer anashim v’Sarah megayeres nashim.” So too, Rivkah felt obligated to do something, however unusual, however atypical, to journey where no one else will….
Ordinary people might view this as abnormal. Let it be said loud and clear: “In Chabad, we don’t do normal!” We are not ordinary. We put the extra into ordinary. Inculcated with the Rebbe’s mission statement of loving every Jew without conditions or qualifications, we persevere and over time a spiritually desolate desert is transformed into an oasis where Jews can feel at home.
A Chabad House is built, a mikveh is built, a Jewish school is built, a Yeshiva is built. Tens of thousands of men and women with previous limited or no access to Torah learning now have opportunity to grow in their Yiddishkeit because of the myriad shiurim available to them.
This couldn’t – wouldn’t – happen without the valiant sense of duty of each and every shliach and shlucha. It’s not a job, rather a labor of love. Every shliach strives for the ultimate, yet never feels that he or she has arrived. We may have huge aspirations, but we remain unassuming. We say: I want to, and can, do it all – yet, no matter how much we will have done, we know that there is still more to do.
Ask yourself: Where would the world be today without the Rebbe’s vision? … Who would provide a Pesach seder for twenty-five hundred Israeli backpackers in Kathmandu? Where would Jewish women have access to a mikveh in Saigon? Do the Jews of Siberia not matter? Who would teach Torah to the Jews in Uganda? All this and so much more because of the selfless commitment of shluchim – because in Chabad, we don’t do normal!