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The Black-Hatted Army

Thursday, 27 November, 2014 - 10:42 am

By: Elisha Greenbaum, Hampton East, VIC, Australia 

The Black-Hatted Army

I'm sitting on a plane, having just left New York and contemplating the
prospect of 28 more hours of travel until I can get home and get back to my
real purpose - *shlichus.*

At risk of sounding pretentious, this *Kinus* - International Shluchim
Convention - has really crystallised for me what my purpose in life should
be and why I should do that which I should be doing.

It is only when you get to the Kinus that you realise the sheer variety of
personality types who have enlisted in the Rebbe's army. I love sitting
down to a meal, a bus to the workshops, or at a late night *farbrengen* and
introducing myself to the *shliach* sitting next to me. You meet people who
are really accomplishing revolutions in their cities. Young Rabbis who
showed up in a town with no previous Jewish infrastructure and within a few
short years they've been blessed to have opened a shul, school and a dozen
other institutions, often staffed by other Shluchim who they've attracted
to the city.

You also meet Shluchim who haven't enjoyed nearly the same apparent level
of success; Shluchim who struggle for a minyan, Shluchim who struggle to
put food on their table to feed their own families, lonely Shluchim,
Shluchim with ill children, Shluchim with outrageous mortgages driving them
old before their time.

But they're all Shluchim and they all serve the same cause.

I sat on the bus next to an Argentinean Shliach who'd abandoned his
previous professional career to open a shop-front synagogue in a decaying
neighbourhood, just because he wanted to challenge himself to leave his
comfort zone and do something for G-d and the Rebbe.

I chatted to an old friend of mine, a Shliach with 9 kids, who wakes up
every day wondering how he'll meet his school-fee obligations but somehow
overcomes his anxieties and goes to spend every waking hour smiling at
senior citizens and teaching Torah to the town.

I had the privilege to meet a distinguished Shliach, head Chabad Rabbi of a
major Israeli city, who devoted an hour he could have used sleeping or
learning to giving me advice and generously sharing his memories of my late
father-in-law, of whom he was a childhood friend.

A French Shliach described to me his life in the outskirts of Paris, where
rioting Muslims youths periodically torch his car and an Ukrainian Shliach
at one of the sessions described the last few months of attempting to
shelter his community in the middle of a war zone.

There are fat Shluchim and skinny Shluchim, tall Shluchim and short
Shluchim. Sephardi, Ashkenazi, and Yemenite Shluchim. Shluchim who have
only been religious for a few years and others who were sacrificing
themselves back in pre-WW2 Russia. Introverted Shluchim and incredibly
extroverted ones, Shluchim in wheelchairs and others who run marathons to
inspire their campus students. Shluchim who minister to pre-school
children, others who deal with geriatrics and yet others who reach out to
every demographic and interest group in between. Some Shluchim fundraise,
others preach to thousands every week from the pulpits of fancy Synagogues
while other Shluchim have accepted the mission to teach the 7 Noahide laws
to non-Jews.

It is a blessing and a privilege to be counted among them and an
inspiration to have spent time with them this past week.


Living in suburban Melbourne one tends to lose sight of the size of the
army in which one is enrolled. We each have our own comfortable life; our
families, our congregants and our self-imposed daily to-do list to work
through. However it is only when we periodically leave home to congregate
together with our brother Shluchim that we are reminded how, in reality, we
are part of something so much bigger than ourselves.

If I wanted to get evocative, I might suggest that we're like a marching
army of black-clad worker ants; an endless wave of individuals, each only
tasked with carrying a tiny crumb of goodness and accomplishment back to
the nest, but whose combined efforts will ultimately bring Moshiach.

In Kabbalistic teachings they use an analogy of a sun-ray, when traced back
to its source in the sun. While in our own individual pods, we feel all
bright and accomplished, shining light into our own particular corner of
the world and basking in our own warmth. However, when we get to the Kinus
and are re-enveloped in happy anonymity in the company of thousands of
others just like us, we are reminded again that we are merely rays of the
Rebbe's personality, sent forward to share the light of G-d's teaching with
the world.

We read in the Torah this week how Yaakov, on his journey from Israel to
Choron, dreamt of a ladder whose base was lodged on earth, while its top
rung reached up to heaven. Angels of G-d were climbing that ladder, while
others descended to take their place.

The sages explain that angels of Hashem accompany us on every step we take
in this world. At each stage of life a different angel steps forward to
play his part in our destiny. As Yaakov left his home and birthplace, one
group of angels left him, only to be replaced by another group who would
protect him on his next journey to the new world.

Just like G-d sends his angels to serve us, so too the Rebbe enlisted an
army of messengers to travel to cities and suburbs throughout the world to
serve the local people. It was the Rebbe's vision that wherever a Jew may
be, at whichever stage of life he is to be found, there will be a Shliach
there to help him or her transverse that stage.

Whether in the vacation spots of Europe or the slums of Morocco, teaching
Barmitzvah lessons in West Africa or operating burial societies in the
former Soviet Union, as we travel from one country to another and as we
pass through every event of our life-cycle, the Rebbe's angels are there,
building the local infrastructure and devoting themselves to our needs.


Thus far, everything I have written reads like the usual advertorial one
tends to write on the plane to justify to your congregants why you
abandoned them for a week. However, let me share with you the greatest
inspiration of all the experiences that I enjoyed over the past 7 days.

On Friday morning <x-apple-data-detectors://2>, all the Shluchim travelled
as a group to the *Ohel -* the Rebbe's Resting Place.
is a special moment. We learn Torah, sing together songs that the Rebbe
taught us and prayers are recited for the safety and success of the
Shluchim, their families and their congregations.

I got there a bit before the program started, so I davened with a quick
minyan and then sat down with a cup of tea to learn some Torah while

I honestly couldn't learn a word.

Sitting opposite to me, across a narrow table in the room outside the
*Ohel,* was a Shliach in the middle of his prayers.

He wasn't just saying words; he was Davening with every fibre of his being.

He wasn't singing, but soft music was pouring out of him.

He was not an old man; maybe in his early 30's, yet implicit in every
syllable that he poured out to Hashem was a subtext of such longing and
heartfelt connection that most of us could never aspire to in a lifetime.

Even as a I write this, sitting squashed in the plane, I am transported
again to the beauty of his Davening and the enjoyment that I experienced,
just sitting and basking in the radiance of his devotions.

The Rabbis explain that the ladder that Yaakov saw in his dream is an
analogy to prayer; the ability for a mortal man or woman to transverse the
distance between earth and heaven. That anonymous Shliach at the *Ohel* was
travelling upwards on Yaakov's ladder, and for a few short minutes he took
me, his unintended passenger, along with him on his journey.

His eyes were closed. He did not know I was there. I will probably never
learn his name or where he serves, yet I would like to believe that he had
a profound affect on my life.

Only time will tell whether I will personally hold on to the inspiration he
unwittingly provided and whether my personal journey towards truth will be
permanently coloured for having had the privilege of hearing a true chosid
and a real Shliach daven for a few moments. However, I have no doubt that
the cumulative affect of the example and actions of the thousands of
Shluchim that the Rebbe sent to thousands of communities will have the
permanent affect of helping our people succeed on our national climb up the
ladder towards Hashem.

I am positive that with every step up the ladder that the Rebbe inspired
his Shluchim to take, we will reach one more rung on the path to
perfection. When the Shluchim, the Rebbe's angels, bring those sun rays of
spirituality back with them on their journey to their respective corners of
the world, and when they inspire their friends and families to complete
their own climb up the ladder of Torah and Mitzvos, our job on this world
will finally be complete and our purpose fulfilled.

Together with the angels that Hashem sent down to accompany us through
life, we will return to G-d, to finally enjoy an everlasting era of peace
and blessing with the coming of Moshiach.

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