It's not about you. Or me.
Parshas Chayei Sara
Rabbi Avraham Yosef Leizerson, president of Chinuch Atzmai, was a frum activist in Eretz Yisroel for many years. In the winter of 5752 (1991) he traveled to New York to address the annual Agudas Yisroel convention. While visiting the Agudah’s office in Manhattan, an elderly Jew made his acquaintance. “I knew your father Reb Simcha Bunim back in Poland. But oy you’re a disappointment,” the man said. “Your father was an outstanding Torah scholar, and now his son has become a public activist?! Open a kolel instead and I commit to funding it for the first few years.” Rabbi Leizerson was rushing to Crown Heights to daven mincha with the Rebbe’s minyan and receive the Rebbe’s blessing before returning to Eretz Yisroel. The man gave him his phone number and encouraged him to accept his offer. During the taxi ride to Crown Heights, Rabbi Leizerson’s mind raced. The offer was very appealing and perhaps he didn’t belong in activism after all, but in kolel. He arrived at 770 and caught sight of the Rebbe right before he entered his room. He conveyed his imminent departure and the Rebbe gave his customary blessing for a successful trip. The Rebbe continued towards his room, but suddenly turned around, walked towards Rabbi Leizerson and said, “There’s an opinion in halacha that someone who occupies himself faithfully in communal affairs is greater than one who studies Torah all day.” The Rebbe went into his room and Rabbi Leizerson returned to Eretz Yisroel.
He remained in public service until he passed away in 5780 (2020). Rabbi Leizerson was not the first person to question his life’s mission. In this week’s parsha, Avraham Avinu approaches the B’nei Cheis and says: “I am a stranger and an inhabitant among you. Give me burial property with you, so that I may bury my dead from before me.” What did Avraham mean by saying he’s both a stranger and an inhabitant? The Chasam Sofer explains that until now Avraham assumed that just as his soul is a stranger in this physical world, so too is his body. And when his mission would be complete, they would ascend together to Heaven, as did the body and soul of Chanoch. But now that Sarah, who surpassed him in her level of prophecy, ascended only with her soul, he realized that his body too was indeed an inhabitant of this world. “I didn’t refine my body as much as I could have,” he told the B’nei Cheis with a sense of disappointment. What was their response? “Ne’si Elokim atoh be’socheinu” You are a prince of Hashem in our midst. The Hebrew word ne’si can also mean to elevate. B’nei Cheis told Avraham: You have elevated Hashem in our midst. The reason you didn’t attain the level of malach is because you were preoccupied with bringing an awareness of Hashem to people like us. And this, they argued, was even greater that being an angel. This week is the international convention of Chabad shluchim. Shluchim spend their life helping others, which may invite doubt as to whether they are actualizing their personal potential in their service to Hashem. To be sure, even those of us who are not shluchim or activists per se can get stuck doubting if what we’re doing is actualizing our mission on this world. The B’nei Cheis remind us to reframe the question. Instead of being fixated on ourselves, our growth or lack thereof, let’s focus on Hashem. “Am I making Hashem, so to speak, all that He can be in this world?” Everyone is charged with the mission to make Hashem known to the world, each of us a ne’si Elokim in our own capacity. May we have the strength and inspiration to remain Hashem-focused, and may we witness the fulfilment of our mission, with the coming of Moshiach, now. Gut Shabbos, Rabbi Mordechai Lipskier  My appreciation to Rabbi Zalman Levitin, shliach to Palm Beach, FL, for sharing this story with me.  Toras Moshe