Photo Credit: davislifemagazine.com
By Yonatan Gordon
Many of us know the phrase “to boldly go where no man has gone before” from the original Star Trek series (and beyond). But what exactly does it mean to go “boldly go”?
The immediate question that comes to mind is why is it so rare to find someone that travels boldly? After all, it seems that many people are even bold by nature. So why is being “bold” such a rare thing?
This brings us to a remarkable, and truly singular in nature, story about the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson. From this story, we’ll understood a little more about what it means to steer a ship forward; and how a true captain (or leader) never abandons his crew.
Shortly before the arrest of Rabbi Schneerson by communist authorities, it was pretty clear to everyone that his arrest was imminent. The communists had been closely monitoring his activities in spreading Judaism, and it seemed they were about to act upon the “evidence” they had been accumulating.
The previous Rebbe asked that an assembly of all those supporting him be organized so that he could prepare everyone for how to act when the time came. A time was set for this assembly, and in the very large gathering there were Jews, who even though they came from Chassidic families, were actually spies sent to the assembly by the communists to report back on what was said, and what the Chassidim’s plans were.
The hall where the meeting took place was jam‐packed. It was very difficult to move around. The Rebbe got ready to speak. But, when he started, he said that whomever was not in the waters should leave. He said this in Yiddish, and in Yiddish this phrase “being in the waters” means immersing in the mikveh. What he meant then was that whomever had not gone to the mikveh that day, should leave. Nobody moved. He repeated it again, and still nobody moved. Then he said, whomever was not in the waters and doesn’t leave, will not complete his year.
Slowly people began to leave. Among the people that left, there were some Chassidim who didn’t go to the mikveh that day, for whatever reason. But, surprisingly, the threat worked and all the spies also left, apparently because of fear. Once there was a little room, the Rebbe looked to the side, and he saw a strange object. He motioned that it be removed from the premises and indeed it was discovered that it contained some kind of homemade bomb (which was meant to be thrown on the meeting participants). Then he spoke and said what he said, preparing the Chassidim and everyone else for his arrest.
For the Rebbe to say something like this, that whomever did not immerse in the mikveh will not live to see his next birthday, and that this struck fear in the hearts of spies, that is something we have not heard about any of the other Chabad Rebbes. This trait of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson was something truly unique.
Steering the Ship From Afar
What does it mean that a captain never abandons his ship? That as long as there’s someone else on board, or hope of salvaging the ship and the mission, then he’s there to stay. This is after all what he signed up for when he became captain. But what there is not an easy explanation for, is how to steer the ship from afar. Especially, as in this case, while confined behind the walls of a fortress where, communication with the outside world was strictly prohibited.
Not only was this assembly called in order to “steer the ship from afar,” but there was also spies and a bomb there to inhibit things journey. But like the TSA, Rabbi Schneerson was able to remove not only the bomb, but the spies from his Chassidic “ship.”
All this helps us appreciate why boldly going is so very rare. Even if the captain is not on the ship, and there were all sorts of obstacles in the way, still the crew has been instructed and enabled to continue their mission forward. To chart out “new life and new civilizations,” by eventually meriting to see the crumbling of the iron-fisted communist regime.
Excerpted and freely adapted from the 12 Tammuz weekly shiur in Jerusalem from Harav Yitzchak Ginsburgh.