Each one of us is unique

Each one of us is unique

How does going to events make you feel?

Usually, the larger the event, the less significant you may feel. Imagine attending a small destination wedding with only 30 invitees; your presence would make a big difference. But what about a wedding with 600 guests? You might not feel as important.

Or consider going to a football game. Walking into a stadium with 80,000 cheering fans might make you feel like your presence doesn’t matter at all. However, there’s a big exception: if you’re the star of the show.

If you’re the bride or groom, the bigger the wedding, the more important you feel. And if you’re the quarterback, 80,000 cheering fans make you feel more special.

We just celebrated Shavuot, the day we received the Torah on Mount Sinai. According to Jewish tradition, the entire Jewish people (over 2 million souls at the time) attended this event. Not only all living Jews, but the souls of all future generations — you, me, he, she, and everyone else — were there.

With so many people attending, we might feel that our participation wasn’t significant. But the Torah tells us otherwise. If even one person had been missing from the giving of the Torah, G-d would not have given it to us. Talk about feeling important and needed!

This idea is one of the rebbe’s core teachings: to appreciate our unique value and, similarly, the value of every individual. Every person is an entire world.

Today, with Chabad houses all around the world, you can see the Rebbe’s vision in action: no matter the location or their level of observance, every Jew is important. The rebbe sent his chassidim and asked them to spare no effort in helping each Jew, both physically and spiritually.

Last week, we received the sad news of Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky’s passing. Rabbi Kotlarsky played a key role in expanding many of Chabad’s programs and institutions worldwide. Of all his roles, the one closest to his heart was the one to which he was appointed by the rebbe: helping remote Jewish communities. He traveled to places like Bangkok, Nepal, Siberia, and Romania, always carrying the rebbe’s vision of helping every Jew.

Rabbi Kotlarsky had a favorite story he loved to share about his work. Once, he received a phone call from Rabbi Hodakov, the rebbe’s senior secretary. “Wash your hands,” he said (a code indicating the rebbe was listening to the conversation). “The rebbe wants you to go to Curacao immediately.” With no further instructions, Rabbi Kotlarsky, being a dedicated chassid, booked the first flight to Curacao.

This story happened in the 1980s, so there was no Google or Waze. Upon arrival in Curacao, he hailed a cab and asked to be taken to the synagogue, expecting to find someone who knew the Jewish community there.

Curacao is home to the famous synagogue, Mikvah Israel Emanuel, the oldest in the Western Hemisphere. But the taxi driver took Rabbi Kotlarsky to a small neighborhood synagogue instead.

As he exited the taxi, he noticed a man walking out of the synagogue. Rabbi Moshe approached him. “My name is Moshe Kotlarsky, and I am here on a mission from the Lubavitcher rebbe,” he said. “Do you happen to know the local Jewish community?”

“What did you say?” the man replied in disbelief. “Who sent you here? Did you say the Lubavitcher rebbe?”

The man, Chaim Groisman, was visiting the synagogue due to a crisis his family was experiencing. His son, Eli, attended the only local school, a Protestant institution. Eli, a proud Jew, refused to participate in religious classes, leading to hostility from teachers and students. Eventually, Eli left the school, leading to legal issues as local laws mandated school attendance. The relationship with the local community also became strained.

One night, Chaim dreamed about his deceased grandmother. “My love,” she told him, “if you are in trouble, go to the Lubavitcher rebbe!” This was the first time Chaim had heard of the rebbe.

The following morning, he decided to visit the synagogue, opened the ark, and poured out his heart to God, pleading for a miracle. When he finished, he walked outside and met Rabbi Kotlarsky!

Rabbi Kotlarsky spent hours with the Groisman family, answering many questions. He suggested that Eli move to New York to attend a Jewish school. For Eli, it was a dream come true.

After this encounter, Chaim Groisman wrote a thank-you letter to the rebbe, signing it as “a small Jew from Curacao.”

In his reply, the rebbe thanked him for the letter but added, “I must, however, take exception to your referring to yourself as ‘a small Jew from Curacao.’ There is surely no need to emphasize to you at length that every Jew, man or woman, has a Nefesh Elokis, which is a ‘part of Godliness Above,’ as explained in the Tanya, beginning of chapter two. Thus, there is no such thing as ‘a small Jew,’ and a Jew must never underestimate his or her tremendous potential.”

Now, and always, is the time to remind ourselves that there are no small Jews. Each one of us is important. Each one is unique.

Mendy Kaminker is the rabbi of Chabad of Hackensack and an editorial member of Chabad.org. He welcomes your comments at rabbi@ChabadHackensack.com

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