This past week, Rabbi Yitzchok Goldstein passed away. Together with his wife, they established the first-ever Chabad House in Spain.
Living in Spain was lonely. It meant being away from their parents, relatives, and many friends. Rabbi Yitzchok also dearly missed spending time with the Rebbe, listening to his wisdom, and being inspired by his teachings.
One year, he penned a letter to the Rebbe. The High Holidays were approaching, and he wanted to come and spend the holidays with him. It would be good for his soul, he wrote.
The Rebbe responded:
“How do you know where is better for your soul?”
In other words, why do you assume that coming to Brooklyn is better for your soul? Perhaps staying in Madrid for the High Holidays, welcoming and assisting local Jews and tourists, is better for your soul?
Reading the answer from the Rebbe, I was reminded of a dramatic story about his great-great-grandfather, the first Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi.
This story is about a disciple of Rabbi Shneur Zalman. This fellow was a G-d fearing man, a scholar, and had considerable financial success. However, the wheel of fortune turned, and he sought a private audience with Rabbi Shneur Zalman.
In great detail and with much pain, he detailed his troubled situation. Not only can’t he provide for his family, he also cannot pay his debt. He begged the Rebbe for a divine blessing that he should be successful again.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman sat quietly for a while, then looked deeply into his eyes and said:
“You spoke so much about what you need, but you didn’t mention anything about what you are needed for!”
The words made a great impression on the disciple, who fainted on the spot.
Now, at this point of the story, it’s important to mention that Rabbi Shneur Zalman — just like all the Chabad Rebbes who followed him — was known as someone who always exhibited great love and compassion for his fellows. His statement was obviously not meant to cause anguish to his disciple!
In my humble understanding, the fainting symbolized a transformation, a grand shift in attitude towards life. And the Rebbe’s words stimulated this shift.
Here is the thing. There are two ways we can interact with the world. We can either have a “consumers” or an “entrepreneurs” attitude. Consumers consume; they are on the receiving end. Entrepreneurs create; they are on the giving end.
The attitude we have significantly impacts how we deal with challenges. If we are consumers, we will try to make the challenge go away. When we operate with an entrepreneurial attitude, we see challenges as opportunities.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman reminded his follower to start interacting with the world from a place of “what am I needed for.” Focusing only on your needs can be a great source of sorrow. But focusing on your divine purpose can be empowering and invigorating.
Here is the end of the story:
After the Chassid woke up, he didn’t say a word to anyone but devoted many days to learning and prayer. His demeanor transformed, and he was a joyous man, and ultimately he received a blessing from Rabbi Shneur Zalman and regained his wealth.
When I look at the Rebbe’s answer to Rabbi Goldstein, I feel the same idea echoing across the generations. Yes, spending the High Holidays with the Rebbe will be a spiritually uplifting experience, but perhaps the greater purpose is found in Madrid.
And our souls are happier when we fulfill our purpose.
May the memory of Rabbi Yitzchok be a blessing, and may this story be a constant reminder of the incredible potential and purpose we all possess.
Mendy Kaminker is the rabbi at Chabad of Hackensack and an editorial member of Chabad.org. He looks forward to your feedback at Rabbi@ChabadHackensack.com.