Earlier this week, I was sent a document about a group of Chabad-Lubavitch shluchim (emissiaries) who tavelled to the village of Lyubavichi (Lubavitch) in Russia, where the Chabad Chassidic movement began. Looking at the photographs of Lubavitch, we were surprised at its size. Lubavitch is positively tiny, and featured small, modest houses with few ameneties. A full colour aerial photo found online shows the truly humble nature of the hamlet; a nature which is surprisingly different from the amazing size and importance of the Jewish movement which began there.
As I looked at the grainy photographs, and read the evocative descriptions of life in the small village, I thought about the sheer volume of the Chabad Lubavitch movement. I thought of the parades, the shuls, the Chabad Houses, the conferences, even just the website, Chabad.org. I thought about the various Chabad houses I had been to, and the massive impact Chabad has had on my life. I thought about Kinus HaShluchim, and how truly proud the Rebbe would be, if he had seen the size of the gathering this year. And just how far removed this massive revolution was from the town I was looking at. As I thought about this, I was reminded of this week’s Parsha, Vayechi, and how both the Parsha, and the village of Lubavitch, demonstrate that great things truly do come from humble beginnings.
Near the beginning of Vayechi, Yaakov falls ill, and Yosef brings his two sons- Manasseh and Efrayim- to Yaakov’s bedside. Yaakov blesses them, and foretells that both will father a tribe of Israel. In doing so, he elevates his grandsons to the level of his sons, and states that they will be to him as if they are Reuben and Simeon, who are not, in fact, given the blessings which he bestows upon his grandsons. While blessing them, Yaakov gets them ‘mixed up’- or so Yosef thinks- and blesses the younger son using his right hand. When Yosef attempts to correct him, he responds by saying, ”Manasseh also shall become a people, and he also shall be great; but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations”.
Indeed, this is a true example of great things coming from humble beginnings. Efrayim was Yaakov’s grandson; the youngest of two siblings; and not the likely recipient for an amazing blessing. And yet, he found himself elevated above Yosef’s brothers, and promised that his seed would become a multitude of nations. And the same message applies to Lubavitch. How was anyone to know that from a small hamlet would come the Chassidic movement campaigning for Moshiach across the world today?
As always, there’s a lesson to be learnt from this incident in the Parsha, and the modern parallel. Simply put, great things come from humble beginnings. But that doesn’t exactly provide us with advice for how we go about living our life. So what does it teach? A message oft-repeated in Holy texts, from the Chumash to the Tehillim and everything in between, is that corporeal factors- in this case, status and size- are fleeting, but it’s what’s on the inside that matters. Perhaps, physically, Lubavitch pales in comparison to the big cities of the world. But can London, New York, or Paris boast of having started a Torah revolution? Of having given birth to a movement such as Chabad? Of course not. And what of Efrayim? His status was, technically, lower than Reuben’s, for example. And yet he received the greatest blessing! Not because of his place in the world, but because of who he was. Because of his outstanding qualities.
Rather than pursuing wealth or admiration in this world, think of the next. Think of Hashem. For this is the key to true, lasting success- success which contents the soul, and not just the body.