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How Much More We Could Have Done
By Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Ginsberg

Having recently entered the month of Elul, I would like to relate a story that was told by the late mashpia, Reb Mendel Futerfas, o.b.m.:

There was once a Jewish doctor in a small town in Europe who was a very big baal tzedaka. Although he truly helped many people and went out of his way to be kind, he had one character trait that was less than commendable, namely, the excessive pride he took in his good deeds. Indeed, he would often recount them to anyone who would listen, in an attempt to gain their estimation and respect.

One day the doctor was riding in his fine carriage when he passed the local rav trudging along by foot. Naturally, he stopped the carriage in the road and offered the Rabbi a lift.

As they traveled along together, the doctor struck up a conversation. “You should know,” he began, “that when patients come to me for treatment, if they are too poor to pay my fee I treat them free of charge.” The doctor paused, watching the Rabbi’s face for the anticipated positive reaction to such a generous deed.

The Rav, however, did not look particularly impressed. “Nu, Ich tu oych azoi – I do the same thing, too,” he responded nonchalantly.

The doctor was very surprised, but said nothing. What did the Rabbi mean? Struggling to figure it out, he assumed that the Rav meant that he also helped whoever came to him free of charge, and that there was nothing especially commendable about his behavior.

After a brief pause the doctor continued. “You should know that when my patients are really poor, not only do I treat them for free, but I buy them their medicines if they can’t afford it. Sometimes, they are quite expensive.”

Again, the Rav did not look particularly impressed. “Nu, Ich tu oych azoi,” he repeated rather abstractedly, as if his mind were on something else.

“What is he talking about?” the doctor thought to himself. “What kind of medication does a Rabbi dispense for free?” He decided that the Rav must mean that he also did favors for people, and used his own money if the need arose.

Determined to impress the Rav at all costs the doctor went on. “Sometimes, when I determine that a poor patient needs to rest in order to recuperate, I send him off to the country and pay for his entire vacation.” This time, he was sure, the Rav would be forced to admit that his actions were noteworthy.

But the Rabbi remained unmoved. “Nu, Ich tu oych azoi,” he said for the third time.

At that point the doctor could no longer restrain himself. “What do you mean that you also do the same thing? Do you treat the sick, or prescribe medicine, or pay for people’s vacations?”

“Not at all,” the Rav replied simply. “What I meant was that just like you, I tell myself and others only about the good deeds I’ve done, while the ones that are not so good I don’t mention to anyone, not even to myself…”

* * *

How do we conduct a cheshbon ha’nefesh (an accounting of the soul)? The answer lies in a sicha of the Rebbe Rayatz that was said on Chai Elul 5704 (free translation):

…I address myself to all the directors, Rosh Mesivtos and administrators of Agudas Chabad, Yeshiva Tomchei Tmimim, Achei Tmimim, Chadrei Torah, and Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch:

The efforts of your mosdos in this country have caused much nachas, in the merit and with the power of our holy Rebbeim. Nonetheless, there is still something to be improved upon.

True, all of the above institutions have accomplished a great deal, thank G-d. May all of your good deeds continue to bear fruit in the realm of true Jewish education. At the same time, there is a certain negative aspect to this very gathering, which is that all of you are hearing praise heaped upon your efforts to disseminate Torah. And this might lead you to a sense of pride or even laziness with regard to tonight’s cheshbon ha’nefesh before going to sleep.

I will now tell you about a clandestine meeting that once took place in Petersburg. The meeting had been convened because of a certain restrictive law against Jews the government wanted to enact. I cannot reveal the details, but among the participants were my father [the Rebbe Rashab], gedolei Yisroel, Jewish community activists, and some of the leading lawyers of the day.

After the meeting, my father invited everyone back to his hotel room, where he spoke about the cheshbon ha’nefesh of Kriyas Sh’ma SheAl HaMita. My father then turned to Mr. Shlosberg, a lawyer who represented prisoners who had been sentenced to death by the Czarist government, and asked him what kind of cheshbon ha’nefesh he made each evening. Mr. Shlosberg replied that every night he tallied up the number of people he had saved from execution.

My father then told him that he was doing it wrong. Instead of counting how many people he had saved, he should think about how many people he could have saved. For example, if saving one life requires 2-3 hours of work, and there are 24 hours in a day, by applying himself properly he could rescue a great many souls.

The same principle applies to you, as directors and administrators of these yeshivos. Your cheshbon ha’nefesh must focus on how many souls there are yet to save.

Concerning Avrohom Avinu G-d said, “Avrohom will surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed through him.” This declaration would not be fulfilled by the children of Ketura or Yishmael, or through the descendants of Eisav, but by the descendants of Yaakov, the Children of Israel.

But where do we see the greatness and might of the Children of Israel, given that, in actuality, the Jewish people has consistently been pursued and persecuted? Rather, the intention is that every single Jew is great and mighty. Whatever the nations of the world possess, they took from the Jews. Regardless of the particular discipline – astronomy, for example – the Jews have always been first. When the goyim needed someone to believe in, whom did they choose? An apostate Jew. This is what is meant by “…and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him.” Every Jew is great and mighty, for G-d gives each individual the strength that is necessary to disseminate Torah and Yiddishkeit.

The Torah also states about Avrohom Avinu, “For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the L-rd.” Not only will they keep Torah and mitzvos, but “the way of the L-rd,” the way that facilitates the observance of Torah and mitzvos. “For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him.” With the power of “Avrohom will surely become a great and mighty nation,” you will be successful in your efforts to disseminate Torah and yiras Shamayim.

I now address myself to the students of these yeshivos, particularly those of Tomchei Tmimim: May each of you be dedicated to the work of spreading Torah and yiras Shamayim, and with G-d’s help, you will succeed.

May Hashem Yisborach grant the entire Jewish people a k’siva va’chasima tova, and a good and sweet year. May He protect the sons and daughters of Israel wherever they may be: on land, by sea, and in the air. And may G-d help that next year on Chai Elul we will all be together in Eretz Yisroel, having been brought there by Moshiach Tzidkeinu.

* * *

The cheshbon ha’nefesh we make this Elul comes at a crucial time, not only for the Jewish people, but for the entire world, as it is obvious that there is no solution to its many ills other than the revelation of Moshiach. As all of our thoughts and actions at present must be focused on hastening the Redemption, it follows that our cheshbon ha’nefesh must also be connected to achieving the same objective. Our main concern is what we can and must do to bring about Moshiach’s revelation.

The Rebbe MH”M once spoke about a Chassid who had been called upon to “spread the wellsprings outward,” but who preferred to concentrate on his own personal avoda. While perfecting one’s own avoda is certainly laudable, it ignores what the person is really supposed to be doing, which is spreading Yiddishkeit.

“You want iskafiya?” the Rebbe asked him rhetorically, “then force yourself to do something you don’t really want to do. Instead of sitting in your own ‘four cubits’ and contemplating lofty principles, take a bag of candy and go out into the street. Find a place where there are little children, give each of them a piece of candy and help them say the bracha. The important thing is that a little girl should say, ‘Baruch Ata Hashem Elokeinu Melech HaOlam, SheKaKol Nihya Bidvaro,’ and that the entire Seider Hishtalshelus should echo with her words.”

It is human nature that we are sometimes willing to do anything – anything, even askafia – rather than apply ourselves to the one task we are really supposed to be doing… In such instances, the Rebbe uses the harshest terms possible to describe this type of evasion: avoda zara – that is, any avoda that is zar (foreign or extraneous) to the service that is necessary in that particular time and place.

We cannot allow the yetzer ha’ra to distract us, no matter how important other matters seem to be. At present, the only objective is to prepare “to greet Moshiach Tzidkeinu in actuality.”

Getting ready for Moshiach does not mean ignoring the minutiae of our avodas Hashem. On the contrary, in order to properly prepare for the Redemption, we need to ensure that even the smallest details are attended to. But we must never forget that the “only service that remains is to greet Moshiach Tzidkeinu in actuality.”

As the Rebbe demanded of us in the Dvar Malchus of Parshas Shoftim 5751, our mission is to publicize the message of imminent Redemption “to all members of our generation,” Jew and non-Jew alike, and to disseminate observance of the Noachide Laws. In the Rebbe’s own words (free translation):

This must be publicized to everyone in this generation. It must be made known that we have merited that G-d has chosen and appointed a baal b’chira [i.e., a human being possessing the power to choose freely] who is superior to the people of his generation, to serve as a judge, adviser, and prophet to the generation, to issue rulings and advice in connection with the service of the Jews and indeed, of all the people of this generation, in all matters of the Torah and its mitzvos, and in their general day-to-day behavior, allowing them to “know Him in all your ways,” and that “all your actions should be for the sake of Heaven.”

Surely this includes the fundamental prophecy (uttered not only as wisdom or judicial advice, but as prophecy, which implies certainty), “Immediately to Redemption,” for “Behold, Moshiach is coming.”

As part of this merit, every person must accept upon himself the rulings and advice of the “judges” and “advisors” of our generation, and obey his directives and good counsel… This in itself will initiate the fulfillment of the prayer, “Restore our judges as in the beginning, and our advisors as before,” with the true and complete Redemption… The Redemption will then not be an innovation, but a continuation of a process that has already begun and become more widespread throughout the world, this lowest of all possible worlds.

Every Jew – man, woman and child – must accept upon himself to fulfill the directives of the “judge” and “advisor” of the generation. The individual’s sphere of influence must go beyond the members of his own family, and extend to everyone with whom he comes into contact.

Every aspect of the world, olam, from the word meaning concealed and hidden, must be transformed into an “individual domain,” the domain of the Yechido Shel Olam [G-d], as He reveals Himself “in our midst” through the “prophet I will raise up,” the Nasi of the generation, “in whom everything is contained,” and “the tzaddik is the foundation of the world.”

This is similar to the phenomenon of the “foundation stone,” which exists in a particular location in the physical world, yet is eternal and immutable (not even experiencing the change associated with g’niza, like the aron, which was hidden away and concealed). The judge and prophet always exists (eternally) in every generation, as a sign of G-d’s ongoing revelation in the physical world… It is, therefore, most appropriate to conduct a cheshbon ha’nefesh and all of the associated preparations for the year to come with “Restore our judges as in the beginning, and our advisors as before” in mind.

In simple words: It is our merit and responsibility, and our sole shlichus at the present time, to prepare the world for Moshiach’s full revelation. All of mankind, including the nations of the world, must be brought to accept the sovereignty of the Rebbe Melech HaMoshiach. Every possible means must be utilized, as the Rebbe is “squandering all the contents of his treasury.”

For indeed, “Everything the Holy One, blessed be He, created was only created for His glory.” The millions and billions of minutiae of the world exist only as a means of establishing a “dwelling place for G-d in the lower realms.” And when all the disparate facets of creation will be used to that end, the entire world will reverberate with the one declaration that expresses it all:

“Yechi Adoneinu Moreinu V’Rabbeinu Melech HaMoshiach L’olam Va’ed!”



“Regardless of the discipline, the Jews have always been first. When the goyim needed someone to believe in, whom did they choose? An apostate Jew.”








My father then told him that he was doing it wrong. Instead of counting how many people he had saved, he should think about how many people he could have saved.







“It is appropriate to conduct a cheshbon ha’nefesh for the year to come with ‘Restore our judges as in the beginning, and our advisors as before’ in mind.”


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