The Olympic Theory

By Shneur Zalman Ives, Brooklyn, NY
Essays 2017 / Finalists

MyLife Essay Contest 2017


Many misconceptions plague the concept of redemption and the personality who will usher it in. Possibly the most widespread and fundamental misconception is the view that the purpose of redemption is to extradite the Jewish people from a difficult situation, be the said difficulty physical or spiritual. The truth is, however, that redemption is not so much the extradition from a current unfortunate situation as it is an upgrade to the ideal situation – irrelevant of the current one. At first glance, the difference between these two definitions may seem arbitrary. The objective of this essay is to attempt to lay out the colossal difference that exists between the two approaches and detail the immense impact that following the latter approach can and will effect in the personal life of anyone who implements it.

Who Needs Redemption
Jack is a genius. He is charismatic. He is happily married to a beautiful wife, and he has the most wonderful children. Additionally, he is an extremely talented businessman and supports his family comfortably. Everyone is healthy, and he could not wish for anything more than he already has. Does Jack need to be redeemed? What can the redemption add to Jack’s already wonderful life?

A simple Jewish villager heard his rabbi explain in a Torah class that a man named Moshiach would arrive and take all Jews to the Land of Israel. The villager objected immediately, as his established business would be destroyed by the move and he would be left stranded. The rabbi inquired in a somewhat perplexed tone, “do you not suffer from the pogroms like all your Jewish brethren?” The villager quipped,“Let Moshiach take all the goyim to Israel”.

It goes without saying, that the widely accepted notion inspired and inculcated by the Lubavitcher Rebbe that “No Jew Will Be Left Behind” applies to both Jack and our villager friend as much as it does to any other Jew. Their current situation may lead them to feel that redemption is more of a burden and hindrance than a useful proposition. Redemption, however, is irrelevant of the current situation, because its purpose is not solely the extradition from a difficult situation. Redemption is about living the ultimate and perfect life, physically and, more importantly, spiritually, and that applies to every member of society equally [1].
This is indeed profound.
Yet, the most profound twist of this concept is the consequence it has on the form of correction which redemption proposes to effect in the life of one who does face challenges and obstacles. Because redemption is not about escaping a difficult situation and is thus applicable even when no unfortunate circumstances exist, therefore, when challenges are indeed posed, the focus is not tackling the immediate symptoms, but rather continuing steadily and confidently down the direct road toward redemption, uprooting all obstacles almost absentmindedly along the way [2].
Innermost Heartfelt Excitement
Although this concept is an innovation of the Rebbe in the year 5751 and has no forerunner, as evidence by the fact that the master of footnotes and cross-references leaves no guidance as to where to find this concept in previous writings, we can nonetheless borrow an analogy from another concept which is discussed in Chassidus , as follows [3].
There exist two exclusive categories of people who serve the A-lmighty with their “innermost heartfelt excitement” – a Tzaddik (lit. righteous person) who possesses the highest form of love for the A-lmighty called reuso delibo (lit. the will of the heart), and a Baal Teshuvah-returnee. Despite the fact that their service originates from the same depth of their souls, the service of reuso delibo is described in the Zohar as a quiet whisper, whereas the Baal Teshuvah typically cries out loudly with an expression of soul which no words can express. Why the difference?

The Baal Teshuvah knows one thing only – his past and present situation is not ideal at all; the absence of the A-lmighty from his life had a detrimental effect and he must change that quickly and drastically. Since the focus is the origin and he flees from there without a set destination, he will likely clamber and scuffle. And because he believes his departure to be urgent, the awkward escape will be tumultuous and with a commotion.
The towering Tzaddik reaches his appreciation for his Creator through contemplation on the awesome infinite G-dly light, leaving the Tzaddik with a burning desire to “go there and do that”. In simple terms, his focus is the destination, and he strides toward his target confidently and silently.

The Olympic Theory
Contrast a person being chased by a wild animal versus an olympic racer. The former runs wildly [4]  in all directions and screams loudly and uncontrollably while the latter, who arguably runs faster, sprints in a straight line and emits little, if any, noise. The difference is simple. The intent of the former is to escape a looming disaster, whereas the latter is focused on reaching a set destination.

Granted, fleeing in a wild and uncontrolled fashion from a predatory beast is an innate and instinctive reaction, and fighting that reaction is truly a tall order, to put it mildly. And true, reuso delibo is fantasy for the average human being. Yet, if we could apply the message which this comparison carries to other areas of our life, organized, strategic problem solving would replace a chaotic wild goose chase. We could benefit immensely from spending our days sprinting toward the finish line and aiming for the gold medal rather than spending them avoiding obstacles and escaping disaster.

A friend approached me a few months back with a financial predicament. While calculating his finances, he realized that he had mistakenly borrowed funds from a specific account and was now short of a few thousand dollars which were necessary immediately.

The conventional approach would be to focus totally and absolutely on scrambling worriedly to accumulate the sum bill by bill. The strenuous burden of putting together thousands of dollars when he did not have them would worry him day and night and devastate his life in all aspects until the case was settled; anxiety, the parent of all illness, would now be his lot. I would not wish that stressful load on anyone, let alone a friend. And what awaits him at the other end, aside for, obviously, a free pass to paradise for honesty and responsibility.

A letter of the Rebbe came to mind, in which the Rebbe writes to a Yid from Kfar Chabad [5] regarding his business in breeding chickens and selling eggs. From the deliberation quoted it emerges clear that the Yid was thinking very much in the box and within his comfort zone of financial resources. The inquirer was unsure how to proceed for future investment and the Rebbe advised that he expand, whether within the same field or another, adding backhandedly “ un s’iz nitto vos tzu shrecken zich vos m’darf dervayle layen gelt- there is nothing to fear in that one needs to borrow money for the meanwhile”.

My suggestion was that he take a loan of twice the amount of the current debt and aggressively pursue a pending business venture. Instead of a dreadful few months in which all the beautiful aspects of his dignified life and that of his family take backstage before a singular impediment, that worrisome issue took its rightful, with all due respect, backstage position while his joyous life continued in its usual dignified manner. His debts are now almost all accounted for, and a steady income, with Hashem’s help, will ensure the situation never repeats itself.

Whether our “exile” is spiritual misdeeds, existential calamity or financial wreckage, the focus should be on the bright future ahead rather than on the dark and dreadful shadow looming and pursuing from behind. By placing the issue at centerstage and situating all other aspects of life around it, we essentially provide the issue with prominence otherwise not within its reach. By shifting the focus back to the magnificence of all the other aspects of our life, we rid the problem of the little importance it originally possessed and instead harness it as a motivation to achieve our aspirations.

Then And Now
The Torah describes the exodus from Egypt as an “escape” ; they fled in all directions from the [6] land of their enslavement before the moment would be lost and they would remain under impure Egyptian control for eternity. That first redemption had the distinct purpose of escaping from the lion’s den and getting out of harm’s way. Hence the description “escape.”

By contrast, with regard to the future redemption the verse states unequivocally “For not with [7] haste shall you leave”. Once we have left Egypt, there remains no tangible exile to escape in a hurried and disorganized fashion. Rather, we stride proudly toward the magnificent new life which awaits us at the finish line . This ultimate lifestyle consists not just of the exit from an exile, [8] but, mainly, an entrance into a resplendent new reality, called “the true and ultimate redemption.”

This universal entry into the highest quality life begins with the personal experience of each and every one of us. Insignificant obstacles can often confine us into a narrow corner and impede our advancement. The truth is, however, that the only, and that means only, entity that can confine us into the dreaded narrow corner, is we ourselves. It is our choice whether we take the bait and focus our efforts on these hurdles, albeit with the intent of removing them, but focused on them nonetheless; or whether we position our target far beyond them and considerably higher.

We must ensure we get out of the lion’s den, repay our debts and deal with any other issues which may arise throughout our colorful lives, but we must not suffice with that. We must continue on to the gold medal, focusing from the very start of the journey, not on avoiding the catastrophe, but on our glamorous destination. This will ensure that the move will be in a calm and collected fashion and the tone will always remain upbeat.

For all our lives issues, the ultimately ideal solution is, a redemption-style redemption.

Sources and Footnotes
[1] Sefer Hasichos 5751 Vol. 2, 687-9
[2] Ibid, footnote 59.
[3] Beginning of Hemshech 5666.
[4] This is actually an analogy brought in Sefer Hamamorim 5710 for the Baal Teshuvah. See there at length.
[5] Igros Kodesh Vol. 19 p. 57
[6] Exodus 14, 5 – “the people had fled.”
[7] Yeshayahu 52, 12.
[8] See Sefer Hasichos Ibid p. 688.