Hold On For Dear Life

Friday, 23 April, 2021 - 12:55 pm

In Jewish law there is a concept called bitul – where an overwhelming quantity of a substance can cancel the status of a smaller substance that is lost in the mix. For example, if a drop of milk falls into a pot of chicken soup, as long as there is 60 times as much soup as the drop of milk, the soup is still kosher.

The Torah instructs that the fruit of a tree for the first three years is prohibited for consumption. This fruit is called Orlah. What happens if there is a tree (still within the three years) that gets “lost” in an orchard among hundreds of older trees? One may not harvest the fruit of any of them since the prohibited fruit is on one of them and the tree is connected to its roots in the ground. However, if the fruit was already harvested and the orlah fruit was in the mix, the status of the forbidden fruit can be cancelled if there is more than 200 times the permitted fruit as the orlah fruit.

The Rebbe takes this seemingly obscure Halacha and finds a powerful application for each of us. As Jews, we make up a fraction of a percent of the world’s population. It is said that the number of Jews in the world today is less than a statistical error on a Chinese census. So we might think that the law of bitul applies. We should just allow ourselves and our heritage to be absorbed into the vastness of humanity and be cancelled out. Perhaps we feel overwhelmed by the sheer challenge of retaining our unique identity and are ready to give up.

The above Halacha instructs, that as long as we remain connected to our life-source, our tree, our roots, nothing can cancel us. When we Jews demonstrate a vibrant attachment to Hashem and His Torah, there is no force powerful enough to overwhelm us. This is the secret of our survival over these two millennia, despite being homeless and the most persecuted people in world history.

Zalman Shazar was the third president of the State of Israel. He was born to a Chabad family in Russia. His original name was Shneur Zalman Rubashov, named for the Alter Rebbe, founder of the Chabad movement. When he became active in the Zionist movement he adopted a more contemporary family name, Shazar – based on the acronym of his full name.  

When he was leaving Russia for Israel, he went to spend Shabbos with his grandfather, a Chabad Chasid. As they were parting, his Zeide said to him. You must always remember your roots. You are named for the Alter Rebbe. His famous Niggun of four stanzas (a song that relates the journey of the soul through music) shall be your anchor in life. Whenever you are contemplating a decision, sit down and recall the niggun, and you will sense whether it is the correct decision to make.

Indeed the niggun and the roots that came with it, remained with him. He had great respect for and a wonderful partnership with the Rebbe in many endeavors. In fact, later in life, as Israel’s president he re-embraced his religious heritage. (For more on his relationship with the Rebbe –

As Proverb 3:17 reminds us, “It is a Tree of Life for all who hold fast to it.” Hold on for dear life and we will not only survive, but thrive!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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