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"Nobody finds themselves in a situation; you put yourself in a situation. And if you put yourself in that situation, you can put yourself in another situation."

The Lubavitcher Rebbe

In 2011, in an address to thousands of Rabbis, Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks shared the story of his special encounter with the late Lubavitcher Rebbe:

“I came to 770 [the Rebbe’s headquarters in New York), and eventually the moment came when I was ushered into the Rebbe’s study. I asked him all my intellectual, philosophical questions; he gave intellectual, philosophical answers, and then he did what no one else had done.

He did a role reversal, he started asking me questions. How many Jewish students are in Cambridge? How many get involved in Jewish life? What are you doing to bring other people in?

Now, I hadn’t come to become a Shliach (an emissary). I’d come to ask a few simple questions, and all of a sudden he was challenging me. So I did the English thing. You know, the English can construct sentences like nobody else, you know? 

So I started the sentence, “In the situation in which I find myself…” – and the Rebbe did something which I think was quite unusual for him, he actually stopped me in mid-sentence. He says, “Nobody finds themselves in a situation; you put yourself in a situation. And if you put yourself in that situation, you can put yourself in another situation.

And Rabbi Sacks concluded: “That moment changed my life.” (For the full video of Rabbi Sacks’ speech, click HERE).

At the opening of this week’s portion, when the Torah describes the calling of G-d to Moses, it uses the Hebrew word, “Vayikra.” But, interestingly, when the Torah describes the calling of G-d to Bilaam, the prophet who tried to curse the Jewish people, it uses the word “Vayikar.” 

Both Hebrew words are almost identical. But their meaning is diametrically different. “Vayikra,” means “and He called.” “Vayikar,” means “and He happened upon.”

The difference is striking, and it shares a reverberating life-lesson: 

“And He called,” speaks of G-d’s willingness to engage with us and form a mutual relationship of love and devotion. “And He happened upon,” speaks of a passive, and almost unintentional, relationship, in which real connections can seldom be forged.

In Judaism, things don’t just happen. Nothing is a coincidence. In the Rebbe’s words, “we don’t just find ourselves in situations.” Thus, in Judaism, we are asked to become Moses; not Bilaams. We are summoned to take a stance for G-d and do everything in our power to better our surroundings, especially when evil threatens our globe. We are asked to “put ourselves into every one of life’s situations,” and live up to G-d’s calling: to be lights unto nations, and agents of kindness and goodness unto the world.

So next time your mind is filled with doubt, and you ask yourself “why should I get out of bed today?” or, “why did this happen?” or, “why should I come out of my comfort zone and make any effort to do that Mitzvah?” Know that G-d is calling you. 

And know that G-d will await patiently until you respond with a committed heart, and an active hand, to actualize your purpose, and turn every situation into a Divine experience.