In this week’s Torah portion, Joseph is far more than stuck.
Almost killed by his brothers, he is thrown into a pit,
then sold into slavery, ends up in Egypt, then thrown into
prison. For 13 years Joseph suffered until things miraculously
What was Joseph’s attitude all this time? He had every
excuse to play the victim and feel sorry for himself. Wasn’t
he, after all, trapped in a hopeless predicament? He had
every reason to be furious and vengeful. Instead, Joseph,
with his head high, takes it all and never forgets G-d and
his father, Jacob. And when he finally reunites with his
brothers 22 years later, he tells his shocked siblings:
You sold me to Egypt. But don’t worry or feel
guilty…for G-d has sent me ahead of you to save lives.
There has been a famine in the area… G-d sent me ahead
of you to insure that you survive in the land and to sustain
you through great deliverance. It is not you who sent me
here, but G-d. He has made me Pharaoh’s vizier, master
of his entire government and ruler of all Egypt.
Joseph did not feel stuck. He always knew, though he may
not have seen it with his eyes, that “it is not you
who sent me here, but G-d.”
Imagine: A 17-year old boy sold into slavery. 13 years
later he rises from captivity to become viceroy of Egypt.
Some 7 years later he turns Egypt into a superpower. 22
years from the time he was sold, he controls the destiny
of his brothers and father, and for that matter, of the
entire populated world!
Are you still feeling stuck?
* * *
I spent last weekend at a retreat in Running Springs, California.
Nestled in the serene San Bernardino Mountains, with 200
beautiful people, we celebrated life together and its endless
Mrs. Miriam Swerdlov, a compelling and engaging educator,
with a good dash of humor, shared with me the following
story: She once traveled with a group to a mid-winter convention
in Detroit. Their return flight was delayed due to a snow
storm. They called and notified the Rebbe that they were
“stuck at the airport” waiting for the snow
to subside. The Rebbe told his secretary to ask them what
the word “stuck” means. No, not the literal
translation; rather, the Rebbe had never heard that a person
was stuck in any situation. We are never stuck in a place.
There is a reason for being wherever we are.
As Divine providence would have it, just yesterday I was
privileged to meet first hand a person who, by all accounts
would be considered “stuck,” and he found a
A certain Rabbi bumps into me in a store, and asks if he
recognizes me from somewhere. (If one can’t be “stuck”
I guess “bump” is also not the right word).
I didn’t recall, but he did. “I once came to
consult with you about publishing my commentary on the Talmud
in English,” he tells me. A 25-volume commentary at
that. It’s not every day that you meet someone who
has authored 25 volumes on the Talmud.
If that’s not enough, listen to this. “And what do you
today,” I ask. “I head a school for young adults suffering
from mental disorders, such as autism, schizophrenia, bi-polar,
Down syndrome and Asperger syndrome.”
The rabbi tells me that he himself has four mentally challenged
children, and what motivated him to establish this special
school was the Rebbe. Years ago the Rebbe had told him,
“through ‘v’shenantem l’vonecho”
you will merit ‘v’debarto bom.’”
By educating your children in Torah you will be blessed
that you and they will communicate – and connect –
with each other.
The rabbi thus started the school, which now educates,
according to the rabbi, 28 special students. In the twelve
years since its founding, the school has produced eight
students who have integrated into mainstream educational
institutions, and four who have graduated and hold steady
“Were the Rebbe’s words fulfilled? Has the children’s education
visibly improved their communication skills?”
“Let me share with you the following episode,”
he tells me, “and you will judge for yourself whether
there was a visible improvement in the children.”
“At the conclusion of one semester we celebrated the graduation
of some of our students. Since some of our financial support
comes from the USA, we felt it appropriate to organize a
similar event in New York, for the supporters to witness
with their own eyes the progress of the children they are
“At the event, we made a Siyum haShas (conclusion of the
Talmud), and I told my autistic son that he would be the
next speaker. My son, for the record, had never spoken before
in public. I introduced him, and here is what he said:
“Do you know what it says in the last Rashi of the entire
Talmud? The Talmud concludes with the statement ‘whoever
studies Torah laws every day is assured of life in the World
to Come, for it says Halichos (the ways of the world) are
his (Chabakuk 3:6). Do not read halichos but halachos (Torah
laws).’ Explains Rashi that ‘halochos’ means ’mishne u’breisah,
halocho l’moshe m’sinai” (different bodies of law).
“But there is another ‘halocho-halicho,’ another form of
movement, which Rashi does not mention: The strides that
my father took in establishing our school, and the great
progress that the students have made from being locked in
their ‘shells’ to reaching unimaginable heights…”
This is the triumph of the human spirit. Never stuck, never
trapped, never hopeless. Always brimming with hope, enthusiasm
and the belief in endless possibilities.
Based on the above, it seems appropriate that the description
of the rabbi’s school should not be “for students
with mental disorders,” but rather “special
children,” not as euphemism, but to recognize the
special strengths that their souls contain.
* * *
I write these words today, Yud Tes Kislev, another great
day of triumph – when one man, imprisoned by the Czar’s
regime, was released from prison. The Alter Rebbe, Rabbi
Schneur Zalman of Liadi, recognized, just as Joseph did
so many years earlier, that he was not “stuck;”
his captivity was part of G-d’s higher plan. And indeed,
his imprisonment and subsequent freedom – just as
Joseph’s – became a permanent holiday, celebrating
the advent of unprecedented revelations of spiritual wisdom,
known as Chassidus, empowering us with the ability to transform
our contemporary lives.