The Coleslaw Never Left the Table

Updated: Jul 3, 2020


By Sholom S.

Urgency. That's what they are calling it. That feeling we were having sitting around the table on Gimmel Tammuz, trying to figure out how to feel and what to say if there was anything to say at all. I'm there, scooping out a piece of salmon herring with a spelt cracker. Starting the slow slouch in my chair, trying not to think about how ridiculously late I would be getting up tomorrow.

Doesn't feel like urgency.

A mere bystander, as quotes from Sichos fly back and forth across the table like a tennis match, I'm forced to think. Think about what I could extract from these twenty-four hours.

Suddenly I feel a buzz in my pocket. A text. Finally, something to distract me from thinking about thinking. It was a video of the Rebbe, and the caption started with "In honor of 26 years since Gimmel Tammuz…"

26 years, Woah. Sometimes you know things, but they have to catch you at the right moment to give you the knockout blow.

A Niggun starts, a slow one, the ones that force you to think. I start wondering what today may have looked like if I was more focused. The effect it could've had if I was more determined to make today count as much as possible. I decided to start interviewing myself in my head. Questions like "What's it like to be a chossid who never saw the Rebbe?" or "What is the part of our Rebbe that resonates with you most?" Classic, easy stuff.

I wasn't getting anywhere. I had to start asking hard-hitting questions, the ones that made me uncomfortable. If it's hard to be uncomfortable, it's even harder to make yourself uncomfortable.

"How does the Rebbe want us to approach this day?" I mean, how should I know? I'm almost stammering in my head if that's even possible. The Rebbe teaches us so much, yet we wouldn't dare try to guess how a Rebbe would react in an unknown situation.

Urgency was back, and so was the heated conversation. We were a good niggun away from a potential cole slaw bowl throw, which is usually a good sign. We were getting somewhere.

But urgency was bugging me. Was urgency the right word? It sounded so stressful. It seemed so forced. Does urgency have any inherent value? Were we just out of words?

Another niggun, a good one. My thoughts drifted to the little I had learned as a preparation for the day. The Rebbe's famous last maamar that was edited, and distributed - Atah Tetzaveh 5741. The mamaar has so many moving parts, but the fundamental point is that the most significant and most profound growth, the most crucial change, comes unsolicited.

Jewish history is riddled with moments that, whether for good or bad, initiated a drive for change in yidden. The greatness, and clarity that the neviim, tannaim, and Rebbeim gave us left an impression that left us virtually no choice. On the flip side, the swords on our neck, and dictators on our case, as horrific as it was, made us dig to the core to find the strength to keep Yiddishkeit alive. It was the farthest thing from easy, but it was initiated, and initiated change can only go so far, it's no one's fault.

The Rebbe then says that its the generation that came to America that can make the difference. The generation in America has a relatively good life, both physically and spiritually.

There is virtually no outside circumstance compelling us to do anything. That is where the change has the most significant effect. It won't fade away as conditions change, because it was never about that. The only reason a yid would do anything to dig deep and work on himself is that he is not content with the Aibesther not being relatable in this world. A world without that is not good enough—finally, a time in history where the change will stick. Finally, a time were the people in this world will change on their terms, and the world will be in tune with Hashem through and through.

As the niggun starts to fade, I can't help but interrupt this thought. The guac is calling my name. The guac always wins. As I go for a perfect scoop of 65% percent dip, and 35% cracker, a question arises about this incredible idea in the maamar.

The Rebbe was telling his Chassidim that they are the first generation who can be genuinely frustrated that the world is missing a clear Aibeshter. Why? Because for the first time in history nothing will be pushing us but ourselves.

Wasn't the Rebbe at that moment initiating the change? How could we possibly say that a generation who got to experience the Rebbe in the most tangible ways had no outside initiation to change? Having the Rebbe farbreng every week, answer letters, give out dollars, yechidus, etc.?!

Thinking about this, I say lchaim and get a glimpse at the table.

None of us saw the Rebbe. None of us got a direct answer in response to our life's challenges that we have put down on paper many times. None of us got to stand by a Farbrengin and witness the fire of a Rebbe directing the entire Jewish nation.

Yet we're sitting here. Sitting and talking about how frustrating it is not to have a word to describe our wild feelings.

Maybe we are the ones the Rebbe is talking about. Maybe we are the ones who can accomplish what the Rebbe describes in Atah Tetzaveh. We are sitting in unprecedented territory in Jewish history. Our distractions are more tangible than our leaders, and our lives in many ways could not be more comfortable.

Yet we sit and talk about how we're not done. We sing niggunim, hoping that we will take another step in developing our relationship with the Aibeshter. We debate over what the Rebbe was saying in this or that sicha. It matters to us. For the first time in history, we are trying to bring the Aibeshter in this world in a real way, and no one is pushing us.

No Moshe, no Rebbi Yehuda Hanassi, no Rashbi, and l'havdil no Hitler, or Stalin. Yes, we have a Rebbe, who's messages we live with, but it just doesn't carry the same weight when He was right in front of our very eyes.

Opportunity. Maybe that's the word. Perhaps it's not about what we have to do. For the first time, we don't HAVE to do anything. Opportunity is tempting. Opportunity reminds us that it's not about what we have not yet done as much as what is waiting in front of us.

I keep all of this in my head. The urgency guy is at Mach 5, so I'm not sure I can state my case without a megaphone.

At least I can tell the imaginary interviewer something. We don't know exactly what the Rebbe would say about today. We do know that the Rebbe doesn't just want us to have urgency. He wants the urgency to be a result of realizing something incredible in front of us is begging to be utilized.

I stop thinking. My head needs a break. I give myself a mental pat on the back. My imaginary interview was a success. I was able to answer at least one of the tough questions.

As another niggun starts, I tentatively decide to join the heated discussion when it resumes. I'm wondering what everyone else is thinking besides the fact that we were out of seltzer. Everyone is thinking about that.

As team urgency is building its momentum, I wonder where it will go from here. Wherever the night takes us, I know that at least I can say that the coleslaw never left the table.


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