The Two Lessons I Learned After Four Days With 370 Jewish Campus Leaders


Last week saw Gitty and myself spending four days with some of the greatest men and women in the Jewish world. These 185 couples have devoted their entire lives to the Jewish people and to its continuance through becoming the "shluchim" and "shluchos" who direct the 230 Chabad on Campus centers in the United States and sixteen other countries worldwide.

With 370 adults and more than 600 children in attendance, the annual conference is a logistical feat of art. In addition to all of the programming for the leaders, there is a full day of camp program for the children.

So what do we learn at a conference like this? As it turns out, a lot. We learn about how to optimize databases, how to speak more clearly, how to present a class, and how to listen more closely. The event gives us an opportunity to network, to celebrate, and to gain inspiration from one another. I could speak for many days about all of the amazing things that I learned.

There were two takeaways that I hope to never forget. The first is that the conference organizers scheduled time for parents to study Torah with their children. This. Is. Incredible. Imagine a ballroom, full of fathers and sons all discussing Jewish ideas together. It served as a reminder that no matter how busy we are with our community, we cannot forget that our children are a part of it too! They also need our time and we must take precious minutes out of our day to educate the kinderlach (children) that we have been so blessed with.

The second takeaway is that we are not the boss; G-d is. Our job is to work to make that clear. Last week we read the bible story of the spies in the Torah portion. They were twelve brilliant scholars and educators who were chosen by Moses to explore the Land of Israel and report back about how to conquer it for the wandering Jews who had left Egypt. Ten of them returned and claimed the land was unconquerable. Famously, the spies and the people who listened to them were punished. Why? For telling the truth? Should they have misreported their findings? Perhaps the answer lies in the actions of the remaining two spies: Yehoshua and Kalev.

At the outset, the ten spies toured the entire land. They took specimens, observed the residents, and walked the terrain. The other two did not. Instead they went to Hebron and spent all of their time there. To them, Hebron was special. It is the place where Abraham, Sarah, Rebecca, Isaac, Leah and Jacob are buried. These people lived a life that was not about cost-benefit analysis. They lived a life about what was proper and correct.

While the ten spies were examining their potential relationship with a piece of land, the two spies in Hebron were seeking to strengthen their relationship with the Giver of the Land. They received this inspiration from Moses: the man who took his people to a desert where it is impossible to survive and thrived there; the man who told his people to walk through a sea and not worry about it; the man who never took credit for his success and always directed the people to look upward toward their Father in Heaven. This awareness prevented the two spies from seeing the physical world as an end and only as a means.

Meeting the Chabad directors of Moscow State (!), Iowa State and so many other universities, I couldn't help but think that this is illogical. Logic would dictate that they can't survive and they can't succeed. But they are surviving and they are succeeding! Upon asking them what they attribute this success to, it became obvious. "We are doing what The Lubavitcher Rebbe wants!" The Rebbe is a modern Moses. Driving people to do the impossible by rejecting the very notion that it's impossible. Making the claim that the world is G-d's and so anything we do to make it a more G-dly place must be successful. There is no other way. This inspired me.