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Bottoms up

As a child growing up in the city, I loved watching construction projects. I could stand for hours on a sidewalk, enamored by the equipment used to erect massive structures and by all the engineering details necessary to ensure that the integrity of the building is perfect, and of course up to code.

An important component of any construction project is the need to lift things up. Whether it’s a crane lifting pallets of concrete and lumber stories up in the air, or even workers simply hoisting objects up on their shoulders. Without lifting and moving things, nothing gets done.

But here’s the thing about lifting objects: the cranes or the forklifts, or even the workers, never grab the objects from the top; they always start from the bottom. If they attempted to lift the object from the top, they wouldn’t get very far, because the dead weight at the bottom wouldn't budge. But when the lifting occurs at the bottom, when the focus is on the lowest part of the object, then the entire object can be easily lifted. So when something needs to be raised several stories up in the air, it is strapped from its underside before it can go up. Because when you lift from the bottom, you’re actually lifting the entire object.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe often used this as a metaphor for ensuring the stability and integrity of the Jewish people. As the saying goes, you’re only as strong as your weakest link. In order to ensure that the Jewish nation remains strong and that we continue to rise up above all our challenges, we need to be lifted from the bottom; we must focus on the weakest link — on those who others have neglected and forgotten, such as inmates in the prison system. It’s easy to write them off as bottom dwellers and not deserving of our attention, or at least not as the primary goal of our mission. Yet the Rebbe taught us exactly the opposite: The stability of the entire Jewish nation depends on those at the bottom. And when they are lifted, everyone rises up as well.

When the Torah instructs us to educate our children, specifically in the context of teaching them about our history starting from the exodus from Egypt, we are told not to wait until the child asks questions before we teach them. Sure, there will be wise children who ask all the good questions, and they certainly need to be addressed; but there will also always be those who don’t even know what to ask.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because you were paying attention at the Passover seder, where we mention the “four children” that attend the seder and who need to be educated.

Each of the four children is modeled after a different verse in the Torah instructing us to educate our kids. The child who “doesn’t even know how to ask” is based on the verse telling us to inform our children about the exodus, without the provision that it be in answer to their question. But that child is given the most attention, because by lifting that child all the others are lifted too. If the focus is entirely on the wise child who asks good questions, or even the wicked child who asks derisive questions, the lowest of the four will be forgotten. Instead, by focusing primarily on that child, the other children will learn that while asking questions is important, and at the end of the day, having faith and doing what we’re told is even greater.

When the Rebbe took over the leadership of Chabad-Lubavitch, on the 10th of Shevat in 1951, he stated that there are three things a Jew must love, and we cannot love one of them without loving the other two: Love of G-d, love of Torah, and love of your fellow Jew. This was the Rebbe’s message throughout the forty years of his leadership, and it continues to be the message of Chabad to this day. You can’t claim to love G-d and Torah without loving your fellow Jew.

And you can’t be selective about which Jew you love; you have to love and care for every single Jewish man and woman, especially those that might be considered the “bottom,” because all of Torah and all of Judaism depends on these special souls. So by lifting them and by allowing the flame of their souls to burn, we all become elevated, until we all experience the ultimate elevation, the coming of Moshiach — may it be in our times!

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