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Empty Seats

A group of well-meaning Jewish leaders once approached the Lubavitcher Rebbe with a very interesting request. They were in the beginning stages of a campaign and they felt that if the project had the Rebbe’s backing, it would be extremely successful.

The idea was to get every Jewish family in the world to have an empty seat at their seder table in honor of the millions of Jews trapped in the former Soviet Union, behind the Iron Curtain.

When the Rebbe heard their suggestion he responded, “That’s a great idea, every family should indeed have a seat at the table to remember an oppressed Jew. But it shouldn’t remain empty—it should be filled with someone that otherwise would not have a place for the seder.”

Those familiar with the Rebbe’s style will agree that this was the Rebbe’s approach to all matters; productivity is always the best response to an adverse situation.

I’m reminded of this story whenever I hear or read about a new-age concept aimed at stirring the collective Jewish psyche. The objective of many tikun olam projects, innovations aimed at ‘repairing the world,’ seems to be all about making one feel good, but is absent of the spiritual components of a mitzvah.

The purpose of mitzvahs is not to make us feel good. It’s about fulfilling G-d’s will; and if we happen to feel good along the way, that’s great. A Jew performing a mitzvah, even if it’s something he or she does not understand, accomplishes true tikun olam. When a man wraps tefillin or a woman lights Shabbat candles, they are repairing the world and making it a place G-d can call home.

Now that is something to feel good about.

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