Kobe Goes Chabad

Everyone who knew the difference between a basketball and a watermelon talked about the impossible shot. At the end of the first quarter of Sunday night’s game between the Lakers and the Oklahoma City Thunder, Kobe Bryant simply ran out of room as he charged the end of the court. He was already past the net and had nowhere to go but out of bounds, when he managed to get the ball loose. Despite Kobe’s great control and aim, he had a small problem. Between him and the net was something that typically does not get in the way of a clean shot – the backboard. This proved to be no problem for Bryant, as he directed the ball over the backboard and into the net. Momentum had different plans for his body, which continued out of bounds.

The Rebbe Maharash, the fourth Lubavitcher Rebbe, might have approved. His epigram of choice was lechatchilah aribber. Loosely translated, it means that when an obstacle blocks you from getting where you have to go, refuse to be fazed. If you can’t go through it, simply go over it. Go over it with confidence and impunity. Don’t let a backboard get in the way. More importantly, don’t let anything, no matter how formidable it seems, get in the way of your avodas Hashem.

Readers, I am sure, can come up with many examples of this principle. At the late hour that I write, two (from the “snag” world) come to mind.

The Chofetz Chaim was reportedly moved by the way a town rumor destroyed the life of a young rov. The toxicity of lashon hora was well established millennia before the Chofetz Chaim. It was a problem that everyone knew had no solution. After all, the gemara itself conceded that everyone was guilty of at least avak lashon hora. The Chofetz Chaim refused to accept the obstacle. He went over it, writing his seforim that did not instantly cure the problem, but created the tools to make great progress in addressing it.

Rav Aharon Kotler came to the shores of an America that everyone knew could never recreate anything remotely similar to the excellence in Torah learning that existed in pre-war Europe. Other Torah personalities were prepared for various fall-back positions, of offering American Jews some lesser refraction of Torah focus and Torah brilliance. This, in time, they could hopefully accept. Rav Aharon refused to accept the obstacle of American distance from Torah, and founded his yeshiva accordingly. Today, of course, Lakewood the yeshiva is the largest in America, and Lakewood the city a Torah metropolis.

May all of us learn to take the impossible shots.

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6 Responses

  1. lacosta says:

    ‘snag’ of course is the slur — the N word equivalent — that chabad uses for those non-chassidim who in any way are critical of their enterprise. one cannot be anti – Messianism without being a ‘snag’….

  2. Eytan Kobre says:

    Reb Yitzchok,

    I was about to wonder whether I had been body-snatched and transported, unbeknownst to my mind, to the Heights . . . and then I slowed down and re-read your title. Next, I wondered how it was that this not insignificant Japanese city had evaded the radar of Chabad’s shaliach placement bureau all these years. You’ve gotta, as they say, read the fine print.

  3. Dovid Eliezrie says:

    Kudos to Yitzchak for being “Lechatchila Ariber” even has he calls it “the snag world”.

  4. dr. bill says:

    as a kalte litvak (only by education,) let we throw some cold water. R. Aharon lichtenstein in a musar/machshavah session 34 years ago, noted that the philosophic challenges to bechirah from determinism that engaged philosophers of old has been largely replaced by the challenge from a person’s nature and/or nurture. his answer, i believe quoting R. abba bar shaul, ztl, was that each of us have a playing field effectively bounded by our genes and our environment, known at the very least to the Yodeah Machashovot ve’Lev. our goal is to reach that boundary’s positive limits.

    halevay – even if not ARIBBER. Or as is quoted from another chassidic master, you will be asked why you were not yourself!

  5. Shades of Gray says:

    The principle “lechatchilah aribber”, has an element of being strong and stubborn. I recently saw R. Shaul Shimon Deutch, curator of the “Torah Zoo”, demonstrating next to one of Boro Park’s resident preserved, ferocious lions, R. Yehuda Ben Teimah’s statement and talking about resisting peer-pressure.

    There is also a principle of not settling for less, and not defining community and individual standards down, as in the two cases brought in the post.

    However, there could be a problem of setting people up for failure by telling them that they could do anything, though for the sake of the State of Israel, we should be grateful that the Zionist pioneers had a slogan of “im tirtzu ein zo agadah”.

    Dr. Benzion Sorotzkin has an article on his website titled “The Pursuit of Perfection: Vice or Virtue in Yiddishkeit”, where he grapples with both sides of the question and discusses R. Dessler’s concept of “level of free-will”. The article references many contemporary hashkafah sources and mamorei chazal, though the conclusions are his own. In footnote # 8, for example, he discusses a deeper meaning of the phrase “ein lecha davar homeid l’fnei harotzon”, which he traces to a Zohar in Terumah.

  6. tzippi says:

    For years I thought that “lechatchila ariber” was pure Lubavitch; recently I read it in the name of Rabbi Yisrael Salanter as well.

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