Reb Mendel Futerfas was a famous Chasidic personality who put his life on the line to teach Judaism during the time when communism had a firm grip on the Soviet Union. As a result, he was exiled to a Siberian gulag.
While there, he became friendly with many others who were exiled, among them a non-Jewish circus master. Reb Mendel was fascinated by this profession, and in particular the skill of walking a tightrope.
“Tell me,” Reb Mendel asked the circus master. “How is it that you can walk across a string, at an enormous height, and not lose your balance? You must have tremendous skill with your feet?”
“It’s my eyes,” replied the circus master. “When I step onto the rope I remain laser-focused on the pole at the other end of it. When I keep complete concentration on my destination, my feet and my hands fall in line and they are guided by my eyes.”
“What then is the most difficult part of the rope walk?” asked Reb Mendel.
“It’s the turn,” replied the performer. “When you have to take your eyes off the goal for that split second.”
“So how do you not fall?” pushed Reb Mendel.
“Ah,” said the performer. “I am sure not to get confused, and stay focused on my destination; during the transition, I can easily refocus as soon as I complete my turn.”
The name of this week’s parshat is “Vayeilech,” which means “and he went.” It describes the last day of Moshe’s life. Yet the Torah tells us that even on the most difficult day, Moshe kept an ambitious approach, not leaving any opportunity behind.
How could Moshe, on the last day of his life, still “keep on going?” The answer is simple: When you keep your eye on the goal and stay laser-focused on what needs to be done, the distractions and the stresses of life do not get in your way.
We just celebrated Rosh Hashanah and we are shortly going to be observing Yom Kippur. For many of us, the past year-and-a-half has been tumultuous and unnerving. So many unknowns and breaks from routine — so much so that for the second year in a row, the High Holidays have been upended by the unpredictable virus.
We can easily get distracted by the current predicament. Until the virus broke out, you may have had your eyes on a goal. Your life may have had a specific path, and you were heading on with a very clear destination in mind. Then you had to make a turn. The destination was not in sight and you began to get confused. Where were you going? Where were you coming from?
The challenge becomes — like it did for the tightrope walker — to stay focused and realize that these distractions are temporary. If you concentrate on what your goals are, very soon the distractions will pass, and your destination will be once again in plain view. PJC
Rabbi Yisroel Rosenfeld is the rabbi at the Lubavitch Center and the executive director of Chabad of Western Pennsylvania. This column is a service of the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.