Being a Signpost

The great Torah scholar, Maimonides writes that in the times of ancient Israel when the Temple stood, there were signposts all over the country proclaiming “Refuge! Refuge!” These signs were pointing to the six ‘cities of refuge’ discussed in this week’s parsha, Parshas Masei. These cities of refuge were meant to provide asylum to those who had accidentally taken a life (through negligence) and protect them from blood relatives of the deceased who may wish to avenge the ‘murder.’ Maimonides explains that it was the responsibility of every community in Israel to make sure that there were no impediments to finding and reaching a city of refuge. Bridges and roads had to be built and maintained over all natural barriers and directions to the cities of refuge had to be clearly demarcated with signs. Every community was obligated to make sure nothing delayed a person who was seeking a city of refuge. A deeper, more mystical analysis of this subject will reveal that this obligation has not disappeared.[1]

On a mystical level every transgression is a subtle form of murder. The Baal HaTanya, also known as Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, explains that every transgression, no matter how minor, obscures and further exiles the Divine Presence. Sins hinder the illumination of G-dly light into our world.[2] It is for this reason that our Sages have referred to the words of Torah as ‘cities of refuge’ for the destroyer of spiritual life.[3]

However, what use is a haven if it is not well-known? The Lubavitcher Rebbe teaches that today’s world is filled with ‘spiritual’ refugees. It is the duty of every Jew who knows even a little bit of Torah to stand at the crossroads and act as a living signpost calling out “Refuge Refuge” and pointing in the direction of Torah.[4]

I know what some of you are thinking. I can’t be ‘signpost.’ My knowledge about Judaism is insufficient even for myself – let alone to qualify me to teach others. Perhaps you may know enough to teach, but don’t feel capable to rise to the occasion – “I’m not a rabbi,” you might say, or “I’ve never been very good at public speaking.” In response to such concerns, it’s important to remember the Baal Shem Tov’s teaching that if one knows the Hebrew letter alef,  one should teach alef. In other words one should teach – or perhaps a better word is share – whatever one knows with another.

Hold on a second! Aren’t I hypocrite if I start teaching others about Jewish concepts or ideals to which I myself do not always able to live up by? A quick story addresses this concern. A man was once walking to the city of Lubavitch where he was planning to study in yeshiva. On the way he passed a signpost that read ‘Lubavitch’ with an arrow pointing toward his intended destination. Many years later he left Lubavitch and during his returning journey he passed by the same sign. He remarked: “I have learned and changed so much since I last walked by this sign, but it remains here the same as it was before.” Even if you don’t feel comfortable sharing Judaism you have the power and responsibility to direct others to those who do. You can host Torah lectures and classes in your home or publicize Torah classes and Jewish events via e-mail, Facebook, or Twitter etc. You could bring a friend to a Shabbat service or meal, or even slip an interesting thing you learned about the weekly parsha into a conversation with a friend or relative. The possibilities are endless! You, yes you, have the power in your hands to make the world a brighter, friendlier, and more G-dly place. May you be successful in your efforts!


[1] http://www.chabad.org/parshah/article_cdo/aid/298381/jewish/Signpost.htm

[2] Tanya. Daily portion for the 27th of Tamuz, 5771 Igeret HaTashuva Chapter 7

[3] http://www.chabad.org/parshah/article_cdo/aid/298381/jewish/Signpost.htm

[4] Ibid.