“All the elders evaded the walk to Pharaoh. Only Moshe and Aharon had the strength to finish the mission and to overcome all the obstacles” – The Tzaddik Rabbi Mordechai Safrin shlit”a in a special talk from Likutey Halachos, Hilchos Sheluchim.
Rav Safrin brings us to the advice which is so important for our generation, “Step after step one progresses to the goal.” Rav Safrin relates a personal incident in which the Chasidim of our Rebbe Rav Eliezer Berland shlit”a remained in Kiev without a Mikveh, and with self-sacrifice immersed amidst freezing temperatures of -25 degrees C (-13 F) with violent winds. Rav Safrin bears witness that for him this was an almost impossible test. Did he immerse in the end?
“This is an aspect of all ten plagues which Moshe brought onto them. Moshe Rabbeinu went into Pharaoh with no fear at all. Moshe Rabbeinu has no fear at all. The Kadosh Baruch Hu said to him: Take 70 men from the Elders of Israel and go to Pharaoh. He took 70 elders and went to Pharaoh. Afterwards, it’s written: And Moshe and Aharon went to Pharaoh – where are the 70 elders. One by one they dropped out.
“Rashi says: They evaded. They didn’t flee. They found some excuse. One suddenly pulled some muscle in his leg. One suddenly [said:] I forgot the food on the stove. Each one found some excuse and said: I can’t. They couldn’t stand up to the terror. It was terrifying to enter there. Going now to provoke the wicked person, to provoke Pharaoh. No way. People don’t leave there alive. No one leaves there alive.
“This was exactly what was difficult. Suddenly a person comes who’s five meters tall, large like that, and says Hashem sent him. So fine. He begins to perform miracles and says a number of code-words. Then they went with him. But in actuality mamash – there still wasn’t faith. There was weak faith. They went to Pharaoh – they began to go. I wouldn’t have even began to walk, but they began to walk.
“We once had an incident in Kiev. We were there in some hotel. They didn’t allow us to reach Uman. In the morning there was no mikveh, because we couldn’t travel to Uman, and there was no mikveh in the hotel, but there was a river not far away. The problem was that it was minus 25 degrees [C], and this is coooolld. This is cold, something terrible, but to ‘Shuvu Banim’ it doesn’t matter to them that this is cold. They went to the mikveh.
“All my colleagues went to the river to immerse, but I couldn’t leave the room. I couldn’t. Where? To immerse in this cold? I can’t immerse, I can’t. Then everyone left, and I remained alone in the room.
“I said to myself: I can’t immerse, but to pray — I can. I searched for prayers in Likutey Tefilos about the Mikveh. Nothing. Only Shavuos – prayers 50, 56 – the Mikveh of Shavuos. I said, fine, I’ll say the ‘Mikveh of Shavuos.’ I said the prayer. A thought came to me: Fine, I won’t immerse, but I’ll go to the river. To go out – I went out. To do hisbodedus, I’m going out. The problem is the immersion. I’ll walk until the river, but to immerse — I can’t.
“I reach the river. What do I see there? Immersing in pairs, because the moment that a person leaves the water he’s frozen. His hair is frozen, his mustache is frozen, his ears are frozen, his fingers are frozen. It’s impossible to get dressed, impossible to close the buttons, impossible to move the fingers. He needs someone to dress him. A person gets out of the water, and his friend dresses him. This is cold…”
Someone in the audience asks, “What, it’s impossible to close one’s hands, Rav Mordechai?”
Rav Safrin: “Perhaps a little bit. It’s freezing. This is freezing. The hair: you need to be careful not to break your beard. It could break. This is ice. How do you get out? The water is 4 degrees. The water isn’t freezing. If it’s freezing, it’s between 0 and 4 degrees, and underneath the water is flowing. Underneath it’s not cold. The problem is the wind. You go out to wind that’s minus 25 degrees. This is like needles.
“So then…walk until it’s no longer possible. This is what happened with the Elders. A portion certainly didn’t want to [even] begin to go. A portion began to walk, but until they got close… The closer they get, they see the terror. Then they step backwards. Only Moshe and Aharon were the lone ones who went in until Pharaoh. [They] spoke to him and made everything happen.
“Our Rebbe Rav Berland then wasn’t in Kiev. He wasn’t with us. Maybe he immersed in another mikveh. Maybe he didn’t go on that trip, I don’t remember. He travelled, but he didn’t always go in. No, he went in…In my trips he always got through, but I don’t know. He didn’t go with us to the river. Maybe he went to another mikveh. I don’t know, I didn’t track him.”
Someone asks, “Did you manage to immerse in the end, Rabbi Mordechai?”
“Yes, Baruch Hashem. The entire thing is to do what is possible. This is something which you learn little by little, that even if it’s impossible to do everything that you need to do, but it’s possible to do half, [then] do half. Then one sees that he takes another step forward. He goes another step forward until in the end he finishes everything.
“But here the Elders couldn’t, they didn’t succeed. They started. This isn’t a simple thing. Moshe says to them to come to Pharaoh. What, go to Pharaoh? Have you gone out of your mind? Are you crazy? This isn’t simple, the way to the palace…This isn’t a palace which is situated on the street. There is a complete park around the palace. This is a long way from the entrance gate until the palace. On the way are lions, leopards. There’s columns for hanging – all the criminals they would hang.
“They would leave them there hanging, so that anyone who would come understands that if he so much as irritates the king, then they would send him to the lions or the leopards. Even if he had an appointment – say one incorrect word…
“There was a story of one of the Amoraim. I don’t remember his name. He argued with the king and proved to him that he’s mistaken about something. They said to him, ‘You’re right, but the fact that you proved that the king was mistaken – because of this, he needs to kill you.”
See the video of Rav Safrin (in Hebrew)