Over Sukkot I had the honor to sit in a Sukkah with a distinguished Chossid, Rabbi Zalman Posner, who shared with me the following moving story. As a young man he was once summoned by the previous Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn. The year was 1949, and as Reb Zalman told it to me, it was hard to understand all the words of the Rebbe, so it was crucial to also watch his hand gestures.
The Rebbe began dramatically (in Yiddish): When a neshomo (soul) has to come down to Earth, it doesn’t want to go. Why? Because heaven is warm and comfortable, while life on Earth is cold and dark (“kalt un finzter”). What happens? In heaven the soul is ordered: “You must descend below.” And to demonstrate the point the Rebbe took his index finger and repeatedly pointed downward in a deliberate motion, “you must go down below into the dark and cold world, and there you must bring light (“machen dort lichtig”).
The Rebbe then continued and instructed Reb Zalman to travel on a mission (shlichus) to a certain city, which may not be as comfortable as staying home, with the objective of beginning some spiritual light to the city.
“To this day I never forget,” Reb Zalman told me, “the Rebbe’s finger pointing downward, ‘you must go down and illuminate the dark and cold world.’”…
Ultimately, Reb Zalman would settle in Nashville, Tennessee, where he is a Rabbi and educator until today.