The icy steppes of Siberia was a regular (un-chosen) destination for many Chassidim in the Soviet Union, and a venerable chassid, R. Mendel Futerfas, was no exception. Because of "crimes against Communism," namely, teaching Torah and establishing Jewish Schools, he found himself shipped to the vast, frozen wasteland. Yes, this was one of Russia's harshest punishments, but, being a Chassid, R. Mendel turned it into a learning opportunity.
One of the inmates in his block was renowned for his skill as a tightrope walker. When others questioned him, he insisted that yes, he could walk unsupported on a rope tied high between two trees. And indeed, one rare day, when the sun glinted off the ice and the guards were in a charitable mood, he procured some rope, and with all his fellow inmates hollering below in fear, walked, step by step, across the rope to the other end.
When the tightrope walker came down the second tree to shouts and acclaim, he walked over to R. Mendel. "You," he said. "You are a wise man. Tell them. How do I do it? What is my secret?"
Reb Mendel had been watching closely, certain that in this man's feat, as in everything, was a lesson in his service of G-d. "You never lost your focus," Reb Mendel told him, and all those who had gathered round. "You kept your eyes fixed, every moment, on your destination. You never lost sight of your goal. And so you never lost your footing. Your eyes never wavered and so your feet, too, never misstepped."
* * *
In this week's Parsha, we read about the mitzvah of Shemitah, performed every seven years in the Land of Israel. The Torah begins, "When you come to the land that I am giving you, the land shall rest a Sabbath to the Lo-rd. You may sow your field for six years, and for six years you may prune your vineyard, and gather in its produce, on the seventh year, the land shall have a complete rest a Sabbath to the Lo-rd; you shall not sow your field, nor shall you prune your vineyard."
The question is obvious. The year that the Jews first came to the Land of Israel was not Shemitah; that came only after the first six years. A sabbatical comes after we've worked for six years; we take a vacation only after we've worked, not before we've even started. So why does the Torah begin by describing the year of Shemitah?
The Rebbe explains that this is because we must start off, from the very first of the seven years, with the goal in mind. This allows us to keep our balance, but more importantly, it imbues the six years of labor with the spirit of Shemitah. When we work with the goal in mind, there is no longer the separation between the first six and the seventh, between the holy and mundane. Rather, the mundane--a farmer tilling his field and harvesting his crops--becomes imbued with the spirit of Shemitah--that ultimately, all our work is for G-d and it is He Who provides sustenance to all--and the work itself becomes holy.
Creation, too, has its ultimate goal. For many years, six millennia, we work and toil, all to bring the world to its ultimate destination of Moshiach. But our work is not ordinary labor. It is the struggle to rise above a dark and bitter exile and discern the light in our actions. How do we do this? How do we keep our balance when all around us is emptiness, when a single misstep can send us plunging into the abyss?
We keep our eyes on the goal. We don't allow our mind to waver for a moment, and then our steps are strong and sure. And with our mind always on the goal, even the dark moments of exile become illuminated by the special light of moshiach - we bring the spirit of moshiach into every deed that brings us closer to this goal. Imbued thus with the idea of moshiach, our every step is secure and unwavering, and bright with the promise of where it is bringing us.