The excitement was palpable and the inspiration contagious as hundreds of submissions poured in to the Meaningful Life Center’s inbox hours before the MyLife: Chassidus Applied Essay Contest deadline last Thursday night, surprising MLC staff and judges with the sheer number of participants – over 500 essays – committed to learning, researching and writing an original essay on the application of Chassidus to a life challenge.
Rabbi Simon Jacobson, Dean of the Meaningful Life Center (MLC) and conceiver of this unique project, was overwhelmed by the outcome of the contest. “Regardless of the final official winner, from my point of view all the entrants are winners. Indeed, the biggest winner is Chassidus itself and our Rebbeim who dedicated their lives to teach us Chassidus. The mere fact that hundreds of people invested their time, energy and ingenuity to study and apply these teachings is simply astonishing.”
The MyLife: Essay Contest challenged participants of all backgrounds to write an original essay applying an idea in Chassidus or an approach and methodology based on an idea in Chassidus, to address a contemporary life issue. The top three essays selected by the judges will be awarded monetary prizes – sponsored by an anonymous benefactor: $10,000 first prize, $3600 second prize, and a $500 gift certificate for third prize. The winning entries will be published and publicized.
By Hashgacha Protis, right after the announcement of the contest a fascinating letter of the Rebbe (Igros Kodesh, vol. 10, pp. 238-239) was brought to light urging students to write essays in honor of Yud Shvat. The Rebbe adds in the same letter, “We see from experience, here and in other places, that when you draw in the students so that they get involved in the work by making their own presentations, etc., this evokes far greater enthusiasm and interest among their friends.”
The MyLife Essay Contest has accomplished just that. Students, shluchim and lay people from different walks of life were all inspired by the profound learning involved in writing their essays. As one shlucha notes, “This contest has touched upon so many things that have empowered me to search deeper, in so far as myself, my marriage, and my children. Thank you thank you for doing such an important job!” Another contestant has experienced the positive effects of researching and writing her essay, “This contest was brilliant – it encouraged me to learn Chassidus in depth in a way I haven’t done for too many years”.
The practical implications of the essay contest have transformed yeshivas and seminaries worldwide, as Rabbi Mendel Blau of Yeshivas Tomchei Tmimim Chovevei Torah noted, “B”H the contest had a tremendous effect in yeshiva. Over the month I observed many bochurim searching within themselves, considering the Chassidus that they learned in pursuit to challenge themselves to use the concepts on a practical level to overcome a specific struggle”.
The MyLife: Essay Contest is meant to serve as a springboard for many continuing efforts in applying Chassidus to our lives. To this end, an excellent resource available to the public is the MyLife: Chassidus Applied weekly program, a one hour live YouTube broadcast featuring Rabbi Simon Jacobson responding to personal and psychological questions based on Chassidus. This program, which just celebrated its first anniversary, and is now in its 57th week, has been a high success, with over 2000 viewers each week, and was actually the progenitor of the contest.
Over 500 essays are now being reviewed by the panel of judges comprised of some of the most distinguished Torah and Chassidic scholars in the world: Rabbi Leibel Altein, Rabbi Dr. Yaakov Brawer, Rabbi YY Jacobson, Rabbi Sholom Lipskar and Rabbi Eli Silberstein. Even though there will be three awards, it is clear that the entire Chabad community worldwide has benefitted from the inspiration and renewed commitment to learning Chassidus in depth and its application to our lives.
Rabbi Jacobson emphasized the ultimate triumph of the contest, “When over 500 participants commit to applying the power of Chassidus to current issues in their lives, there is no doubt that the world itself is transformed. Such an effort in yefutzu mayonosecho chutza certainly goes a long way in achieving its goal, the coming of Moshiach, as Moshiach himself told the Baal Shem Tov.”