Marking the 200th anniversary of the yartzeit of the Alter Rebbe – Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi who founded the Chabad movement – the Jewish Press’ Yishai Fleisher interviewed one of the special emmissaries who have become the hallmark of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement to talk about the man who started it all, what his passions were, and where Chabad is headed.
Rabbi Danny Cohen is not just one of the hundreds of inspiring, dedicated, courteous and enthusiastic rabbis of Chabad who give themseles in service to the Jewish people across the globe. His is a mission under fire, serving not only his community, but the hundreds of visitors – and soldiers – who descend on his historic city each year, standing as a beacon of stability and spirituality in a place which puts up a daily fight for survival. Rabbi Cohen is the Chabad Rabbi of Hebron.
Listen here for the full interview from the Mittler Rebbe’s/Menucha Rachel’s shul, including how a boy from Brooklyn who became an IDF soldier came to be a Chabad rabbi and Hebron “settler”, as well as the history of Chabad in Hebron.
Fleisher and Rabbi Cohen spoke about the imprisonment of the Alter Rebbe, who was imprisoned for 53 days in Russian prison, to be freed on Yud Tet Kislev.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman was accused by the Russian government of treason for sending money to the Land of Israel, to support Jewish settlement there. At the time, Russia was at war with Turkey, which maintained control of the Holy Land, and Russia accused the Alter Rebbe of sending money to support the Turkish government, which he later proved to the authorities was untrue.
“What’s fascinating is that [supporting the Land of Israel] was the main accusation that brought him to jail in the first place, … and not only doesn’t he say ‘maybe modify that action, maybe tone it down’, being that he was the founder of Chabad and the one that planted and started the whole Chabad philosophy, maybe he would be thinking spiritually this is not what he should be doing, he should be doing something else,” Rabbi Cohen said. “But not only does he not stop and tells his chassidim to continue, but he writes in the Tanya that what saved him from jail and what took him out was the fact that he gave tzedaka to Eretz Yisrael.”
According to Rabbi Cohen, the Alter Rebbe had a great love for the Land of Israel, and considered moving there, but decided to forego the opportunity due to his obligations to his chassidim. “When the Maggid passes away, the Alter Rebbe is appointed as the leader of Chassidim in that area, and even though he had a strong urge and wanted very much to make aliyah, to move to the Land of Israel, being that he was responsible for [Lita], that’s why he stayed there,” Rabbi Cohen said.
Rabbi Cohen credits Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the Baal HaTanya with developing a philosophy by which Jews develop their own personal and unique connections to God. While the great rabbis are charged with teaching and guiding their followers and adherents, “I’m not going to do it for you, this is up to you,” Rabbi Cohen said.
Finishing with a “dvar Torah” – a word of Torah – Rabbi Cohen said: “Two hundred years is definitely a day to be marked, it’s a day of completion… It says that Yaakov Avinu didn’t pass away – the Gemara asks, what do you mean he didn’t pass away, there was a funeral, eulogies. Was that for nothing – no! It means that if his children are alive, he is alive. When 200 years later, you see that Chabad, despite all the obstacles and challenges of recent years and throughout the years… going through communist Russia and going through the fat of America, and the fact that today in a physical way Chabad does not have a Rebbe to go and visit and see, but yet, that it’s just increasing… thousands of people are … going out to the four corners of the earth, 200 years from the Alter Rebbe, and it’s all based on his teachings and his ideas, we know we’re on the right way for [redemption], with G-d’s help.”