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November 1, 2014 / 8 Heshvan, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Lubavitcher Rebbe’

Simchat Torah and Creativity

Monday, October 13th, 2014

One of the factors that attracted me to the Hasidic movement was the feeling that my ideas and thoughts had merit no matter how many books and texts I mastered. The Ba’al Shem Tov, founder of the Hasidic movement, extolled the unadulterated service of the simple ones whose heartfelt pleas reached the loftiest heights. And so I was encouraged by this because while my breadth of knowledge was not like some, at least my contributions would be valued.

But as my time in yeshivah and then Hasidic Crown Heights passed by, I struggled to find my place. These difficulties persisted until I met a beggar outside a pizza restaurant after the fast of the 9th of Av 12 years ago.

Standing on the Outside

I had traveled to the upper west side of Manhattan in search of solace. During my pre-Hasidic years the upper west side was an area that I frequented regularly to watch a movie at the local AMC theaters or partake of a slice at Pizza Cave. But now times were different. I was living in Crown Heights and rarely visited Manhattan anymore.

My first stop that night was the familiar AMC theaters. I tried to convince myself that what I needed was a good movie to wash away the worries. But after perusing title after title, I left.

My next stop was the Barnes & Noble nearby. But after buying a few sci-fi books that I never read and threw out shortly thereafter, I left there as well.

By now the rain was pouring down as I entered my final destination, Pizza Cave, a kosher pizza restaurant that existed at the time. Soaked through-and-through I ordered a slice, ate, and left.

As was leaving, I ran into an elderly beggar. But instead of asking for his needs, likely noticing that I was a Chabad hasid, he began to recount the following…

He said that his tzedakeh collecting days were not always this trying. Over a numbers of years, he would wait outside 770 Eastern Parkway, the headquarters of Chabad, on Sundays to collect tzedakeh. From 1986-1992, thousands of people converged on 770 to receive a dollar and a blessing from the Lubavitcher Rebbe. In turn, as was the custom, these “dollar recipients” would then give another dollar in place of the original to tzedakeh. As the original dollar from the Rebbe was intended for tzedakeh, these “exchange dollars” allowed the recipients to keep the ones that were physically handed to them by the Rebbe. It was in order to collect these “exchanged” dollars that this man stood outside 770 every Sunday.

Feeling deeply at ease from his story, I thanked the man for sharing his experience, handed him a $5 bill, and headed to the subway back home.

I later realized why his story brought me such great relief, and why his story so deeply calmed me. Prior to meeting this man I felt that I was missing something. I felt bereft because I hadn’t met the Rebbe face-to-face, and this troubled me greatly. I began to question my place within Chabad and doubted whether my contributions–creative or otherwise–were really worthwhile.

I don’t know if this man ever waited in line to receive an “original” dollar, or if he even saw the Rebbe (since he was standing outside 770 and the Rebbe was inside), but what I do know is that it provided him food to eat and perhaps even new clothing to wear. So too I began to acknowledge that even though I may be standing on the outside, this does not mean that my contributions are worthless. Indeed, as confirmation to this importance of this night, I later found out that on that very same night, my future wife had been writing a long soul-searching letter listing all the things she was looking for in a match.

Leaning To Eliyahu: The Lubavitcher Rebbe, NCSY, And The Way Forward In Judaism

Thursday, July 17th, 2014

As I wrote last week in my Jewish Press front-page essay “The Argument Against Zealotry,” we live in a world of kana’ut – zealotry and extremism.

Kana’im fail to understand how demeaning their perspective and behavior is to their fellow Jews. Has their kana’ut enriched our community or our people? Has it added to our understanding of the world God created or the blessings bestowed upon us?

Rather than a zealotry defined by Pinchas, how much wiser to consider a religious fervor more like Eliyahu’s.

We commemorated the twentieth yahrzeit of the Lubavitcher Rebbe on the 3rd of Tammuz and it befits us to consider the Rebbe’s example and how we can be uplifted and united by love of God rather than divided by it.

While Eliyahu is just as zealous as Pinchas, his way is neither loud nor insistent. It is gentle and caring, calming the pained baby at a bris, uplifting every family at the Pesach Seder, cheerfully bidding Shabbos farewell and wishing good cheer and fortune for the coming week.

The Rebbe inspired his followers to be like Eliyahu, to go everywhere in the world carrying the message of deracheha darchei noam – of a pleasant, loving, embracing Judaism – to each and every Jew.

So completely did the Rebbe personalize this accepting and loving zealotry that his thousands of shluchim go out into the world with the absolute belief that they have a relationship with him, not just his teachings. Such absolute devotion is astonishing.

Many years ago I worked as hard as I’d ever worked trying to recruit ten scholars to come to Pittsburgh to create a kollel. More often than not, I would be asked, “Pittsburgh? Where is that? What is there to do there?”

How I struggled to get scholars to come. And yet the Rebbe, gone for twenty years, continues to inspire young couples to travel to the farthest ends of the earth, to places where they have no friends, no network, no minyan, no kosher provisions, in order to establish a Chabad House.

There is no word to describe what they do, for their behavior is beyond sacrifice, beyond dedication, beyond commitment. Why do they do it? To fulfill the Rebbe’s desire that they reach out and touch everyJewish soul they can reach.

The Rebbe’s deepest message is clear: Embrace and accept. It is awe-inspiring to sit in a Chabad shul and see how many of those who enter are greeted with hugs and kisses rather than apathetic silence and neglect. To be sure, not every Chabad shita or hashkafa is embraced by other Orthodox Jews. That said, as a non-Chabad Orthodox Jew I cannot help but think there is much of Chabad’s approach we would do well to imitate.

How could it be otherwise? Is there any person who, given the choice, prefers being berated to being embraced? Is there anyone who would prefer to be pushed away and belittled rather than brought in and respected?

From the moment he arrived in America, the Rebbe saw that the way forward could only be the way of Eliyahu: teach, inspire, uplift, and encourage – and always with kindness and love.

Similar to the Rebbe’s approach, the Orthodox Union’s NCSY (National Conference of Synagogue Youth) engages and embraces. Celebrating its 60th birthday, NCSY was born at a time when many predicted Orthodoxy was on its deathbed. But people like Rabbi Pinchas Stolper and a cadre of visionary lay leaders recognized the Jewish future rested with our youth. They created exciting, motivational, inspiring, loving and embracing Shabbatonim in Orthodox synagogues throughout the country.

NCSY was successful in attracting Jewish kids to come to these non-threatening, joyous Shabbatonim. And now, some sixty years and tens of thousands of NCSY graduates later, we can see that the Eliyahu approach can and will continueto turn the tide of Jewish assimilation and ignorance in this country.

‘Boorich Hashem Yoim Yoim’: The Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Outreach To Non-Jews

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

The third of Tammuz (July 1) marks the 20th yahrzeit of a spiritual giant of our time – the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of saintly blessed memory.

In his forty years of leading the Lubavitch movement, the Rebbe created Judaism’s largest and most dynamic global Jewish educational network. There are close to 4,000 Lubavitch branches worldwide.

I want to focus here on a particular aspect of the Rebbe’s leadership. The 20th century witnessed a number of spiritual giants who labored to enhance the spirituality of the Jewish people. The Lubavitcher Rebbe was unique in that he also labored to directly enhance the spirituality of non-Jews.

To be sure, Jews don’t proselytize. The Rebbe was not out to convince non-Jews to become Jews. The Rebbe’s efforts were focused on non-Jews being spiritual via observance of the seven Noahide Laws (which the Almighty commanded).

After the Flood, God made a pact with Noah and his family consisting of Seven Laws that all mankind must observe: 1) to worship God alone; 2) not to blaspheme God; 3) not to murder; 4) not to commit sexual misdeeds; 5) not to steal; 6) not to be cruel to animals (specifically not consuming the limb of an animal before taking its life); 7) to pursue justice as a society (the opposite of anarchy).

God communicated to Moshe Rabbeinu that He had made this pact with Noah and instructed Moshe to inform the Jewish people that they have an obligation to influence mankind to observe these laws (see the Rambam’s Mishnah Torah, Laws of Kings, chapter 8, laws 10 and 11).

Throughout our lengthy exile, this teaching of our responsibility to disseminate these laws to all mankind has, for a variety of reasons, been overlooked.

The gedolei hador, the great Torah leaders, did not push their followers to focus on the obligation of disseminating the seven Noahide laws to mankind. Not so the Lubavitcher Rebbe. He dynamically mandated Jews to realize their Torah obligation and disseminate these seven Noahide laws to non-Jews.

The Torah charges Jews to be God-conscious themselves and to influence non-Jews to be God-conscious. God-consciousness is the basis of these seven laws, even as it is the basis of the entire Torah.

We can disseminate our God-consciousness in a very simple way. When someone asks you how you are feeling, respond by saying “Thank God.” When making an appointment, say “God willing, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Let your non-Jewish friends observe your God-consciousness. Be an example and an exemplar of God-consciousness.

Hence, when getting into a cab, I ask the cab driver, “Did you thank God today?” and this invariably launches a God-consciousness conversation.

Once I jumped into a cab at La Guardia airport. I asked the black Haitian cab driver, “Did you thank God today?” I almost fell out of the taxi when he turned his head to me and, beaming, responded in Hebrew with a distinct “Galitzianer” dialect, “Boorich Hashem yoim yoim” (“Thank God day by day”).

I smilingly asked, “Where did you pick up this phrase?”

He told me that before starting to drive a cab he’d worked six years for a chassidic haberdasher on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Every morning he would be at the haberdasher’s side when the haberdasher would open the door. When the haberdasher saw that everything was fine, he would say those words: “Boorich Hashem yoim yoim.”

“After a while,” the cab driver recounted, “I asked, ‘What do those words mean?’ He told me they mean ‘Thank God day by day’ – and I have been thanking God day by day ever since. When you asked me if I thanked God today, I figured you would appreciate my responding in Hebrew.”

‘Turning Judaism Outward’ for Gimmel Tamuz

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

A rabbi known for taking the ‘long, short way’ has written an exhaustive biography of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of righteous memory, in time for Gimmel Tamuz. The Hebrew date of the passing of Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, the third day of the Hebrew month of Tamuz is marked by Chabad-Lubavitch Chassidim around the world with special events; thousands fly to New York to visit the Rebbe’s gravesite.

The Rebbe was one of the most influential Jewish leaders of his generation, establishing a worldwide network of emissaries. To this very day, thousands are sent out with their families to remote places around the globe to reach out and help Jews across the spectrum, drawing many closer to their roots. His impact on history – Jewish or otherwise – has yet to be measured.

Numerous materials are published for the special day as well. This year, ‘Turning Judaism Outward’ written by Rabbi Chaim Miller, has joined them. It is an elegant tome in the Gutnick tradition that chronicles the Rebbe’s entire life from 1902 to 1994 and beyond in 590 pages — in short, a massive work. It is also an incredibly scholarly work, not one of simple slavish praise nor written in the style of compromised language one sometimes finds in texts focused primarily on a specific content area.

Because Rabbi Miller is a Chossid with a secular, academic background — his texts are among those used at New York University and Yeshiva University — he is uniquely qualified to attempt what many would call an impossible task.

This year marks the 20th since the Rebbe passed away, leaving his office in “770″ – the affectionate name and address of the building in which Chabad-Lubavitch World Headquarters is located — 770 Eastern Parkway in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York.

Spiritually it often seems as though the Rebbe never left. The Chassidic-Carribean-African-American neighborhood is still a swarm of Chabad-Lubavitch activity around the clock. The Rebbe’s shluchim (emissaries) and their families are in and out of the neighborhood for various reasons throughout the year and they continue  to carry out their activities around the world. Regional and international conventions are held annually, with the number of attendees and new Chabad Houses growing more with each passing year.

Likewise, new books and materials are churned out each month from headquarters – including new items in all kinds of languages about the Rebbe and his life. So why another one?

“Everyone who has written about the Rebbe’s life picks and chooses the bits they personally feel are impressive. That’s the ‘short, long way,’” explains Rabbi Miller, compiler of the Gutnick Chumash (Pentateuch). “You get some nice information but in the end you lack a really substantial picture. It’s a bit like eating the dessert before the main course – it tastes good to start with, but then you don’t feel satisfied.”

Meyer Gutnick, director of Kol Menachem, which published the biography, added the organization felt it was important to “address the Rebbe’s life in its entirety, with all of its paradoxes and mysteries,” impossible a task though it might be.

Rabbi Miller candidly discusses in the foreword the difficulty he faced in gathering primary sources for his work: “By the time interest in the field began to gain momentum around a decade ago, there was almost no one alive who personally remembered the Rebbe from this period, except for a few individuals who were small children at the time.” Instead, he was forced to track down the Rebbe’s movements and activities much as would any other historian, or ‘private eye’ – using the Rebbe’s personal notebooks, his personal correspondence, academic records, his mother’s diaries, memoirs from Chassidim with whom he was closely associated and his Russian passport, among other items.

In meticulous language similar to that of a post-doctoral researcher, Rabbi Miller notes that he “sought to render the narrative with as much scrupulous objectivity as possible. While it is almost inevitable that personal bias will influence an author in some way or another, my goal has been to offer a detached and dispassionate account of events as they transpired…

Celebrating Potential on Tu B’Shvat

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

It’s been a while since I’ve listened to this brilliant man’s Torah.

Here’s the intro text from JewishMedia (but you can skip straight to the video):

On Tu B’Shevat, the 15th of Shevat, we celebrate the New Year for Trees. It falls in the middle of the winter, when the sap is just beginning to flow.

If the fruit is not yet growing, asks the Lubavitcher Rebbe, why do we celebrate the occasion by eating fruit?

By enjoying fruit on Tu B’Shvat, we celebrate the potential within the tree. We also commit ourselves to bring out this potential by nurturing the tree through the spring and summer, until it brings its fruit. The human being is compared to a tree. We must recognize the wonderful potential within every person and every event, and we must commit ourselves to bringing out that potential.


The Giant and the General

Sunday, January 12th, 2014

My good friends and former employers at Chabad.org have utilized Ariel Sharon ZL’s passing to educate the public about the latter’s relationship with the Lubavitcher Rebbe. I’m grateful to them for that, even though their obituary comes close to suggesting that Sharon was a hidden Chabadnik. He really wasn’t, and I don’t think the good people of the Lubavitch News Service believe it either.

But they did remind me of two events in Sharon’s life that came in close proximity and had to have influenced his life.

Right after the Six Day War, Sharon led a group of South African military officers—the bad kind—on a tour of liberated Jerusalem, and stopped at the Western Wall. Lubavitch had just set up their tefillin booth there, and the chassid operating it, Reb Aharon Rabinowitz ZL, a former Soviet prisoner, wanted very much to get Arik to roll up his sleeve for Judaism, but was too timid to ask. And so a religious Jerusalemite journalist named Noach Zevuluni, who was writing for the Histadrut trade union’s daily Davar, approached the general with the request. Arik—reluctantly, according to Zevuluni ZL—acquiesced.

There are apocryphal versions of this story, a noted one in which David Ben Gurion is also in the group and refuses to put on tefillin. Another version gathers the entire IDF leadership for the sake of the anecdote, and Arik’s proud example inspires all of them to wrap the straps. The version I cited above is directly from Zevuluni’s writing. Bottom line is: shortly after the war ended, Sharon put on tefillin at the Kotel.

Then tragedy struck. In October, 1967, on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, Sharon’s 11-year-old son Gur and his friend, Yaakov Keren, took down an old hunting rifle belonging to Sharon, that hung on display on the wall. They stuffed gunpowder into the gun, and, during play, Yaakov pointed the barrel at Gur’s head and squeezed the trigger. Arik came rushing to the room to find his son lying unconscious on the floor, bleeding from his head. He picked him up in his arms and drove to the nearest hospital, where the doctors declare him dead. (Sharon continued to blame Yaakov Keren of killing his son intentionally, to the point where the Kerens had to leave the neighborhood to avoid the general’s wrath).

These two events, coming so close to each other, raised the interest of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who wrote Sharon a touching and beautiful letter of condolences during the Shiva week that followed his son’s death. Chabad.org offers the entire text online, but I will concentrate on what I believe are the late Rebbe’s poignant observations which he saw fit to share with Sharon.

The Rebbe wrote:

I was deeply grieved to read in the newspaper about the tragic loss of your tender young son, may he rest in peace. We cannot fathom the ways of the Creator. During a time of war and peril you were saved—indeed, you were among those who secured the victory for our nation, the Children of Israel, against our enemies, in which “the many were delivered into the hands of the few, etc.”—and yet, during a time of quiet and in your own home, such an immense tragedy occurred!

It’s the two men’s first encounter, entirely initiated by the Rebbe, and yet he, relentless educator that he was, didn’t waste a beat in launching into a lesson that offered condolences, praise for the general’s military victories, and direction. The document in its entirety is brilliant and daring in equal amounts. To me, it’s obvious that the Rebbe had spotted in Sharon a potential for good that must be cultivated. This was nothing new—the Lubavitcher Rebbe was an unstoppable turbine of inspiration and influence, laboring to change the world from his small chambers on Eastern Parkway, Crown Heights. It’s just that when he was love bombing a notable historical figure, he reached greater heights.

Yahrzheit for Lubavitcher Rebbe Expected to Draw 50,000 Visitors

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

Tens of thousands of Jews are expected to visit the gravesite of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Tuesday, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson (z”l), who passed away 19 years ago.

Thousands stood in the rain Monday night at the Queens gravesite at the beginning of the third day of the Hebrew month of Tammuz.

The Rebbe was arguably the most influential rabbi in the past generations. He is credited with reinvigorating a decimated Jewish people after the devastation of the Holocaust and creating the largest Jewish organization in the world, with more than 3,300 social, religious and educational institutions in 80 countries.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/yahrzheit-for-lubavitcher-rebbe-expected-to-draw-50000-visitors/2013/06/11/

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