Last Shabbat on the 3rd day of the month of Tamuz, Jews all over the world, and especially the chassidim of Chabad, marked the day of the passing of their rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.
There is a story told about the Rebbe’s early life that seems to be almost symbolic of everything that was to follow. When he was nine years old, the young Menachem Mendel courageously dove into the Black Sea and saved the life of a little boy who had rowed out to sea and lost control of his small craft. That sense of “other lives in danger” seems to have dominated his consciousness
The stories and the books written about the Lubavicher Rebbe are vast and all encompassing. The amount of people he saw and talked to, the ones he saved in so many different ways, cannot be measured. There are many stories that everyone can read about the miracles and good deeds that the Rebbe performed. And I’m sure that there are thousands more stories that we don’t know about and that were done quietly without any one knowing.
Whether people knew the Rebbe personally, or met him just once, or just read stories about him, each one feels a personal connection. The Rebbe was a person who loved each and every Jew. I assume that is what each one feels when reading about him or when learning about his infinite wisdom and kindness to all.
The Rebbe was once asked how he can stand for so many hours on each and every Sunday and give out so many dollars to all that come to see him? The Rebbe’s response was: “If you had so many beautiful diamonds, would you get tired looking at them?”
I, unfortunately, didn’t get a chance to meet the Rebbe personally, but I always felt a close connection. I think about how many Chabad followers are spread all over the world trying to keep the light of Judaism alive. The Rebbe sent people to places no one would ever think of in a million years to go to, let alone set up camp and bring Jewish life into the area.
The attribute of seeing another person’s pain was so great in his mind. Many times, I try and guide myself with that same energy of giving. Of seeing what someone else needs and not only to see myself and what is good or convenient for me. When a person lives a life of always looking outwardly at what others need, they hardly take anything for themselves.
Our history is full of examples of holy rabbis who took almost nothing for themselves. They lived in a small home with barely any furniture, just the bare minimum. And yet when it came to giving to the people of Israel, they gave their all.
Throughout our history we have had so many great leaders from our forefathers and mothers, to the 12 Tribes of Israel to all the great leaders and kings and judges that we had throughout time. Sometimes the biblical era seems so far away and all the great leaders seem so far removed from us. At times it can be hard to relate to a person or an event that took place thousands of years ago. We are so limited in time, and our life span is so short, 80, maybe 100 years. How much can we really remember in that time, let alone thousands of years ago.
However, when we think of the great leaders that we had in our times we can try a bit to grasp what greatness in leaders really is, even if we didn’t meet Moshe Rabbeinu or even the Bal Shem Tov.
The greatness is passed down somewhat in every generation in our holy rabbis. There are lots of great scholars and rabbis who are smart and kind. And then there are those rabbis who are a head above them all and are leaders not only of their own followers and congregation, but a light unto all of Israel. And those are few and far between. The Rebbe was truly one leader far and above the rest.
A true leader like Moshe Rabbeinu is one that truly loves each and every Jew no matter who they are, and no matter where they are. If someone had a child who lived in a faraway place and had no contact with their family, the parents would still miss their child and think and pray for their wellbeing constantly. That’s what a true leader does, he cares and prays for all the Jews no matter where they are. He loves them and wants good to come to them all.
Every rabbi has followers. The Lubavicher Rebbe had the Chabad congregation that followed him faithfully. However, the Rebbe also had another type of follower: every Jew just because they were Jewish. The Rebbe guided them and prayed for them as well.
His absence is felt, although the Chabad chassidim try and emulate his way and bring love and Judaism to all Jews in the world. But someone like the Rebbe comes once in a lifetime, just like there was only one Moshe Rabbeinu and only one Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, or Rabbi Nachman, Baba Sally, or any other great leader. The point is that today the great leaders, like in the past, are hard to find. Leaders who try to guide everyone.
May we merit the privilege of having a faithful shepherd like Avraham Avinu was in his time, and throughout all of history with all the great leaders that we had. And may we merit a king from the family of King David soon that will guide and lead the congregation of Israel in the way of Hashem with truth and love for all together. Amen.