George Rohr speaking at Kinus HaShluchim Photo Credit Yisroel Teitelbaum - Kinus.com

The annual Kinus HaShluchim was held this past Sunday in Edison, NJ. Billed as the largest sit-down meal in the world, the annual kinus is planned as soon as the previous one concludes. If you’ve ever been there or even watched the event you would immediately understand why.

The keynote address was delivered by Mr. George Rohr. The Rohr name adorns many a Chabad house across the globe. The synonymy between Chabad and the Rohr family, starting with Mr. Sammy Rohr, a’h, and his son Mr. George Rohr and family, is due in large part to a relationship that has been sparked, nurtured, and cultivated by the indefatigable Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky over the past 45 years. In his introduction, Rabbi Kotlarsky mentioned matter-of-factly that he had been asking Mr. Rohr to headline the Kinus for the past 25 years. One of the touching features of Mr. Rohr’s address was that it contained sketches of a speech his father had written in the year 2011 with plans to deliver it in 2016, which, sadly, would not come to be.

Mr. George Rohr opened his address at the annual Kinus HaShluchim, in front of 6,500 shluchim and admirers of Chabad, with a play on a famous verse from Parashas Vayishlach when Yaakov Avinu said, “Katonti m’kol ha’chasadim—I have been made small from all of the kindnesses.” Instead he said, “Katonti m’kol ha’chassidim—I feel small in the presence of the Rebbe’s Chassidim.

The funny thing is that just one table away from where my brothers and I sat, we noticed Akiva Turgeman, the famous international musician and vocalist. It’s natural for someone successful in the performing arts to stand out amidst a crowd and to attract the attention of passersby. But from the way it looked to us, Akiva and many of the other distinguished guests in attendance at the Kinus melted homogeneously and were almost nondescript in the presence of the Rebbe’s shluchim who took center-stage at the star-studded event. It’s a rather interesting phenomenon. If you think about it, a shliach is someone who carries out a mission appointed to them. In that sense they are truly nullified, without any sense of autonomy. By contrast, Mr. George Rohr, Akiva, and the hundreds of other successful artists, professionals, and businessmen who had come out in support of Chabad and its worldwide network of shluchim are dignified, professionally successful people who usually command honor and respect. What is it that turns this otherwise natural convention on its head?

The conventional relationship between a benefactor and beneficiary is that the one who is giving is seen to have the upper hand over the one who is receiving. But instead of viewing the relationship between giver and receiver in hierarchical terms, Mr. Rohr called on benefactors of Chabad to see their relationships with shluchim as a partnership, in which both factions are giving and receiving simultaneously. “It isn’t me and you; it is us.” While the world often views benefactors as holding out on their beneficiaries, Chazal states the following: “More than the calf wants to suckle, the cow needs to nurse.” In their wisdom, our sages identified an innate need that is satisfied within the benefactor when he gives of him or herself to others.

One of the attractive features outlined in Mr. Rohr’s address that endears his support of Chabad shlichus is the mesirus nefesh that the Rebbe’s shluchim display in carrying out their duties across the world. At a high point in his speech, he declared, “Whether in the far reaches of Siberia, the Pampas of Argentina, or on a small college campus in the Midwest; whether in war-torn Ukraine or the beaches and mountaintops of Thailand or India, or in every state in the U.S. and all across Israel, wherever there are Jews, for that shliach there is simply no plan B. Failure is not an option.”

The harrowing, firsthand testimonies of the shluchim of Ukraine, in Hollywood-quality video production, detailing the efforts to provide food, shelter, and basic survival resources to people displaced due to the Russian aggressions to their hometown and seeking the whereabouts of close relatives with whom they lost contact, were tear-jerking. Particularly touching was the story of Rabbi Nochum Tamarin, a shliach in the Ukraine who was contacted by a young woman who was seeking to check on the well-being of her grandparents with whom she had lost contact at the start of the war. Describing his thought process at the time, listening to the tearful pleas of the young woman, he said, “Even if I were brave enough to venture out amidst the bombing, who knew if the roads were even passable?” But the knowledge of what it was like to be left alone and the emotion in the voice of the woman on the other end of the phone compelled him to do something.

Rabbi Tamarin was born in Moscow, behind the Iron Curtain, and related how even though practicing religion in Soviet Russia was officially allowed, everyone knew that if caught, you could be persecuted for it at any time. His father, who was orphaned at a young age, was raised by Chassidim who were a rarity in those days. The Chassidim were ignited by a unique fire and a deep sense of belief that was practically extinguished in all of Russian citizenry. The isolation and loneliness that was apparent on the faces and in the disposition of many of the people from that milieu did not dampen the fire, fervor, and excitement of the Chassidim who operated behind the Iron Curtain. It was their relationship to the Rebbe and the awareness that he loved them with every fiber of his being and frequently thought about them and prayed for them that kept them going. It was that empathy, care, love, and concern that the Rebbe projected upon his Chassidim that they in turn expressed toward the whole of Russian Jewry. It was these memories of Rabbi Tamarin’s own upbringing that sent him out on a journey through destroyed towns and completely uninhabited areas determined to find this girl’s grandparents and bring her good news. He did, in the end, locate them, provide them with necessities, and instill in them hope that they would emerge safely from the darkness that had colored their reality.

The thought that kept coming to me as I watched these and other similar accounts of the work that Chabad shluchim were involved in since the start of the war is that they are seemingly regular men and women like all of us. They have good days and not such good ones. They have pressures at home and in their shlichus, issues with finances, the same human frailties that we all struggle with on a day-to-day basis. Where do they draw their strength from? Where do they get the courage to ignore their own fears and concerns to tend to that of others? It’s not just in Ukraine. These are men and women spread out all over the globe. How do they open their homes every Shabbos to tens of guests looking to them for nourishment, both physical and spiritual? How are they there for them, without fail, regardless of what is going on in their lives? To be a shliach of the Rebbe is to hollow yourself out and to allow the Rebbe to live vicariously through you.

Dancing at Kinnus Photo Credit Yisroel Teitelbaum – Kinus.com
Raising a Torah at Kinnus Photo Credit Yisroel Teitelbaum – Kinus.com

There is an entire subject matter within the study of Gemara known as shlichus, which is discussed in great detail throughout the Rishonim and Acharonim, but the truth is watching these shluchim do what they do and to be instilled by the strength, fortitude, and irrational faith that the Rebbe lived by for 44 years at the helm of the Lubavitch movement is the greatest demonstration of the power of shlichus. The smallness and insignificance of benefactors in the face of the shluchim stems from the fact that these men and women are embodiments of the Rebbe. Supporting shluchim in their work is enabling the fulfillment of the Rebbe’s vision for a perfected world, and there is nothing more enriching than that.

 

Yochanan Gordon can be reached at ygordon5t@gmail.com. Read more of Yochanan’s articles at 5TJT.com.

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