By Rabbi Tuvia Teldon
In honor of the 11th of Nissan next week, which is the Rebbe’s birthday, I would like to share some thoughts about our Rebbe.
I find that it is often difficult for non Chassidic Jews to comprehend the relationship of the chassid to his or her Rebbe. For some, the central role in Lubavitch of the Rebbe’s name and pictures takes away from the basic message.
Even as chassidim, we don’t truly understand this relationship either. The more we know about the Rebbe, the less we really understand him.
When G-d created the world, a partnership was established with mankind to complete the purpose for which the world was originally designed. This partnership involved the active participation of Jews and non-Jews alike in order to make peace dominant over chaos, morality over corruption, good over evil, justice over anarchy, and Godliness over meaninglessness. However, an overactive role for G-d in the long term would defeat its own purpose, compromising the free choice of the very people who are mandated to be His partners of their own volition.
For this reason, G-d saw it necessary to give the gift of leadership to individuals in each generation to guide the generation in the application of the Torah in their time. These giants would be responsible to make sure the partnership with the Creator is taking its proper steps in fulfillment of our partnership agreement. This is one part of G-d’s role in fulfilling the covenant He made with us from the beginning of our existence as Jews.
We see this clearly in the Torah. From the times of Adam to Noah, Abraham to Moses, and to the prophets, G-d infused a special soul into these individuals to serve as leaders of their generation.
Moses is the prime model of this relationship. He carried out G-d’s mandate for the generation he lived in, and was commanded to “stand between the Jewish people and G-d, your Lord.”
As Rashi explains, Moses embodied the whole generation and was equivalent to it. The Zohar, the prime text of Jewish mysticism written over 1,900 years ago, clearly states that in every generation G-d plants the emanation of Moses in an individual to serve that role.
In Chabad, we believe the seven Rebbes have been that emanation for their generation.
The Chassidic movement did not invent the role of a Rebbe. Moses was called Moshe Rabbeinu, Moses our Rebbe. Chabad models the relationship to the Rebbe as we have seen this relationship described not only with Moses, but with each “Moses” of each generation.
We believe that the Rebbe is the Moses for our generation even today, after his physical passing from this world. After all, which one individual took personal responsibility for post-war Judaism and reached out to every Jew around the globe? Who resolved to pursue every Jew in the world with an intense love? Who brought the teachings of the Torah and applied them to our orphan generation, overcoming the bonds of communism as well as harnessing the birth of technology, as much as the Rebbe?
This explains why Lubavitch, and its shluchim, place the Rebbe front and center in so much of what we do. Not because the Rebbe wanted or asked for it, but because we believe that as the leader of our generation, it is our privilege to bring his message of Torah to the present generation.
The Rebbe, during his life, was a Torah of flesh and blood, and we strive to be an extension of that living Torah. We believe the Rebbe to be a man of truth whose teachings and directives came from a lofty source.
To us, whether his directives were controversial or not does not make a difference. The Rebbe often sacrificed his own “popularity” for his convictions. When it came to issues of Israeli politics, the Rebbe spoke forcefully about positions that he knew were unpopular but had to be expressed even at the risk of losing his following.
His adamant stances on “who is a Jew,” Jewish pluralism, Mashiach, and criticism of statements by other movements that were against Jewish law were known to distance many secular Jews from Chabad. The very people his emissaries were reaching out to were being turned away by some of the issues the Rebbe was driving home.
But truth had to be said, and whatever the repercussions would be, his emissaries had to ride out the storm, as we did many times.
The Rebbe was once asked by Rabbi Sacks, the chief rabbi of England, how he came to have so many followers. He responded by saying that his goal was not to make followers but to create leaders. This is one of a long list of reasons why people from all walks of life were drawn to the Rebbe.
Each individual had his special connection, looking to the Rebbe as a sage, source of blessings, miracle worker, inspiration, personal adviser, teacher, and a man representing G-d Himself in everything he did. He took no vacations and he led his people 365/24/7 from the day he became Rebbe in 1950.
When asked why his chassidim have such a tremendous admiration of him, his answer was that he supposed it was simply a reflection of his love and admiration for every Jew.
The Rebbe is unquestionably the driving force for the growth of Lubavitch around the world. Even a chassid without extensive knowledge of Chassidic thought still wants to fulfill the Rebbe’s mandate for our generation of making this world, through the Jewish people, a dwelling place for G-d.
How else could we explain the fact that almost 25 years after his passing, he remains the most influential rabbi in the world? Happy Birthday, Rebbe!
Rabbi Tuvia Teldon is the regional director of Chabad Lubavitch of Long Island. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information and inspiration, visit www.chabadli.org or Facebook.com/RabbiTeldon to view his weekly broadcasts.