In preparation for the 24th yahrzeit of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, zt’l, this Shabbos, Gimmel Tammuz, I have dedicated three essays to his teachings and the worldwide organization he inspired. This is the third in the series.
Many years ago, one of our Long Island Chabad rabbis became friendly with a Jewish public high school student. This student was involved with sports, had good grades, and did all the things teens normally do. Like every Jew, he had a Jewish soul on fire, but he didn’t know it until he met the rabbi. Then, slowly but surely, he became more and more involved with Torah to the point that today he is a well-respected chassidishe therapist in Jerusalem.
Two years ago, I received a call from him, and he mentioned that on his upcoming trip to the States he wanted to visit the Ohel of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. I was happy to hear from him and we made a date. While preparing for our visit, I asked him why he wanted to do this, and his answer was sincere. “I just want to give hakaras ha’tov to the Rebbe.” Once we arrived, I gave him basic instructions about what to write and what to do, and told him to take his time.
Twenty minutes after going in, he returned to the tent, and I could see he was red-eyed. I asked him how his “conversation” with Hashem went, and he told me his visit was much more powerful than anything he expected. In this stage of his life, he has no ties to Chabad, but he felt a connection and deep respect for the Rebbe. He told me he realized that if not for the Rebbe, “I would be a regular non-observant Jew living in some suburb like Dix Hills and probably be even further from Torah than the way I grew up.” He wondered what motivated the Rebbe to go out on the limb to transform Chabad and reach out to every Jew in the world. He was filled with a level of gratitude that he rarely felt before in his life. Being in the presence of the Rebbe, even now, gave him a sense of awe and humility, which was very emotional.
I was touched by his explanation and wished that I, too, could feel, on a regular basis, the same intense sense of gratitude to the Rebbe for all he has done for me and for my family. It is hard to imagine how one person can accomplish so much and affect so many lives all over the world. This is especially true when we consider that the Rebbe met with strong opposition from many well-respected Chabad families when he began urging young couples to move out of town to go on shlichus to far corners of the globe. He accomplished what he did with no shortage of opposition from within and without.
Many people take for granted the work of Chabad and the accomplishments of the Rebbe. Some people like to stay focused on a bad Chabad experience they once had, or they dislike black hats, or they’ve had a theological disagreement with Chabad.
Most of them are not aware of the thousands of growing Chabad institutions, the thriving communities, and the high level of observance that the shluchim have introduced. They have not visited the former USSR, South Africa, the Far East, and Australia to see how vibrant Torah Judaism is there. They don’t know about the hundreds of day schools and thousands of buildings Chabad has built, and have not met the hundreds of thousands of Jews who are now shomer Shabbos because of the Rebbe. They probably have not heard about the young couples—who never even saw the Rebbe—who are now moving to small Jewish enclaves in Reykjavik, Iceland, and Whitefish, Montana, in order to reach out to their fellow Jews.
Hopefully, the rest of us will stop to look at the big picture and ask ourselves this question: “Where would world Jewry be today if not for the Rebbe?” While most Brooklyn rabbis in the 1950s and ’60s were trying to build their congregations, the Rebbe was trying to send people away to build Judaism around the world. He insisted that the farther away you move, the better it is. The whole world was his playing field. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks commented, “The Rebbe did not look to create followers; he wanted to create leaders.”
We, who live in Queens and on Long Island, and especially in the Five Towns area, have a special merit and opportunity since we are so close to the Rebbe’s ohel in Cambria Heights. The resting place of a tzaddik is considered holy ground and a fitting place to deliver our prayers to HaKadosh Baruch Hu. If you have never been to the Rebbe’s Ohel, you may be surprised what you will experience there, as was my Yerushalmi ba’al teshuvah. If you have been there before, Gimmel Tammuz is still as good a time as any to go and thank the Rebbe for all he has done for you, and to thank Hashem for sending such a soul to the world.
I look forward to seeing you there!
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.