By Rabbi Tuvia Teldon
In preparation for the 24th yahrzeit of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, zt’l, this gimmel Tammuz (Shabbos, June 16), I will be dedicating three essays to his teachings and the worldwide organization he inspired. This is the first in the series.
If there is one distinguishing aspect that most Jews would agree upon concerning Lubavitch, it is our total acceptance of all Jews, regardless of their level of observance, knowledge, age, color, or status in life. This attitude is a mystery to many, but for us it is a basic tenet in our belief system and a driving force for our work.
The background for this goes back to the Tanya of the Alter Rebbe, the founder of Chabad over 200 years ago. There, he expounds about the uniqueness of the Jewish soul, its spiritual makeup, and its purpose. He discusses how all Jews, as descendants of Abraham and Sarah, inherit a spark of G-d which is connected to His Essence. Although this soul descends into a very physical body, sometimes appearing to be totally overshadowed by bodily needs, the spark is nevertheless there in its full intensity.
Furthermore, who could possibly know the greatness of any particular Jew’s soul? He may be far from Judaism, a simpleton or a rebel, but the soul is intact, alive and kicking. It is our privilege to be G-d’s tool in helping this person come in touch with that dormant or undernourished dimension of their being. It could be that a pair of tefillin, a Shabbos candle, a discussion on campus, or a quick look at a Jewish website may arouse the inherent spark of this Jew.
Our work is based on the tenet that every Jew has this soul and thus has the desire, however hidden, to bring it more to the surface. Every Jew is a diamond. Sometimes it is in the rough and needs a little work to polish it and bring out its inherent beauty. The Chabad Rebbes translated this into action, inspiring their chassidim to practice self-sacrifice for the sake of another Jew, even though they may have never met him before.
Taking this one step further, the teaching of Rabbi Akiva that the “whole of the Torah rests on the principle of love for a fellow Jew, and the rest is commentary” comes alive. Through our own individual ability to rise beyond our personal physical needs, wants, and limitations, to feel and act upon another Jew’s needs first, we connect to the spiritual. As a famous chassidic saying goes, “Whatever the physical need of another Jew may be, for us it is a spiritual challenge to fulfill that need.” Although love of a fellow Jew is usually expressed through physical actions, it sometimes requires some spiritual awakening. This automatically brings us closer to our Creator.
This is one reason why Chabad will go to such lengths and expense for the sake of even a single Jew, whether that Jew lives on an island off Alaska or in a prison in South Africa. The assistance they lend is not just in spiritual matters. Chabad programs serve children with special needs, drug addicts, the poor, and the infirm. These Jews are our family, a part of our own essence, and we and the world are not complete while their body and soul sit in exile, limited from full expression.
Every Lubavitcher is challenged by Chabad teachings to see a fellow Jew without any labels, whether of religious affiliation (Reform, Conservative, Orthodox) or describing their personality or physical features. This love, however, is reserved for Jews who are fully Jewish according to Jewish law. This is our guarantee that they have that special soul. That’s one explanation of the importance of “Who is a Jew?” — we need to know who we are focusing our attention on.
The Rebbe’s emissaries (shluchim) get to apply this love every day of their lives, interacting with Jews of all stripes on a regular basis. It is not an easy task to always be functioning on such a high level of ahavas Yisrael, to be so selfless day in and day out. The shluchim are sincere people who love their fellow Jews and want to dedicate their lives to helping Am Yisrael.
But that does not mean that they are totally selfless people without an ego. Rather, I like to consider them “spiritual entrepreneurs.” Some obviously succeed more than others, depending on their personalities, the circumstances they face in their place of shlichus, and how they apply the blessings we all believe we have from the Rebbe for our success.
Whatever the level of success, the trademark of Chabad anywhere in the entire world is that you can always find a “home away from home” in the local Chabad House. That accomplishment in itself is a fitting symbol of the power of the teachings of all seven Lubavitcher Rebbes.
Rabbi Tuvia Teldon is the regional director of Chabad Lubavitch of Long Island. He can be reached at email@example.com. For more information and inspiration, visit www.chabadli.org or Facebook.com/RabbiTeldon to view his weekly broadcasts.