By Yochanan Gordon
The annual Kinus Hashluchim of Chabad culminated this past Sunday evening with thousands of shluchim and their supporters dining in style, dancing arm in arm, and encouraging each other in their mission to spread love, meaning, and the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s message the world over. The Kinus attracts roughly 3,000 shluchim from across the world for a five-day marathon of plenary sessions and symposia on how to kick their shlichus into the next gear, and they were joined on Sunday by some 2,500 of their supporters.
Every year, the Kinus is centered on a specific theme that its headliners are charged with addressing. The banner for this year’s kinus was “Ich furt duch mit aich” or, in other words, “I travel there with you.” Addressing this year’s kinus was Speaker of the Israeli Knesset Yuli Edelstein and Rabbi Nisson Dovid Dubov, Chabad shliach to Wimbledon in the UK.
There are a number of apprehensions that could overcome young couples charged with the mission of supplanting their families away from their hometown and support system to a far-out locale with the objective of arousing its dwindling or, in some cases, barely extant Jewish community to embrace its Jewishness with happiness and pride. For one thing, as human beings, the element of support and recognition is a vital aspect towards invigorating us in our jobs, whatever it may be that we are engaged in. We need to know that we are doing a good job and that we are needed for a specific purpose; without that it’s hard for us to give it our all. Further issues include schooling for children, earning a livelihood, the scarcity of Jewish necessities, and in many cases, taking on a society that is hostile or, at best, indifferent to the Jewish way of life. But despite all of this, more than two-times the number of shluchim have assumed leadership roles in these last 20 years than during the 40 years of the shlichus movement the Rebbe spearheaded. What is the source of the willingness of young people to move away from home, and how are they so successful so many years since the Rebbe’s passing?
In a video segment that was created for this year’s Kinus, called “Never Alone,” a few senior shluchim expressed these feelings of loneliness and revealed the secret that ultimately pulled them through. Rabbi Nosson Gourary spoke briefly about his upbringing at the epicenter of the Chabad organization, spending Shabbosos and yamim tovim with the Rebbe and how euphoric an experience that was, until he was sent on shlichus to Buffalo, New York. At that point he no longer had the opportunity to visit New York for Shabbosos and yamim tovim, as he said it would seem on some level to be a desertion of his command post in the Rebbe’s army. Amid the loneliness that engulfed him during those days in Buffalo, he was compelled at one point to express his feelings to the Rebbe in writing. His letter to the Rebbe expressed the loneliness that perpetually plagued him at that time. The Rebbe responded, “Being that you are doing the work of the Rebbe, the shver, you are not alone, for he is with you.”
I want to expound a little on the Rebbe’s reply. We have no doubt heard this refrain before in a number of contexts. Generally, ‘I am with you’ or ‘May the force be with you’ is used in the figurative manner of speech as a way of encouraging someone in their mission, but is not meant literally. The Rebbe was largely a pragmatic, no-nonsense personality who said what he meant and meant what he said. Therefore, it would seem to me that the Rebbe’s intention in his reply to Rabbi Gourary was that the Friediker Rebbe is there with him, intervening on his behalf, overseeing and assuring his success.
This idea is brought further to the fore in the reminiscence of Rabbi Yisrael Deren of his early days on shlichus when he too found himself overwhelmed with negative thoughts regarding the prospects of success in his newly appointed shlichus on the college campuses in Stamford, Connecticut. About six months after he and his wife moved to Connecticut, they were producing a concert in the Fine Arts center of the college to raise money and become acquainted with leaders on campus, in town, and the Jewish community at large.
It was Erev Shabbos prior to the concert, which was scheduled for the following Sunday, just two days away, and Rabbi Deren called to inquire about the ticket sales. The news that only 87 tickets were sold in an auditorium that could easily sit over 1,000 caused his heart to sink. At that moment, he was pervaded with thoughts of failure; just six months into this new shlichus he could see its end coming in the most devastating fashion. Attempting to ward off these negative thoughts, he recalled a story with the famed chassid, Rav Mendel Futerfas, about the time when he was imprisoned in the Siberian labor camps and sent a pidyon nefesh to the Rebbe in thought and received a written reply. He then thought to himself, “If I were a chassid this is exactly what I would do.”
In an unbelievable turn of events, Rabbi Deren related that over 1,000 people ended up coming out for the concert. It was well beyond anything he could have expected. It was simply amazing. Rabbi Deren’s mother went into yechidus shortly after the concert to brief the Rebbe on how the event turned out. The Rebbe asked how many people showed and whether there were politicians on hand, attempting, as he was wont to do, to get a real detailed report of how the event turned out. When Rabbi Deren’s mother gave an enthusiastic report, the Rebbe asked, “Then why was Yisrael so full of negative thoughts the other day?”
It is these stories that succeed in imparting the extent to which the Rebbe is involved in the daily shlichus of his shluchim wherever in the world they may be. It’s a spinoff of the Talmudic tenet of “shlucho shel adam k’moso.” It doesn’t matter that it is 20 years since the Rebbe’s passing; all 4,000-plus shluchim engage in their daily shlichus with the Rebbe in their midst. Most importantly, it was the Rebbe who imparted the marching orders of a shliach, and the shliach’s status as an extension of the one who sent them has allowed the Rebbe to intervene on their behalf 20 years after his passing.
So whether it is Rabbi Shmuel Lew convincing an intermarried couple to educate their children in the Jewish educational system, or Rabbi Nisson Dovid Dubov convincing a woman not to cremate her husband’s body and instead go ahead with burial in a Jewish cemetery, it is all due to the realization that the Rebbe is overseeing their success and believes in their ability to carry through. When you know that someone believes in you and is standing over you, watching the mission through to completion, it is not about you or your belief in yourself to get the job done; it becomes a mission that is much larger than that.
One of the more memorable highlights of this year’s kinus, and every kinus for that matter, is the spirited dancing following the roll call. One can easily look at the world today and see many seemingly insurmountable challenges–which many among us do. Chabad has endured some of history’s most tyrannical regimes and despite that, Chabad throughout the ages continues to see light. There is a statement in Gemara that over time has been adapted into a Chassidic adage, which declares, “We are day workers”–meaning Chabad seeks to reveal the light within the darkness; in the philosophy of chassidus, this is the most transformational and penetrative light. All in attendance at last night’s kinus caught a glimpse of that light, and now we will attempt to pass it on.
By Yochanan Gordon