This week is a hard one for me. Thursday, the 3rd of Tammuz (June 25, 2020) is the Rebbe’s 26th yahrzeit, and for the first time since 1994, the year of his passing, I will not be in New York on this day to daven at the ohel (resting place) in Cambria Heights. I know that I made the right choice not to fly during COVID-19 (it would entail four flights roundtrip and it’s in New York City), but it still hurts, hurts to the core. Yes, I will be able to sit with Chavie and the children and learn about the Rebbe’s life, light yahrzeit candles in his memory, learn Mishnayos for his incredible neshamah, and we may even have a minyan so I can say Kaddish, but it’s with these mixed emotions that I enter the day that changed my life, the life of all Lubavitch, and, in certain aspects, the life of world Jewry, forever.
Yet, amid my emotional roller coaster, I am elated. I’m thrilled every day to call myself a shliach, a designation I don’t use lightly, as I work hard to live up to the title. I’m uplifted each day as I study the Rebbe’s brilliant and pragmatic ideas infused in the hundreds of volumes of his Torah teachings. I’m inspired watching videos of the Rebbe and remembering my phenomenal childhood, the glory of growing up in his presence as he devoted so much time to us, the children of Crown Heights, and instilled within us a will to go out and change the world.
As I reflect this week, I think of all those who opposed the Rebbe’s vision during his lifetime, and who now, baruch Hashem, are emulating his exact teachings.
Many snickered when the Rebbe campaigned that young girls should light Shabbos candles; now so many of their daughters and granddaughters are brightening their homes with Shabbos candles at a young age. Many couldn’t understand the chassidim standing on the street corners putting on tefillin with men who weren’t identifiably “religious”; today Belzer chassidim are doing mitzvos with “secular” men all across Israel. Many were bothered by young Chabadniks giving out Shabbos candles to women on Friday afternoons in malls, nursing homes, and stores; today Shas and the Sefardim in Israel run major candle-distribution campaigns throughout Israel each Friday.
Many of the Mussar movement were opposed to young people learning Kabbalah/Chassidus; today Aish HaTorah teachers around the world are teaching Tanya. Many couldn’t understand the point of opening mikvaos and shuls in remote communities in rural America; today Mikvah USA has helped countless Chabad centers bring family purity to so many small communities. Many couldn’t fathom being makpid (scrupulous) about consuming only chalav Yisrael dairy products in America like the “crazy” Lubavitchers; today so many frum Jews are, baruch Hashem, making the same soul-healthy choice. And of course, on the most basic issue, many couldn’t understand “outreach” — leaving the comforts of our beloved frum communities and moving out to small towns and college campuses to reach fellow Yidden who are living “secular” lives — and today Oorah, Ohr Somayach, OU-JLIC, and so many others are living embodiments of the Rebbe’s vision for Am Yisrael and our bright future.
I don’t write this in a bragging manner; I simply think that as the Rebbe’s yahrzeit is commemorated, we must recall history so that we don’t repeat the argumentative mistakes that led us nowhere healthy in the past. The Rebbe, of blessed memory, was a magnificent visionary who saw the neshamah of the Jew and never allowed the superficiality, no matter how seemingly distant they were from their Father in Heaven, come in the way of viewing their essence — “a child exiled from his father’s table.” Not everyone understood his vision at the time, but today, more than ever before, Jews of all flavors understand that the love and mutuality that the Rebbe gifted our generation is unparalleled in Jewish history, and the Rebbe continues to give the world that gift via his living embodiments: the shluchim on six continents.
In the daily study of Rambam earlier this week, we learned chapter 25 of Hilchos Sanhedrin. The Rambam rules that “a judge may not treat them (his community) with capriciousness even though they are common people. He should not step over the heads of the holy people. Even though they are simple people and lowly, they are the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob … He should patiently bear the difficulty of the community and their burden like Moses our teacher, as Numbers 11:12 states concerning him: ‘As a nursemaid will carry an infant.’ And Deuteronomy 1:16 states: ‘And I commanded your judges.’ This is an admonition to the judges to bear the community like a nursemaid carries an infant.”
In Tehillim we read “Lamenatzeach livnei Korach mizmor,” psalms composed by Korach’s children. It’s fascinating. In this week’s parashah we read about Korach’s rebellion against Moshe and Aharon’s leadership. The rebels are eventually punished for their sinfulness and swallowed up in the ground. Yet, while underground, Korach’s sons did teshuvah, returning to the path of Hashem, and screamed from underground: “Moshe emes, v’soraso emes — Moshe is true and his Torah is true.” Though they were underground, they didn’t die like their father Korach, because the cry from their heart, their sincere teshuvah, was accepted happily by Hashem.
The Rebbe, like Moshe, wasn’t focused on people’s past or their “record.” It was about who we are today and what we are going to do going forward. It was never about where we stand on the ladder of spirituality, but about whether we are heading up or down.
I’ve written ad nauseam about the “holy” infighting among Jews and the need for all of us to pause and ask ourselves: Is infighting what G-d wants? Is this what Torah demands of us? In that vein, I write today and ask each of you to emulate the Rebbe’s way of seeing the world. The Rebbe opposed no one, the Rebbe never spoke negatively about anyone, and even when he did oppose a shitah, a certain perspective within Judaism, he would never mention the name of the person who taught that shitah or speak negatively about him, only opposing the philosophy, never the person.
On this 26th yahrzeit of our beloved Rebbe, let’s see each neshamah with the Rebbe’s eyes. No matter their “label,” no matter how “distant” you think they are from holiness, and no matter what they may have done to you personally, they are deserving of our love and respect. Remember, no one is a lost cause; if Korach’s sons could come back home, no one is beyond return.
Rabbi Chaim Bruk is co-CEO of Chabad Lubavitch of Montana and spiritual leader of The Shul of Bozeman. For comments or to partner in our holy work, email email@example.com or visit JewishMontana.com/Donate.