By Yochanan Gordon
Last week, while reviewing the theme for my article with my father and publisher, he stopped me, saying, “Aren’t you going to write about the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s yahrzeit?” For a moment, before I remembered that the yahrzeit fell on this Shabbos rather than during the week, I was afraid that I might have to write about the Rebbe without being in the right frame of mind.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe wasn’t a man of articles and speeches. He probably gave more addresses than any other clergyman, and he encouraged many a writer and speaker to use their trades to bring light to the world; but the Rebbe was a man of action, and that isn’t just an arbitrary detail.
The Rebbe was the seventh in a line of Chassidic Rebbes dating back to the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, who lived in the 1700s. In Chassidic philosophy, the number seven is representative of the spiritual sphere of sovereignty which is symbolized by speech, which the Talmud teaches is considered an action. It also symbolizes the earth, which is the most concrete of substances. The Rebbe was a man of action and results rather than formalities such as speeches, articles, and meetings.
Interestingly, this year marks the 28th year since the Rebbe’s passing; in Hebrew this is equivalent to the letters kof-ches, which compose the word koach, meaning strength. The word koach is the product of two times fourteen, the word yad, meaning hand. If there was ever a year in which our commemoration of the Rebbe’s life should lead to positive action and increased light in a world where darkness continues to intensify, it would be this year.
I recall a video of an encounter between the Rebbe and a certain philanthropist or dignitary who, after hearing the Rebbe speak, said, “Lubavitcher Rebbe, you are amazing!”
The Rebbe, without skipping a beat, retorted, “And what does my being amazing do for the world?”
As such, although it has become a tradition for me to fill this space on this week with words and thoughts dedicated to the Rebbe, this year it has to be a little different. It cannot consist of just inspiring ideas about the Rebbe because, as the Rebbe told the philanthropist, his being amazing had no concrete impact on the world. Therefore, instead of writing about the Rebbe in the past tense as a leader who made an immeasurable impact on the trajectory of world Jewry and even on civilization as a whole, my objective is to write in the present tense about the Rebbe whose impact upon the world certainly has not peaked and who continues to revolutionize the world today, nearly three decades after his physical demise.
I’m reminded of a verse in Sefer Shoftim that tells us that Shimshon HaGibor led the Jewish people for 40 years, which included a posthumous 20-year period. Rashi explains that Shimshon’s influence remained authoritative for a period of 20 years following his passing, and the verse counted them as years that he actually judged the nation.
The stories that detail the Rebbe’s involvement in the lives of individuals in matters pertaining to sustenance, blessings for children, cures for illnesses, or just emotional encouragement continue to abound at a rate that far exceeds the number of people he helped during his tenure in 770 Eastern Parkway. The Zohar records, and the Rebbe spoke about this Zohar on many occasions, that “the influence of a tzaddik in this world after his soul departs from his body increases as a result of the fact that he had shed the confines of corporeality.”
So when it was brought to my attention that I might have to write about the Rebbe without being in the proper frame of mind, I felt akin to a chassid who would enter the Rebbe’s room for a yechidus without going to the mikveh or learning a sichah or a chassidic discourse as a preparation for the supernatural encounter. For those who can appreciate the mystical nature of the meeting between the Rebbe and a chassid, I would say that having to write about the Rebbe while thinking about other things is like Yaakov Avinu living with Leah when he thought that she was Rochel.
I mention this here to convey that this isn’t an article commemorating a historical figure who once walked this earth. To the contrary, the point is that in the nearly 30 years that have elapsed since the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s demise, his influence and leadership continue to grow. There is, however, one important contingency to this, and that is that we have to believe it.
We are living in a world where the systems of ethics and morality continue to erode, a world that day by day continues to descend into darkness reminiscent of that which engulfed the world in the plague of darkness that G-d unleashed upon the Egyptians of old. And what is perhaps more disheartening than the darkness itself is the notion that we are bereft of visionaries who can guide us through the dark roads to safety.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe wasn’t just a Torah genius or a G-d-fearing Jew of the kind from previous generations. He was a visionary. His soul is a general soul comprised of the souls of all the Jewish people, regardless of whether or not one considered oneself to be an adherent of his. He knows us, and is aware of our struggles and triumphs, and it brings him immense pleasure when we share our deepest thoughts with him.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe’s sichos, ma’amarim, and letters are an invitation into his soul. Anybody can open a volume and begin to read and discover themselves in the words being learned. On this 28th year since his passing, resolve to visit his resting place, study a sichah, learn a letter, and don’t lose yourself to nostalgia about a leader we once had but don’t any longer. Rather, be invigorated and encouraged by the fact that the Lubavitcher Rebbe continues to guide us and demonstrate that we, too, have the power to lead.
Yochanan Gordon can be reached at email@example.com. Read more of Yochanan’s articles at 5TJT.com.