Monday, December 3, 2007

"The Rebbe is a Revolutionary Person"

"The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi
Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of Brooklyn, the spiritual leader of the World Chabad Movement, is both wise and learned, but above all he is a man of faith. And if faith be the art of truth, he is also an artist whose creation is the army of believers that he commands, the army of the Jewish faith, of the G-d of Israel and the people of Israel"

- Geula Cohen

I would like to present a beautiful article that was written on the Rebbe and Lubavitche's work around the world, in the London Jewish Chronicle February 1, 1980, titled "In Search of the Soul" by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, also included is an interesting picture of the Rebbe (part 88 in the series).

"The Rebbe is a revolutionary. He has enthroned Chasidic philosophy not as one of the limbs, but as the heart of Judaism. He is a systematic and conceptual thinker on the largest scale. And, more than anything, he continually drives together the highest abstract truth and the most specific call for action, spanning the continuum of the whole range of Jewish study.

It is perhaps the case that his fame as a leader, organizer and initiator of communal projects has impeded a measured assessment of his originality as a thinker. But, essentially, the two facets of his work are one--the comprehensiveness of his thought and action are part of the same drive: the unity of the Torah, the unity of the Jewish people...

Many of the Rebbe's achievements have shaped so deeply the development of the post-war Judaism that we hardly think of them as Lubavitch at all. Fifteen years ago, the term baal teshuva ("penitent") was almost confined to Chabad. To other Jews, teshuva was something one did on Yom Kippur, atoning for sins. In Lubavitch it meant a rescued soul. Specifically those hundreds of students brought from drugs and alienation into deep Jewish commitment by the massive Chabad involvement in campus life across the world. Today it is the word that describes the Populations of dozens of yeshivot in Israel that have no connection with Chasidism; it has become the leitmotif of a generation.

The Jewish day-school movement, of which Lubavitch was one of the earliest pioneers, has displaced across a wide spectrum the once prevalent ideology that Jewish education was a kind of dutiful appendage to the real business of acquiring a secular culture. The idea, in which Lubavitch was for so long alone, of resuscitating dying communities by sending out a small resident nucleus of religious families, has been widely copied by Yeshivos in America, and is at last being tentatively taken up in Britain. The Rebbe has never had an interest in preserving a monopoly of his innovations. Every achievement means a new goal to be formulated.

Results can never be quantified. It is sufficient to know that they are always never enough.... In all the campaigns there is a driving sense of urgency that sanctifies their often unconventional approaches: a Sukkah on wheels taken through crowded streets, a radio advertisement reminding listeners that it is Purim, a resolution of the United States Congress proclaiming a national education day--all these and more are ways of hastening the Messiah. Lubavitch takes to heart the injunction in the first paragraph of the Shulchan Aruch not to be ashamed when others make fun of one's pursuit of a religious mission. Discretion is the better part of cowardice...

We come, then finally, to the great and controversial question: is there something suspect about the attachment of Lubavitch Chasidim to the Rebbe? Does it go too far? Is there an abdication of personal responsibility involved in bringing private questions to the scrutiny and advice of a great man? Ultimately, can there be a man worthy of such adulation?

It is important to understand about Lubavitch that it is a movement supremely dedicated to allowing each Jew to play his special role, to being, in the Baal Shem Tov's image, his own particular letter in the Torah scroll. The Rebbe is the person who guides him towards that role; who, by standing above the distortions of the ego, taking a global view of the problems of the Jewish world, being in the language of Chasidut a "collective soul," sees where the individual belongs. It is, after all, difficult to think of many other leaders who can assume this role, for they are for the most part leaders of a sectional group, without a brief and perhaps without the information to be authoritative beyond their borders. The Rebbe's advice carries with it no more and no less than the authority which his worldwide concern has given him.

Those who visit the Rebbe--and the vast majority of those who do so are not born Lubavitchers, do so because of his reputation as a man of encompassing vision. They tend to emerge somewhat unnerved, taken by surprise. They expect, perhaps, the conventional type of charismatic leader, imposing his presence by the force of his personality.

What they find is the reverse: a man who, whatever the complexity of his current concerns, is totally engaged with the person he is speaking to. It is almost like coming face to face with oneself for the first time. Not in the simple sense of, as it were, seeing oneself in a mirror, but rather seeing oneself revealed as a person of unique significance in the scheme of things, discovering one's purpose. So much so that it is difficult to talk of the Rebbe's personality at all, so identified is he with the individuals he guides.

This is, ultimately, what is so misconceived by those who have never met him. His leadership--rare almost to the point of uniqueness in the present day--consists in self-effacement. Its power is precisely what it effaces itself towards--the sense of the irreplaceability of each and every Jew .

Good Shabbos.


Copyright © Menachem Kirschenbaum 2007