Saturday, the 3rd of Tamuz, marks the 24th yohrtzeit – anniversary of passing – of Rabbi Menachem M Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Known affectionately and simply as The Rebbe, he was probably the most influential rabbi in history. With his Shluchim emissaries dispatched to every corner of the world, his impact is felt’ everywhere you turn.
After the decimation of the Holocaust, the Rebbe breathed new life and vitality into the Jewish people, urging them (and demonstrating by example) to celebrate Judaism and live life optimistically, to ‘reclaim’ countless individuals and communities to living a Jewish way of life, and to feel personal responsibility for all others everywhere. In so doing, the Rebbe altered the much-prophesied demise of Judaism, forever shifting the course of the history and transforming the landscape of Jewish life.
The Rebbe took breathtaking responsibility for the material and spiritual welfare of Jews in the Soviet Union (including masterminding the exodus of thousands), Morocco, Iran, and more, while reaching out to Jews in Curacao, Japan, and Alaska…
Israel’s leaders turned to the Rebbe for counsel on public health policies; military strategy; economy; relations with the U.S., Egypt, South Africa, Tunisia and more; and, above all, its educational system.
Growing up in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, just a few short streets away from the Rebbe, I was fortunate to see the Rebbe all the time. I prayed with him in his Shul, sang by his Farbrengens, stood at his public gatherings and rallies, and watched every glimpse I could. As a child, I would look around at the thousands of people that would constantly come from all over the world to seek his counsel, hear his talks, or just to see his holy face; and I remember thinking how privileged I was to live right there.
Every Sunday for hours,The Rebbe would stand, giving out dollars and blessings to thousands of people from all walks of life. He gave the dollar to be given to a charity of choice. People would of course exchange that dollar for one of their own to give to charity, and keep the dollar they got from the Rebbe’s hand as a sign of blessing.
The Rebbe was remarkably accessible and counseled countless individuals from a wide array of backgrounds, including statesmen and artists as diverse as Ronald Reagan, Robert F. Kennedy, Yitzchak Rabin, Menachem Begin, Elie Wiesel, and Bob Dylan, as well as countless “nameless” individuals who were each showered with his individual attention and love.
He spoke out about and was active in large public issues like public school education, charity for employees’ distribution, large families, moral education, the energy crisis, a universal moral code for all, creating and bolstering the Food Stamp/WIC system for America’s underprivileged, the responsibility of government, and much more. He believed and taught that the age-old ideals and text of Torah is as real and relevant today as it was at Sinai, over 3,000 years ago.
Today, thank G-d, the Rebbe’s teachings and ideals have already become ingrained in our society and inspire millions of Jews and non-Jews. More people than ever are learning his teachings and acting on his wishes of spreading Judaism to Jews, and moral ethics to all people.
People of all walks of life flock to his resting place to pray to G‑d for blessing, guidance and inspiration. In 2013, on the night preceding his election to the Senate, Democratic candidate Cory Booker, an African-American Christian, went to pray at the Rebbe’s Ohel. In 2016, preceding his election, President Trump sent his family to pray at the Ohel on his behalf. Go there any day, any time, and you will see people from all walks of life praying to G-d at that holy site.
The Rebbe was a wide-ranging Torah personality whose vast knowledge spanned the entire spectrum of the Torah. His teachings include ideas in Jewish philosophy and theology, commentary on biblical, talmudical and kabbalistic texts, perspectives on world events, and moral and practical directives.
Although the Rebbe was treated as royalty by all who met him, he personally lived modestly and even frugally. While presiding over a vast world empire of institutions and activity, his own Synagogue was simple and in need of a face lift. As a child I always felt bad how simple his synagogue was, and made a promise to myself, that when I can one day afford it, I would rebuild his synagogue in the most beautiful way. I haven’t forgotten that promise and hope to soon be able to keep it.
Over the next few weeks, thousands of communities worldwide will be marking this holy day with special events. I urge you to contact your local synagogue or Chabad to find out what they have planned, but more importantly to see what extra good deed you can do, to perpetuate the Rebbe’s legacy and make the world a better place. To learn more about this saintly man, visit www.ChabadChayil.org/rebbe.
About the author
Rabbi Kievman together with his wife are the ambassadors of The Rebbe to Highland Lakes, FL. They are the founders of CHAP – an afterschool program for Jewish children in Public Schools and direct Chabad Chayil. He’s the rabbi at The Family Shul and can be reached at (305) 770-1919 or rabbi@ChabadChayil.org