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The Rebbe's Gifts to Us

This coming Wednesday we mark the anniversary of the beginning of the Rebbe’s leadership in 1950. When the Rebbe assumed the helm of the Chabad movement upon his father-in-law’s passing, the Jewish world and the Chabad movement were just starting to recover from the decimation of the Holocaust. Chabad was a small group, with most of the Chassidim located in New York, Israel or in various displaced person camps around Western Europe. Nearly 70 years later the Chabad movement is one the largest and most active Jewish organized groups, with a presence in 120 countries and every state in the USA. The explosive growth of Chabad and its organizational development can be traced exclusively to the Rebbe’s inspired leadership.

I would like to share a partial list of some of the Rebbe’s contributions to Jewish life that have shaped the growth of Chabad and its influence on Jewish life and the world at large.

  • Shlichus: He instilled within his followers the responsibility for the material and spiritual welfare of every Jew, and the willingness to go anywhere to fulfill that responsibility.
  • Transformative Torah: His revolutionary insights to all areas of Torah have shaped our way of looking at many different things in the universe. Over 1,000 volumes of his teachings have been published in 10 plus languages.
  • Embracing Technology: The Rebbe was way ahead of the game in terms of the use of technological developments. That has also resulted in Chabad occupying a unique leading Jewish presence on the internet to spread Judaism and morality.
  • Strong and unambiguous moral leadership on many issues, including geopolitics, ethics, and Jewish peoplehood.
  • Loving the individual: The Rebbe saw, and taught us to see, every person as a storehouse filled with treasures. When you were in his presence you felt as though he was there only for you. He changed how we perceived the wounded, special needs children, the hippie generation, the youth rebellion, widows and orphans, the wealthy, the aged, and so much more.
  • The role of women: His Shlichus model empowered women as co-equal partners with their husbands in the creation and maintenance of thousands of communities across the globe.
  • The power of children: The Rebbe spent an unprecedented amount of time with children. His children’s organization, Tzivos Hashem, launched in 1980 along with the Children’s Torah scroll project, has impacted millions of children.
  • Fusion of material and spiritual: Each person and every profession or talent in the universe could be integrated into ones relationship with Hashem and furthering His cause for creation.
  • A vision for the future: All of the above contributions were infused with an urgency of bringing the world as a whole and every person, space and experience individually, to the time of Redemption. It was his declared mission statement from day one; and it permeated every talk, teaching, initiative and project.

As we reflect on these and many other of the Rebbe’s gifts to our generation, we must rededicate ourselves to living up to these ideals and ushering that special future era of Redemption for the whole world.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Dark Shades and Perfect Doves

Sunglasses serve to protect our eyes from the sun’s harmful UV rays. They also make it more comfortable for us to be out when the sun is bright. However, they simultaneously obscure our vision and skew the perspective of what we are seeing. The darker the shades, the less true to reality our picture becomes, and the more difficult it is for us to truly see what is before us.

There is a verse in Song of Songs (6:8-9): “There are sixty queens and eighty concubines, and innumerable maidens. My dove, My perfect one, is but one…” The Midrash explains: “The sixty queens are the sixty tractates of the Mishna. The eighty concubines are the passages of the Braita (statements by the Tana’im – Mishnaic sages – that are not included in the Mishna, but were recorded in a later generation). The innumerable maidens are the Halachic statements by the Amora’im (sages of the Gemera – Talmud).

Chassidus explains: The reason why their number keeps increasing is because the vision of the truth is more and more obscured as the generations descend. The relationship with the King (through Torah) is more diluted, and shared with a greater numbers of contenders. The earliest sages (Tana’im) lived during or just after the Second Temple era. The G-dly revelation associated with the Temple was still very potent. Thus their path to truth was short and relatively easy. As such, their statements are clear and concise declarations of the Torah’s truths. There is not a lot of discussion or dialogue necessary. Their vision of Torah is through a clear glass.

A generation passed and exile intensified. The Braita teachings are more complex with greater detail. It was as though their vision of Torah was via the shade of sunglasses. Their path to the truth was longer and littered with obstacles, lacking the clarity of the earlier Mishna teachings.

Fast forward to the next era. Now the Jews are in a diaspora. In fact, the Talmud was primarily recorded in Babylon. The teachings include lengthy discussion and challenges. Only after much give and take are conclusions reached. The vision of Torah can be compared to a fully tinted glass that allows for very poor vision. Their path to the truth was almost a perilous one.

As the generations descend, the density of the obscuring force increases; and the light shining through decreases, leading to a more difficult path to truth. But with supreme effort, the sages inevitably tread through the path and arrive at the truth by the glimmer of light that shines through to them.

So what is left for us? We are certainly not queens. Nor are we concubines or even maidens. Our Torah learning is like the light coming through a thick curtain, barely providing illumination for our way. What is left for us is “My dove, My perfect one, is but one.” The dove is a reference to the love that we demonstrate to Hashem through prayer and mitzvot. While our Torah may be imperfect, we are empowered to fulfill G-d’s purpose for creation – making this world a dwelling for Him. The greater the challenge, the darker the path, the more valuable and meaningful the achievement. So valuable, that Hashem calls us “My perfect one,” thereby emphasizing our uniqueness, “is but one.”

So when we are assaulted with feelings of spiritual inadequacy in comparison to earlier generations, remember that you have the power to build a dwelling for the Divine. Hence Hashem sees you as “My dove, My perfect one.”

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

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