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Is Rebbe admiration over the top?

Thursday, 12 June, 2014 - 1:40 pm

Many people wonder whether the admiration that Chabad Chassidim express for the Rebbe is over the top. Always gushing with stories. Pictures everywhere. Constantly quoting his teachings. Giving children his name (or that of his predecessors and their wives). Dedicating their lives to his ideals. Surely there are other great people who are not revered in the same way by those who they have inspired. Why the big fuss? Especially since all these years have gone by – one would think that the fervor would diminish and even fade (away).

The Rebbe was once asked why his Chassidim have such an unusual degree of love and admiration for him. He replied with a smile, it is merely a reflection of the love I have for them, as scripture states, “like water reflects the face so is the heart of man to man.”

The bond between a Rebbe and Chasid is extremely powerful. What is the nature of this bond? There is fierce love in it, and unquestioning loyalty. There is passion, devotion, admiration, appreciation, awe, mentorship, care, concern, sacrifice. Almost every human emotion is there, in heightened form. 

The truth is that trying to explain this to someone who has not experienced this connection – would be like (to paraphrase an analogy by Maimonides) describing the beauty of music to a person who is deaf or the beauty of color to a person who is blind. To truly appreciate it one would have to experience the connection first-hand.

That being said, while it may be impossible to capture the essence of what a Rebbe is or the root of the Rebbe-Chasid relationship, one can still observe and convey its expressions or results. Many books have been written by those who have observed and attempt to convey the depths of the Rebbe’s greatness and the breadth of his accomplishments. Now as we approach 20 years since the Rebbe’s physical passing, three new biographies have been released, each taking a different angle or approach. They are:
1. My Rebbe, by Rabbi Adin Even-Yisrael Steinsaltz.
2. Turning Judaism Outwards by Chaim Miller (editor of the Kol Menachem Library).
3. Rebbe, The Life and Teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson, the Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History by Joseph Telushkin.

Each of them is a work worthy of praise. I just finished reading Rebbe by Telushkin. It is certainly an outsider’s perspective (he missed the boat on a few issues – in my opinion) and it does not capture the depth of the Rebbe as I experience it. However, he did a masterful job on comprehensively covering many of the facets of the Rebbe’s life and sphere of influence.

Rabbi Nemes and I will be doing a book review at Barnes & Noble on Veterans on Tuesday, July 8 @ 6:30 PM. Go in and buy the book at the store or get it at amazon.com. It is worthwhile investment of time and it will leave you changed by the Rebbe’s message.

Mazel Tov to Yosef Kaumfann and Chana Kazilsky, who are getting married this week in South Africa. Mazel Tov to the entire Kaufmann family.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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