Today was gimmel Tammuz, the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe’s yahrtzeit. He has not physically been in this world for the past 21 years, however, I just spent this Shabbos hearing and reading amazing stories of brachos received from the Rebbe post gimmel Tammuz. I also heard people ask how they could possibly really “miss” the Rebbe when they never had the opportunity to meet him – either by not being born yet, not knowing about the Rebbe or simply not having the zechus, merit, of being able to make it in to New York for dollars, a farbrengen, etc. I wondered myself, do I really miss the Rebbe? What is my connection like to the Rebbe? I allowed myself to explore my thoughts on the subject and, in turn, to strengthen my connection more deeply with the Rebbe.
When I first saw a picture of the Rebbe in someone’s home, I wondered who this guy was. He must be a great person if people have his picture in their home, a real role model. So I started asking. I think it took me quite some time to really understand the level of this person, who the Rebbe really was and what he has meant to the world. Here are a few things I learned along the way.
The Rebbe was a rebel – he broke down what people normally thought about Judaism and put a different spin on it, of course, all within the frame of Halacha, Jewish law. You think only observant Jews can put on tefillin? Try again, any Jewish male should have an opportunity to put it in! Let’s get into Mitzvah Tanks, drive around and get people to come on and lay tefillin. Women should light Shabbos candles, even if only once, it’s what you do today that counts. Want to try this kosher food and make a bracha on it? Every couple should have the opportunity to learn about taharas hamishpacha, the laws of family purity. You think observant Jews only live in close-knit communities? The Rebbe thought again. There are Jew all over the world who need a rabbi, a friend, a confidante, so let’s send out my chassidim to fill these roles! This is the kind of radical thinking that the Rebbe employed.
I’m a complete rebel. And now, by seeing what the Rebbe did, and even continues to do through his teachings, I can be a rebel for the good. Rebellion is a way to make change, and change can be good. Somethings not going right? Show people how to make it right! Productive rebellion is the best kind, especially when so many people can benefit from it. I guess the transition seemed fitting, from one type of rebellion to the next.
But he was more than just a rebel. He was a person with a fervor for life, for Yiddishkeit and for people. Everyone was important, Jew or non-Jew, male or female, child or adult. Every person was important and he wanted to do good for all mankind. The U.S. has dedicated Education and Sharing Day as a tribute to the Rebbe and steps he took toward the betterment of education for all U.S. children. He stressed the importance of the Noahide laws. He wanted to make sure that all of mankind was healthy and well and ready to take on the world in the way Hashem desires them to. He was really into everyone being the best that they can be and being able to help them realize their potential. The world isn’t finished being built, and the Rebbe wanted to make sure we were aware of that and are putting on our best faces to be able to finish making this world a dira b’tachtonim, a dwelling place for Hashem.
A friend of mine, @DetroitRabbi, Rabbi Pinson, posted a throwback Thursday photo to his social media accounts. It was of himself and his father receiving kos shel bracha, cup of blessing, from the Rebbe on motzaei Shabbos, the day after Simchas Torah (technically the second day in the Hebrew calendar). The date on this photo was one day before I was born. Really just a few hours before I was born, in the Hebrew calendar it was already the day of my birth. Wow, even though I didn’t have a connection with frumkeit until I was 24, I felt at that moment I saw the picture as if I always had a connection with frumkeit, with the Rebbe. For sure the Rebbe knew I was coming into this world. Maybe he had a bracha in mind for me on this day. Maybe my friend davened for every child who was born on that day to be able to experience true Yiddishkeit. Maybe none of that happened and it’s just a cool picture that I feel really connected to, being that it’s actually on my Hebrew date of birth.
Whatever transpired in that photo, I felt a part of it. I heard once that every ba’al teshuvah who becomes a Lubavitcher was handpicked by the Rebbe. I definitely feel through this picture that the Rebbe chose me. But how do I have such a connection, so many thoughts and strong feelings surrounding the Rebbe? I told some people last night how I never had even heard of Lubavitch before I was 24 (even though I had a Chabad House in the town I grew up in). Through everything I have learned about the Rebbe, about Yiddishkeit, about Chabad and since I have become frum has added to my hiskashrus to the Rebbe.
Without the Rebbe, there wouldn’t have been a shliach around to invite me to their home, to help me in my time of need. Well, I can’t say there wouldn’t have been one for sure, but I know that this particular shliach is a chossid of the Rebbe, and that maybe another one wouldn’t have touched me like this one did. All it took was a little befriending, helping me to give my daughter a Jewish name and having another shlucha invite me for Shabbos. Since then, my entire life has been turned upside down, all for the good.
I learn the Rebbe’s teachings of sichos, talks, and maamers, Chassidic discourses.I enjoy his commentary on everything. I learn how to be a better person by seeing how he interacted with other people, by reading letters of response to thousands. A tzaddik doesn’t “die” when his physical body stops working. His neshama, soul, is always with us. Many people go to his gravesite to ask him to intercede on their behalf for a bracha for so many things – to find their soulmate, for them or a loved one to become healed, for livelihood, etc. – and even questions as to what to do in all kinds of situations. When I walk into the ohel, where the Rebbe is buried alongside the frierdiker Rebbe, the previous Rebbe, I can feel that the Rebbe is with them there, that his soul is still alive. I can feel this anywhere in the world, as I do as the Rebe has perscribed, as I learn his teachings, as I live my life as a chossid. A tzaddik remains alive through his teachings, which is why it’s so important to learn them, it is really his essence that jumps out when learning these teachings.
I learn with awe as I try and make sense of this world, as I try to live to be the best person I can be, which, for me, includes being a chossid of the Rebbe. As I was learning a maamer earlier today, I felt like I just wanted to burst out crying. How can I be separated from my leader, my Rebbe, my second father? But then I remember, a yahrtzeit is not a time to cry and be sad, but rather to learn his teachings to keep him alive within all of us. To go out and do as the Rebbe has prescribed gives me a close sense of connection and the drive to always continue learning and doing. Chassidim mamshichim!
I owe my life to the Rebbe.
To read more on the Rebbe, check out this post, 11 Ways the Lubavitcher Rebbe Changed the World Forever.