The third day of the Hebrew month Tammuz, this year corresponding to the 15th of June, is the yahrzeit (anniversary of the death) of Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, the Lubavticher Rebbe. While most Hasidic Rebbes lead their respective communities, Rabbi Schneerson saw his leadership mandate as one which obligated him to serve the entire Jewish people and the human race.
Audacious? Certainly. Over-the-top? Perhaps. Guilty of confusing his own agenda with that of the larger Jewish community which did not always agree with him? At times. But whatever public actions he took, or policies he pursued, the Lubavitcher Rebbe was animated by the most profound belief in the future, confidence in God/Torah/the Jewish people, and love of God evidenced by any leader of the Jewish people in the latter 20th century. Some may have been his equal in this regard, but none surpassed him.
Although he and his wife had no children, his passing was mourned by millions. Or as Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, not a member of the Chabad-Lubavitch community, wrote in a beautiful essay about the Rebbe: “Who sat shiva (week of mourning observed by close relatives) for the Rebbe? Technically, no one; in reality, almost everyone.”
We could quibble about the “everyone” included in that assessment, but not about the point that the man being remembered today is recalled by many who regard him as a spiritual parent, including many whose practice of the rituals of Jewish life could not be more different than the Rebbe’s. How did he do it? The simple answer is love. More often the not, but certainly not always, the Rebbe found a way to love the people in front of him more than the ideas inside of him.
Philosophically I think it was because, for the Rebbe, Jewish was a way to repair our own lives and the world in which we live. With that as one’s mandate, a great deal of the issues over which jews often bicker, simply are not that important. Again, there are counter example from the Rebbe’s life, but they pale in comparison with the example which bear out my observation.
Also recognized by Rabbi Lookstein, was the Rebbe’s ability to work effectively with both the wealthiest and most powerful people in the world and also with those at the lowest end of the socio-economic spectrum. In a world of spiritual leaders who tend to be good at one or the other of those tasks, that is quite remarkable. That too is based on love.
Like Rabbi Lookstein, I am no Lubavitcher Hasid. And like Rabbi Lookstein and many other rabbis, I miss the Rebbe and continue to see him as one of the great spiritual and institutional masters of the Jewish people. May the memory of this giant inspire us and continue to be a blessing.