Why Lubavitch believe it's a beautiful world
The vision of the last Lubavitcher Rebbe, who died 20 years ago, continues to fire his followers
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The seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson
When assuming the mantle of leadership of Lubavitch in 1950, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who escaped war-torn Europe, confronted the inevitable problem faced by Jews in a post-Holocaust world. Many despaired, believing the world was a dangerous place to live.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe maintained that the world we desire is inherently good. The ability to see beauty in the world, insisted the Rebbe, is the beginning of our moral sensibility. The only difference between those who look to build and those who seek destruction lies in the way they view the world. What we believe is beautiful, we will not wantonly destroy.
The Rebbe also believed in the intrinsic value of every human being who is "formed in the image of his Creator". Thus, what one might typically perceive as character shortcomings, the Rebbe saw as opportunities to maximise potential. As he famously declared to one young man sharing a personal quandary: "That God has given you this particular challenge means He also gave you unique strengths with which to overcome it."
It was precisely because of this deep-rooted belief that the Rebbe broke radically with protocol. Unlike other Chasidic sects which largely remain within their own enclave, the Rebbe dispersed his community, sending out shlichim, emissaries (or shluchim in Yiddish pronunciation), a dozen or so at first, and then over the course of time, several thousand to every corner of the world.
Who would provide a pesach seder for 2,500 Israelis in Katmandu?
These emissaries may sometimes be deprived of basic Jewish necessities such as a Jewish school, a mikveh, even essential kosher food products. But what others might see as deprivation, to a Chabad shaliach and shlichah, it is an opportunity.
Inculcated with the Rebbe's mission statement of loving every Jew without conditions or qualifications, they persevere and, over time, a spiritually desolate desert is transformed into an oasis where Jews can feel at home. A Chabad House is built, then a mikveh, then a Jewish school or seminary - all in the name of love, a love for God and a love for His people.
Therein lies the success. It is not a job, rather a labour of love, a passion and a way of life. Every Chabad representative strives for the ultimate, yet never feels that he or she has arrived. They have huge aspirations, yet remain humble and unassuming. No matter how much they will have done, they know that there is still more to do.
Everyone ought to consider where the Jewish world would be today without the Rebbe's vision. Who would provide a Pesach Seder for 2,500 Israeli backpackers in Katmandu? Where would Jewish women have access to a mikveh in Saigon? How would Israeli war orphans celebrate their barmitzvah each year? What would have become of the near 3,000 children who were victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster?
While shluchim are charged with their own special tasks, to the Rebbe, every individual is uniquely endowed with vast potential in order to make their own impact in their patch of the world. Everyone, the Rebbe often declared, shares in the mutual responsibility of transforming this world into the beautiful place it was always intended to be, thus enabling goodness to triumph over evil, freedom over oppression and spirit over matter.
Demographers were predicting the demise of Chabad following the Rebbe's passing 20 years ago. Yet during these past two decades, it has gone from strength to strength because the legacy of true leaders is eternal.
A leader is great not because of his power, but because of his ability to empower others. Great leaders are like the best conductors; they reach beyond the notes to touch the magic in the players. True leaders do not enforce, they inspire.
Leaders lead, which implies a destination, some place to be that isn't here. They attract followers by flashing a light ahead. That was the Lubavitcher Rebbe, undeniably the one individual more than any other who has been responsible for stirring the conscience and spiritual awakening of the Jewish people in the post-Holocaust era. That continues to be his legacy and enduring impact on our world today.
Yitzchak Schochet is rabbi of Mill Hill United Synagogue