I am writing this column from Brooklyn, N.Y., headquarters of the Chabad Lubavitch movement. I am here with tens of thousands of other members and admirers of the Chabad movement who are converging for a weekend to mark the Yahrzeit of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson.
Every year, I do my best to join this annual pilgrimage to the Rebbe’s gravesite where I pay tribute to my mentor and spiritual leader. I reflect on his selfless leadership, his vision and his sensitivity.
I am always moved by the energy that pervades the community during this auspicious weekend, a spirit that is both solemn and uplifting. You can sense a collective desire to preserve and share the Rebbe’s message of being a force of light, hope and optimism in what can sometimes be seen as a dark and fragile society. I am captured by his vibrant legacy that continues to be relevant.
Indeed, I am privileged to be one of 4,000 activists spread far and near, from Mumbai to Moscow, and St. Petersburg to Saskatoon, who have taken up full-time positions in the Rebbe’s army of determined lamplighters. It is not an army of drafted conscripts. Rather it is a passionate team of Jewish leaders (shluchim) who have been swept up by the Rebbe’s enthusiasm for transforming the world through goodness and kindness.
The Rebbe was the ultimate leader. He did not look for nor desire followers. He was looking to develop leaders who could execute his bold and sacred mission.
On Shabbat prior to this column’s deadline, we read the Torah portion of Shelach, which details a tragic event. Moses selected 12 Jewish leaders to scout the Promised Land to determine the most effective way to conquer it.
Ten of the scouts came back with a negative report concluding that it was impossible for God to deliver on his promise of gifting the Land of Israel to the Jewish people. The inhabitants were just too powerful.
God was angry and punished the Jewish nation.
The commentaries ask how it is possible that, after the scouts had personally experienced the wonders of the Exodus, they could still doubt God’s strength.
The Rebbe explains that the scouts were not scared of the physical enemies, rather they were daunted by the spiritual effect of leaving the desert. They would no longer have their physical needs miraculously provided to them by God. They would no longer benefit from the nurturing and undisturbed care of Moses. They were looking to avoid the responsibilities of mundane living.
I believe this was the guiding force of the Rebbe’s life. He did not want us to escape society because of a fear of materialism. He allowed us to recognize that we have the power to infuse our surroundings with acts of goodness and kindness, which will gradually uplift and transform the entire world.
So, when you see a public menorah lighting while vacationing in Aruba, or are invited into a Sukkah on wheels in Las Vegas, or when your child is hosted by Chabad on Campus for a Passover seder, this may be the Rebbe’s personal whisper to you, to partner in his legacy by adding one more mitzvah.