Based On The Works Of The Lubavitcher Rebbe,
Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson
Published and Copyright (c) 1996 by
Sichos In English
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In the summer of 1995, the U.S. Congress authorized President Clinton to present the Rebbe with the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation's highest civilian honor. Only about 100 such awards have been made in American history.
Democrats and Republicans, liberals, conservatives, Northerners and Southerners, blacks, whites and Hispanics, all joined ranks to bestow this recognition on the Rebbe. Speaker of the House Rep. Newt Gingrich declared:
The Rebbe stood... for the kind of decency, the kind of way of life, the kind of spiritual meaning which allows humans to live with each other in peace and seek a better and more just future.... There's a sense of, "Here is a candle that was lit."
But there's a second part, and that is that Rabbi Schneerson didn't just believe in these ideals, he lived
them.... There was a continuity and an integrity in his commitment.
And then there was a third part - that those he touched themselves live the ideals....
And from the other end of the political spectrum, Rep. John Lewis, the Chief Deputy Democratic whip, stated:
We may no longer see the Rebbe with our eyes, but his spirit lives in our hearts and in our deeds. The Rebbe, like my mentor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., worked every day of his life for what Dr. King used to call "the beloved community" - a community at peace with itself, a country and a world in which people are not judged by the color of their skin but by the quality of their character.
The Rebbe judged people by their character, and worked every day to make this world a better place.
Why was the Rebbe given this award? Because he was a visionary who sought the welfare of all mankind. Once a state senator from New York asked for a private meeting (yechidus) with the Rebbe. Over an hour later, he came out excited. "I never realized what a great man your Rebbe is," he told Rabbi Leibel Groner, the Rebbe's secretary.
The senator explained that he had sought the Rebbe's counsel concerning his personal affairs. After the Rebbe had advised him with regard to these matters, he asked if he could request a favor from the senator.
"'Here it comes,' I thought to myself," he told Rabbi Groner, "'just like all the others, he's also looking for the payoff.'
But what did the Rebbe ask me?
"'There is,' the Rebbe said, 'a growing community in Chinatown. These people are quiet, reserved, hard-working and law-abiding, the type of citizens most countries would treasure. But because Americans are so out-going and the Chinese are, by nature, so reserved, they are often overlooked by government programs. As a state senator from New York, I suggest that you concern yourself with their needs.'
"I was overwhelmed. The Rebbe has a community of thousands in New York and institutions all over the country that could benefit from government programs. I am in a position to help secure funding for them, but the Rebbe didn't ask about that. He was concerned with Chinatown. I don't think he has ever been there, and I'm certain that most people there don't know who he is, but he cares about them. Now that's a true leader!"
The Rebbe did not merely manifest an unbounded concern for the welfare of all mankind, he provided us with teachings which motivate and enable us to share this mindset and put it into practice. A rabbi working in a university once asked the Rebbe what fundamental message he should communicate to his students. The Rebbe answered: "Teach them that they all possess a soul that is a spark of G-d. This knowledge will continually inspire them and influence them to improve their conduct."
And the Rebbe did more than inspire; he was a leader. He was able to give people an ideal that imbued their lives with lasting meaning. He took the truth from Sinai, the centuries-old Biblical tradition, and applied it to every aspect of contemporary life. To him, the Bible was not a book, but a blueprint for life, one which contained G-d's instructions on how to deal with every issue that day-to-day life presents.
On one hand, the Rebbe was a very private man. He moved between his home, Lubavitch World Headquarters in Brooklyn, and the gravesite of his father-in-law where he would frequently go for prayer.
And yet the Rebbe did not sequester himself in the Torah's ivory tower. Instead, he was one of the most accessible public figures in the world. Through personal meetings, through letters, through attendance at public gatherings, Rabbinic leaders, heads of state, political figures, and Jews - and for that matter, gentiles - from every country and walk of life were able to receive the energy, joy, inspiration and sense of purpose which the Rebbe radiated.
The Rebbe sent emissaries all over the world. In 42 American states and over 70 countries, there are Lubavitch representatives working to teach and put into practice the principles of trust in G-d, education, and charity which the Rebbe taught. To stay in touch with these representatives and followers, the Rebbe employed every technological resource.
But the Rebbe was not merely the leader of a movement. He was primarily a teacher, and it was the force of his ideas that attracted the world's attention.
The Rebbe's primary vehicle for instruction was the Chassidic farbrengen, a gathering held several times a month at Lubavitch Headquarters. At these events, the Rebbe would address thousands of people, including members of the immediate Crown Heights community, and visitors from around the world. He would speak for hours, his words punctuated by interludes of singing and toasts of leChayim. Each address touched on a variety of issues, from the significance of the weekly Torah reading, points of Talmudic law and mystic interpretations of the Kabbalah, to current events in America and Israel.
These Yiddish discourses were recorded, transcribed by the Rebbe's followers, edited and prepared for publication. On the Sabbath and festivals, when Jewish law prohibits electronic recording, the talks were reproduced from memory by a team of scribes.
From 1980 onward, several times a year, these farbrengens were broadcast on cable TV throughout the U.S. Conscious that his audience would include thousands of Jews and non-Jews who would never reach his synagogue in Brooklyn, the Rebbe would devote a portion of each address to issues that concern the American people at large, focusing on the values that lie at the heart of our national heritage, and what must be done to keep these values a vibrant part of American life.
It is these talks that form the body of this book. Communicating these concepts in contemporary English involves a transition in both culture and language, for the Rebbe's style of presentation was unique, and relied heavily on the traditional Talmudic and Chassidic patterns of oral instruction. So a simple translation of the Rebbe's words would not have been sufficient. Conceptual bridges were necessary. Because the messages were usually constructed employing an academic frame of reference, highlights, shades, and focuses had to be fleshed out and the copious sources which were such a characteristic part of the Rebbe's method of instruction were for the most part eliminated.
A composition of this nature thus borders on an original work. If the Rebbe's teachings have been altered as their style of presentation was changed, I accept responsibility. My intention was that the modifications of language and structure would not involve a change of content, and that the Rebbe's voice - especially his clear and powerful call to awareness - would still be heard.
It is traditional for Chassidim to teach through stories, for a concept clothed in the fabric of real life is expressed far more graphically than could be accomplished by any intellectual exposition. The Rebbe would often punctuate his addresses with stories, and we have chosen the same practice in these essays. Some of these stories were told by the Rebbe himself, others concern him, and others were told by his followers. But again, responsibility for the choice of stories is our own.
Following this pattern, I would like to introduce a concept by using a story which the Rebbe told on occasion.
During one of his journeys, the Previous Rebbe, Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, was approached by two men. They had been debating whether communism or capitalism was closer to the Torah's ideals, and asked the Previous Rebbe's opinion.
The Previous Rebbe answered: "Mortal wisdom is, by definition, limited, and can only perceive one dimension of the truth. Capitalism has a positive point, its emphasis on personal effort, as reflected in the verse: 'And G-d will bless you in all you do.' Communism has a positive point, its emphasis on our responsibility for each other, as reflected in the verse: 'There shall be no poor among you.'
"But the Torah is the quintessence of good and truth. It both transcends and combines the positive elements of both these economic systems."
The Rebbe's message celebrated the Torah, G-d's guidelines of eternal truth, and yet in the essays that follow there is a certain identification with the values that lie at the heart of American culture, values which are mortal in origin. The Rebbe made this identification himself, explaining that America's Founding Fathers were G-d-fearing men who tried to place the principles they gleaned from the Bible at the core of the society they built.
On the other hand, the identification between American values and the Torah's truths is not complete. Indeed, perhaps it is this very incompletion that has led to an erosion of values in American society, and a growing need to re-establish the links. This book indeeds to sharpen our focus on those values as they are applied to the contemporary issues which we face.
There will be some who will challenge the very premise and argue that America has not always lived by these values. They protest that a close look at our history will reveal myriad imperfections. To such people I quote an old Chassidic maxim: "Just as a person must know his weaknesses, he must know his strengths." While there have been many flaws in American history, the fact is that by and large, we have been a country with a conscience, and have endeavored to ensure that the principles at the core of our culture become manifest in actual life.
From the other end of the spectrum, there will be some who may want to dismiss this book as impossibly rosy, a naive picture of American life. It must be emphasized that the Rebbe knew about the problems facing our society. Many of those who solicited his advice were experiencing difficulties. Marital strife. runaway children, drugs, alcoholism, these and many other maladies were constantly brought to the Rebbe's attention.
And the Rebbe lived in Crown Heights, an inner-city neighborhood where Jews and blacks try to live together. So he was no stranger to America's shortcomings.
But the way he addressed a problem was by focusing on its solution. To consider only the level at which a problem exists will result in despair. All solutions come by approaching a situation from a higher plane of awareness.
The Rebbe would highlight the positive potential we all possess, and provide guidelines that would enable a person to exercise this inner ability. He would lift people to another plane, to a level of understanding from where their problems could be resolved. And because we all have an innate desire to grow, this taste of awareness inspired us to internalize it.
Although it is more than two years after his death, the Rebbe is still very much a part of our lives, for the vision, values, and principles he taught are not abstract theories, but concrete guidelines.
In the months before suffering the stroke that prevented him from speaking, the Rebbe repeatedly emphasized that we are witnessing the dawn of the era of peace, prosperity and knowledge that will accompany Mashiach's coming. And he urged everyone to try to hasten the arrival of this era by increasing our deeds of loving kindness.
May the Rebbe's teachings inspire us to live up to his vision and make it a reality. We will then witness the fulfillment of the prophecy: "You who repose in the dust, awake and sing."
5 Adar, 5756
- (Back to text) Isaiah 26:19.