Yesterday marked the day in 1951 that the Lubavitcher Rebbe of blessed memory formally became the seventh Rebbe of Chabad. Though he is no longer physically present, I believe that the ideas he shared that day still resonate powerfully.
The Rebbe built a worldwide Jewish conglomerate of goodness and light, on the strength of his charisma, and then did the unthinkable. Faced with the options of either handing the reins of the movement over to a leader who would never even begin to measure up, and whose authority would be questioned as much as it was accepted, or placing it, solely — in the hands of a fickle rusty bureaucracy, he chose neither. Instead, he chose us! He chose to trust us, knowing full well that our qualification for this job, was not our impeccable resumes, far from it, in fact. He chose us only because we clumsily reported for duty in our “Dor Shvii” uniforms ready to roll up our sleeves and do what needed to be done.
The Rebbe’s decision to begin his leadership on the very same date of the passing of his predecessor is its own big idea, saying so much — even before he began talking that day. You can actually hear him crying at the end of reciting his first discourse as Rebbe. Unlike the unsustainable dystopian society that sprung up in some quarters of the movement after he himself passed away in 1994, with dancing and singing even before his burial — anything to avoid the pain, the Rebbe reminded us right from the get-go, that the price of whitewashing our pain, comes at the cost of our very humanity itself. When the “Shechinah”(Divine Presence) departs from the “Aretz” (the land) there is no amount of flag waving of any color that will ever achieve anything other than concealing it further.
That day the world first glimpsed the depth of this Rebbe’s extraordinary leadership. He showed us how to be a “gever” — to find the courage to live with loneliness and loss, when that strikes in our lives, and in the lives of our people. The teaching in that first Baasi Lgani discourse is astounding. He pointed out how staying present with loneliness long enough without distracting oneself, can lead one to G-d, who is ultimately alone as well. Paradox of all paradoxes, the loss of love, the disappearance of light, are all different ways of experiencing the loss of G-d, yet this very idea of being supremely alone, with the right mindfulness, can put us in touch with the deepest G-d truth of all, “מציאותו מעצמותו” — the loneliness of G-d Himself.
This idea was at the heart of the Rebbe’s worldview. The way he managed to balance being a champion for an uncompromising Torah-centric world view, while upending every conventional idea of G-d himself was breathtaking.
The notion that an atheist, on some level might share more with G-d than a believer — since both are alone, even if the atheist only feels alone, that’s alone enough — is but one example. The idea of “Ikkar Shechina Btachtonim (the Divine Presence manifests itself here,in human space)” — was not an abstract idea for this Rebbe mourning his Rebbe. There was no greater “outer place” than that for him during that time.
This Rebbe wanted chasidim who were prepared to develop the ability to LIVE from that place, not because he wanted us to isolate ourselves. To the contrary, he forged a movement built on a “more integration is better” platform. Still, he needed us to know how to feel healthy with our selves, without the constant hooking into others for our spiritual and emotional well-being. Even his. In fact, he was counting on it. He wanted to make us stronger men and women who didn’t come to our marriages looking to find ourselves in our spouses. “Know your truth or you will be an emotional parasite for the rest of your life” was an important idea to him. He wanted to develop teachers, leaders, and rabbis who didn’t rely on the adulation of their students, or communities for their validation. Parents who didn’t crave the love of their children even at the cost of disciplining them.
The unconditional acceptance of whatever is, coupled with the compassionate leaning into wherever we happen to be in life, puts us back in touch with the fullness of what we might of once had and lost; the places where G-d seems most concealed for us, (where it is the most Be-hislabshus) is also it’s “Ikkar Shechinah” — The Yud Shvat of death must also be the Yud Shvat of birth.
The Rebbe wanted more than just pliant devotees, he was looking for followers that could also be leaders. He redefined the movement by challenging his chasidim to go a step further and become “shluchim” — emissaries that represented him.
Ironically, by placing the movement into our hands, he actually ensured that it remained in his.