What was a day in the life of the Rebbe like? Other than being steeped in Torah study, it’s difficult to know the Rebbe’s habits, yet the Rebbe’s 25th yohrtzeit commemorated yesterday, led me to ponder this question. The Rebbe seemed to be the quintessential introvert, albeit compelled by a calling in his midlife to undertake the habits of an extrovert.
The leadership of the Rebbe began with his father in law’s passing. He was the defacto 7th Rebbe of the Lubavitch dynasty (aka Chabad) though it would only be formally accepted by the Rebbe a year later.
It’s perhaps easier to identify what the Rebbe wasn’t.
The Rebbe wasn’t a world traveler. With the exception of visiting Chabad summer camps in the Catskills on three occasions and his frequent visits to his father in law’s resting place, the Rebbe never left Brooklyn in the 4+ decades of his leadership. The Rebbe wasn’t a sleeper. The Rebbe wasn’t a pessimist.
The Rebbe wasn’t judgmental. The Rebbe empowered his chassidim to become leaders despite their common shortcomings. The Rebbe saw the innate potential of the individual he met in actualizing their divine mission on this earth, even if their common ground were mere specks of commonality in a vast ocean of disagreement.
The Rebbe wasn’t one who feared change. Though certainly not one to embrace values in conflict with Torah and Halacha, he never shied away from harnessing the opportunities that technology presented in the bettering of our world and widening the reach of his message.
I don’t know if the Rebbe perceived the benefit of modern technologies outweighing its’ drawbacks; as the quintessential pragmatist, it must have been irrelevant. He would waste no time in harnessing every new development for his passion of bringing the light of yiddishkeit within reach of each and every Jew, as well as to each human being, created in the image of G-d.
The Rebbe wasn’t tribal. He saw the merits of all irrespective of his conclusions. As a fierce defender of Israel, he bemoaned the policies of terror appeasement. The Rebbe passionately stated that though appeasement was leaving the Jews vulnerable to insecurity, he added; were also causing her enemies needlessly to be losing lives in the process.
Once, a politician leaving an audience with the Rebbe, left impressed that the entire meeting was one of ideas, not one of lobbying, the lone exception was for the Chinese immigrant community which he expressed concern that they were falling between the cracks due to their shy nature. The politician visitor was mystified that the Rebbe’s agenda wasn’t tribal oriented.
Apathy wasn’t a trait that the Rebbe was familiar with. The Rebbe wept for the plight of Soviet Jewry. He sent his emissaries around the world to the most hurting of places; to Soviet states, to Iran during the revolution, to the Muslim/Arab states when and wherever possible. The Rebbe would cry in pain at public gatherings for the difficulties Jewry were contending with, and indeed those of the broad world.
As if the Rebbe’s days weren’t packed enough, the Rebbe never delegated empathy. The Rebbe wept with the suicidal poverty stricken immigrant who couldn’t find himself socially, and just couldn’t find the strength to go on. On his later visits to the Rebbe’s resting place years later, the now well adjusted immigrant remarked that it was the empathy of the Rebbe that had saved his life. This empathy was unremarkable to the myriads who rested their burdens upon the Rebbe and merited the comfort of having the Rebbe cry alongside them.
The Rebbe has left a rich legacy indeed, yet his physical presence is so sorely missed.