“Are you Jewish, do you want to do a mitzvah?” Who hasn’t been stopped with these words on a street corner in New York City? Often uttered by a couple of young chabniks, these boys are no older than twenty years of age. It is quite difficult for many of us to understand what motivates these boys. Many times they are not being pushed by their parents, they are not shackled down to the street corner; they are actually there by choice. These boys have one mission: if you are Jewish, that you have done at least one mitzvah today; not Jewish, that you are acknowledged with a smile and a friendly greeting. In modern society, these young boys are nothing short of bizarre. Indeed, the idea of spending time out of your day to help another person is seen as extraordinary. These boys spend multiple hours a day, every day, bringing light into a world that is often filled with darkness. I am not foolish enough to believe that everyone sees these boys in the positive light that I see them in. But, all must agree that the dedication that they have is incredible.
Most of us are not chabniks, including myself. Yet, I often think about what inspires the commitment in these young men. How or what can inspire an international legion of followers to get up on a Sunday morning, rain or shine? There is but one answer to that question, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. Regardless of one’s personal qualms with the movement, what The Rebbe created in and after his lifetime, is nothing short of magnificent. The Rebbe was a servant of G-d and all he wanted was for others to have a similar connection to G-d.
This year marks twenty-one years since The Rebbe’s passing. In a very short amount of time an entire conglomeration of training seminars, conferences and dedicated followers have helped see The Rebbe’s mission to fruition. His teachings are taught throughout the world. Centers that preach the ideas of love and kindness are sprinkled in a plethora of communities on almost every continent. Unfortunately, his passing has also caused a rise of tremendous controversy in the small bubble of Jewish Orthodoxy. I am not here to address the politics that darken the day of his passing. I am writing simply to remember a righteous man, who was filled with what seemed like an unlimited amount of kindness and love for all of G-d’s creations.
I was three years old when The Rebbe passed away, but he has impacted my life in more ways than I might ever be able to fully express. Since I was so young when he passed, I cannot speak of personal encounters with him. Therefore, admittedly, all I can offer is my impression of him from his students and his teachings. He was a great man and he shared his greatness with the world. He believed in everyone, regardless of who they were or where they were in life. But, perhaps most importantly, he did not define himself by the lines that modern man has created. He was a Jew and thus he felt connected to all Jews. He was a person and thus he connected to all people.
I am not a chabadnik, but I would be a fool to say that The Rebbe is not one of my teachers. I am not in the movement but I am inspired by it. I am not one of their representative’s but The Rebbe taught us that there is no “us” and “them,” just “we.” Regardless of who you are, let us remember the great man that was The Rebbe. He wanted nothing more than for all of us to love and respect one another. In his memory, let us do that.