Seeing The World Through The Rebbe’s Eyes — In 4 Crucial Ways

Tonight and tomorrow, Jews worldwide, will be marking the 28th anniversary since the passing of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson of righteous memory, one of Jewish history’s most influential leaders.

The Rebbe changed and illuminated the lives of millions of people worldwide with his abundant wellspring of wisdom, his unconditional love for each and all, and his incessant drive to better our world every single day.

All who encountered the Rebbe were taken aback by his irresistible, personal charisma, his saintly aura, and his greater-than-life persona. But above all, it was his eyes that left a permanent mark on all who had the privilege of meeting him.

Yitzchak Rabin, one of Israel’s Prime Ministers, recounted how “his eyes were a calm deep blue, they penetrated deep within the person.”

Elie Wiesel, the famed Holocaust survivor, shared at a Gala honoring the Rebbe, how “his eyes penetrated your face without hurting.”

And Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks described how “the Divine stared at me through his [the Rebbe’s] eyes.”

Although I was just seven years old when I first met the Rebbe, I too vividly remember the Rebbe’s eyes. When the Rebbe’s eyes locked with mine, it felt as if the Rebbe was transporting me to the heavens. And there, he saw, and introduced me to my soul, and its sublime majesty, anew.

But more than the Rebbe’s gaze, it was his vision that transformed humanity. When he saw people, he saw souls; not bodies. When he saw challenges, he saw opportunities; not dangers. And when he saw ashes of destruction; he saw their sparks of construction within; not the dust without.

And so, as we commemorate the Rebbe’s passing, here are four humble ways that we can learn from the Rebbe’s vision, that, I hope, will help us rewire our eyes, and see the world as the Rebbe saw it:

1. Seeing The Good In Every Person

My dear friend, singer and songwriter Peter Himmelman, was once asked how he would describe his meeting with the Rebbe. His answer spoke volumes on how the Rebbe taught us to look at others:

“You know when you’ve done something you think is horrible and you start going down – deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole of regret? When you’re in so deep that you start to feel like the biggest loser ever born, like nothing is possible, that nothing good is ever gonna come your way, and that you can’t even face yourself in the mirror? Well, meeting the Rebbe was the exact opposite of what I just described.”

Recently, my eldest son shared with me a story about a moving interaction between his teacher and the Rebbe. When his teacher was a young boy, he had a terrible habit. Whenever he was presented with food, he would eat uncontrollably.

When he shared his behavior with the saintly Rebbe, the Rebbe said to him: “One day, you will become a great Rabbi, so allow me to ask you: Is this behavior befitting to a great Rabbi?” At that moment, he ceased seeing himself as a boy with a behavioral problem. Rather, he began seeing himself as a boy with a great soul, whose current behaviors were unbecoming to the “great rabbi” he was going to become. And his terrible habit stopped immediately.

This was the Rebbe’s view of every person. He did not see human beings and what they seem to be; he saw spiritual beings and what they could and should become. Ah, if only, we too could see our children, and all people, even during their lowest hours, as giants of mankind.

2. Seeing the Purpose in Every Moment

Some 50 years ago, a young student was about to embark on a long, multi-stop journey and he asked the Rebbe for a blessing.

The Rebbe responded with a resounding lesson:

“While in the desert for forty years, the Jewish people were instructed to set up the tabernacle at every stop, even during their one-night encampments, because, in life, there’s no such thing as merely ‘passing through’ a place. Every moment in life — even the most challenging one — has a Divine call. Every place has a holy purpose. And every person has a vital role to play. And so, wherever you go, do a Mitzvah and in this way you will bring holiness to every place.”

Life, too, is a journey. And in this journey, many face challenges, physical or mental, temporary or permanent. But the Rebbe taught us that in every moment, buds of blessings are blooming.

In every pain, much gain can be found. And it is up to us to heed the Divine call in every moment.

3. Seeing the Divine in Every Place

In 2011, in an address to thousands of Rabbis, the late Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks shared the story of his special encounter with the late Lubavitcher Rebbe:

“I came to the Rebbe’s headquarters in New York, and eventually the moment came when I was ushered into the Rebbe’s study. I asked him all my intellectual, philosophical questions… And then, he did what no one else had done.

He did a role reversal, he started asking me questions. How many Jewish students are in Cambridge? How many get involved in Jewish life? What are you doing to bring other people in?

Now, I hadn’t come to become an emissary. I’d come to ask a few simple questions, and all of a sudden he was challenging me. So I did the English thing. You know, the English can construct sentences like nobody else, you know?

So I started the sentence, “In the situation in which I find myself…” – and the Rebbe did something which I think was quite unusual for him, he actually stopped me in mid-sentence. He says, “Nobody finds themselves in a situation; you put yourself in a situation. And if you put yourself in that situation, you can put yourself in another situation.”

And Rabbi Sacks concluded: “That moment changed my life.”

In Judaism, nothing is a coincidence. Even the place we are in, at this moment, was designed for us to fulfill a Divine purpose. In the Rebbe’s words, “we don’t just find ourselves in situations.” We are summoned to take a stance for G-d and do everything in our power to better our place of living – be it Cambridge University, our neighborhood, our offices, and our homes.

4. Seeing The Blessing In Every Circumstance

In 1969, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm made history when she was elected as the first Black woman ever elected to Congress. She represented a heavily-urban district in Brooklyn, New York.

She had hoped to serve on the House Education and Labor Committee where she could improve the lives of her constituents. But instead, she was relegated to an obscure subcommittee of the Agriculture Committee.

Congresswoman Chisholm was understandably frustrated. But one day, she received a phone call from the Rebbe that changed her life, and the life of millions of people.

“What a blessing God has given you!” the Rebbe said about her appointment to the Agriculture Committee. “This country has so much surplus food, and there are so many hungry people. You can use this gift that God gave you to feed the hungry. Find a creative way to do it.”

Shortly afterward, Congresswoman Chisholm met with Senator Bob Dole, who told her that Midwestern farmers were producing more food than they could sell. Together, they then devised a plan to ensure that millions of poor people would have access to food through what became the Food Stamp Program and WIC.

When Chisholm retired from Congress in 1983, she credited the Rebbe: “A rabbi who is an optimist taught me that what you may think is a challenge is a gift from God. And if poor babies have milk, and poor children have food, it’s because this Rabbi in Crown Heights had vision.”

This was the Rebbe’s approach to every circumstance. As the Rebbe once put it: “Imagine you could open your eyes to see the good in every circumstance, and the opportunity in every challenge!”

If only we could see the world through the Rebbe’s eyes and find the good in every person, the purpose in every moment, the Divine in every place, and the blessing in every circumstance.

“Open your eyes and see the seeds of redemption everywhere,” the Rebbe pleaded in many of his talks. And if we still can’t see these seeds of redemption, we must open our eyes a little more, until our vision becomes wider, better and brighter.

And so, on this sacred and solemn day, let us “open our eyes” widely and keep them open, today, tomorrow, and forever. And as we see those “seeds of redemption everywhere,” let us water them, and make them grow, with incessant deeds of goodness and kindness.

A new reality of redemption and peace will then undoubtedly be revealed, where “we will lift up our eyes and see, they have all gathered together… and our hearts will tremble and swell with joy” (Isaiah 60:4-5).

About the Author
Rabbi Pinchas Allouche is the founding Rabbi of Congregation Beth Tefillah in Scottsdale, Arizona, where he resides with his wife, Esther, and nine children. He is a respected rabbinic figure, a renowned lecturer, and a prominent author of many essays on the Jewish faith, mysticism, and social-criticism. Besides his academic pedigree, Rabbi Allouche is richly-cultural, having lived in France, where he was born, South Africa and Israel. He is also fluent in English, Hebrew, French and Italian. Rabbi Allouche is a member of AIPAC's National Council, and a member of the Vaad Harabanim, the Orthodox Rabbinic Council of Arizona. Rabbi Allouche's wise, profound, and sensitive perspective on the world and its people, on life and living, is highly regarded and sought-after by communities and individuals of all backgrounds. Rabbi Allouche is also tremendously involved in the Jewish community of Greater Phoenix, and he teaches middle-school Judaics at the local Jewish Day School. Rabbi Allouche is also a blogger for many online publications including the Huffington Post, and The Times of Israel. Rabbi Allouche was listed in the Jewish Daily Forward as one of America's 36 Most Inspiring Rabbis, who are "shaping 21st Century Judaism." Rabbi Allouche can be reached at:
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