Jonathan Muskat

The Legacy of the Lubavitcher Rebbe: Teaching the World to Sing

On this 30th yahrzeit of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, we reflect on the profound impact he had on countless lives and the world at large. His teachings and personal interactions left an indelible mark, demonstrating the power of faith, resilience, and joy in the face of adversity.

One poignant story that encapsulates the Rebbe’s unique approach involves a meeting with the renowned author and Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel. In the 1960s, Wiesel came to Brooklyn to meet the Rebbe, a visit that would deeply affect him. The Rebbe had read some of Wiesel’s works in French and initiated a conversation that delved into the profound pain and spiritual struggles Wiesel experienced.

Wiesel recounted that the Rebbe asked why he was angry with God. Wiesel responded, “Because I loved Him too much.” The Rebbe, with his characteristic wisdom, replied, “To love God is to accept that you do not understand Him.” When Wiesel asked, “How can you believe in God after Auschwitz?” the Rebbe responded, “How can you not believe in God after Auschwitz?”

This exchange highlighted the Rebbe’s profound understanding of faith. He recognized Wiesel’s deep love for God and understood that the Holocaust, despite its immense tragedy, did not shatter Wiesel’s faith but rather intensified his struggle with it. The Rebbe’s ability to see beyond the surface and address the deeper emotional and spiritual turmoil set him apart as a leader who could provide not just answers, but profound insights into the human condition.

Elie Wiesel wrote in his memoirs about the Rebbe’s approach: “I have never renounced my faith in God. I have risen against His justice, protested His silence and sometimes His absence, but my anger rises up within faith and not outside it.”

At their first meeting, Wiesel asked the Rebbe to help him cry. The Rebbe’s response was unexpected: “That’s not enough. I shall teach you to sing.” The Rebbe believed that faith and joy were intertwined, and that even amidst the darkest times, one could find a reason to sing. This philosophy resonated with Wiesel and inspired him to compose the cantata “Ani Maamin: A Song Lost and Found Again” in 1973. The concluding verses of the song express a steadfast belief and joy that persists despite suffering:

“I believe in you,
Even against your will.
Even if you punish me
For believing in you.
Blessed are the fools
Who shout their faith.
Blessed are the fools
Who go on laughing.
Who mock the man who mocks the Jew,
Who help their brothers
Singing, over and over and over:
I believe. I believe in the coming of the Messiah,
And though he tarries, I wait daily for his coming.
I believe.”

The Rebbe’s ability to teach people to sing, to be joyous in their Judaism, and to live with a profound sense of purpose and faith, even amidst adversity, was truly remarkable. He showed that one could be happy and still be motivated to change and improve oneself and the world.

On this 30th yahrzeit, we honor the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s legacy. He taught us that joy and faith are not only compatible but essential to each other. Through his teachings, he has given us a timeless gift: the ability to find joy in our faith, to sing amidst our struggles, and to continually strive to make the world a better place.

About the Author
Jonathan Muskat is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Oceanside.
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