“Where are you?” is the famous question asked by the Founder of Chabad Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, known as the Alter Rebbe, whose 207th yahrzeit is commemorated today on the 24th day of the Hebrew month of Tevet.
The question which was posed to a minister during the Alter Rebbe’s incarceration:
“Is G‑d’s perpetual call to every man. Where are you in the world? You have been allotted a certain number of days, hours, and minutes in which to fulfill your mission in life. You have lived so many years and so many days — Where are you? What have you accomplished?”
Auspicious Moment in History
These are auspicious days in Israel where one could say that the past and present are converging in historic ways. During the same time that the candidates for the next election are gearing up their campaigns for the third election, an international who’s who comprised of 47 delegations of world leaders is gathering on 23 January in Jerusalem to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
The Fifth World Holocaust Forum, entitled “Remembering the Holocaust: Fighting Antisemitism,” is taking place against the background of the rise in hateful and violent expressions of antisemitism, especially in Europe.
Likewise, the third election carries with it a moment for Israeli citizens to come face to face with determining who will lead the government to consider our future during the ominous shadows of Iran and our endless list of enemies seeking to destroy us.
History Repeats Itself
Just like the swirling voices of anti-Semitism and hatred are occurring today, the Alter Rebbe was no stranger to momentous events in his day, as he confronted enemies within and without. In fact, the invasion by Napoleon to Russia is said to have been a contributing factor to his untimely death at age 68.
What we can learn from the Alter Rebbe is how best to respond to forces of destruction.
Although the Alter Rebbe was a prolific author, mystic and leader, the substance of Rabbi Shneur Zalman’s teachings can be found in his major contribution to rabbinic literature, the Likutei Amarim, better known as the Tanya, after the first word of this exposition.
Why the Alter Rebbe wrote The Tanya is succinctly expressed By Yehoshua B. Gordon z”l in this short video:
The Tanya represents a blueprint for how to confront and prevail over the forces of the evil inclination which continue to battle for victory over the soul of the Intermediate known as the “Beinoni” (not the Righteous or the Wicked) , the main subject of the Tanya.
Where are YOU?
The yahrzeit of a righteous person is an occasion for bringing enormous blessings to mankind. “The Alter Rebbe in Iggeres Hakodesh (Ch. 28) writes that “all the effort of man which his soul toiled during his lifetime, is above in a hidden and concealed state. It becomes revealed and radiates in a manifest way from above downwards at the time of his passing.”
We have a golden opportunity to merit these blessings.
Our greatest response to those external forces of evil which continue to haunt us from the Holocaust is for each of us to heed the call posed by the Alter Rebbe “Where are you?” One practical action is to adhere to the words of the Morning Prayer “I hereby take upon myself to fulfill the mitzvah, “Love your fellowman as yourself.” This action will bring to life a lesson from the Alter Rebbe that “A little bit of light can dispels a lot of darkness” and that we truly are a light unto the nations!