I have read your essays about the Lubavitcher Rebbe of blessed memory. I also enjoy listening to your podcast and lectures online, where you often quote the Rebbe. Your deep admiration and love for him are evident.
But, if you don’t mind me asking so bluntly: Why are you so crazy about the Rebbe? Your love and admiration seem “over the top” and disproportionate. After all, our history has many world leaders we should all learn from equally…
Thank you for allowing me to be so blunt. I promise you: my only desire is to learn more about the Rebbe and the reason for your special relationship with him..
Blessings, Rachel (fictitious name)
You are right. I am “crazy” about the Rebbe, my foremost teacher and role model.
But more than how “crazy” I am about the Rebbe, the Rebbe was “crazy” about each of us and our world. In fact, I am doubtful that we have ever witnessed a leader whose “craziness” about our planet and its inhabitants knew no bounds.
Consider this: Was there ever a leader like the Rebbe, in the story of mankind, who established a worldwide network of emissaries to attend to every Jew, and every person, in need, regardless of background and affiliation? Did humanity ever encounter a leader like the Rebbe, who — due to their unwavering dedication to our world’s betterment — rarely slept and never indulged in a single day of vacation? And was there ever a leader like the Rebbe, in the annals of history, whose counsel and guidance were sought daily by thousands of people around the globe, from world presidents to ordinary people?
But the Rebbe’s “craziness” was not solely focused on the world at large. The Rebbe was “crazy” about every single individual too, and his empathy and love toward every person and their infinite value were limitless.
In one instance, a struggling teenager once wrote to the Rebbe saying “I don’t believe you,” after the Rebbe expressed his empathy toward her situation. “How can you feel my pain? You’re not going through what I am going through!”
The Rebbe’s moving response did not tarry: “When you will merit to grow up and marry, G-d willing, you will have a child. The nature of things is that towards the end of the first year, the child will begin to teethe. Teething is painful and the child cries. And a mother feels that pain as if it was her own. This is how I feel your pain.”
In another instance, a disciple of the Rebbe once gifted the Rebbe an electronic envelope opener to assist the Rebbe in expediting the process of opening the vast number of letters that he would receive daily. At first, the Rebbe dismissed the gift claiming that “it made too much noise.” So this student offered the Rebbe a silent electric opener, but the Rebbe declined this gift too.
“Many people seal their letter with tears,” the Rebbe’s secretary explained. “And these tears, the Rebbe wants to feel…”
Personally, when I was just 4 years old, I suffered from a genetic disease that caused me great pain. Subsequently, my parents wrote a letter to the Rebbe asking for his blessing. “I will pray for your son by the resting place of my father-in-law,” the Rebbe responded.
A few months later, the Rebbe remembered my pain, and in response to another letter from my parents, the Rebbe reassured them: “I already responded that I will pray for you son….” In other words: Do not worry. I haven’t forgotten you. The pain of your young son is my pain too.
And so, Rachel, how could we not be “crazy” about the Rebbe when he was so “crazy” about us? How could we not respond to the boundless care and affection that the Rebbe had for us, with our own care and affection toward the Rebbe, his vision, and his marching orders?
Yet, regardless of our personal feelings, what matters most is whether we can be as “crazy” about ourselves and our infinite potential, as much as the Rebbe was “crazy” about us…
My beloved mentor, world-scholar, Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz of blessed memory, once told me that “the Rebbe believed in him, more than he believed in himself.” When I asked him to explain his statement, he shared with me that, in his last letter to the Rebbe, he asked the Rebbe whether he should be quitting one of the three projects he was involved in, as his plate was “very full.” The Rebbe’s reply was typical: “Continue to do all these things and to do more things and work even harder.”
This was the Rebbe’s “crazy” approach. For the Rebbe, no person was too small, no task was too big, and no challenge was too tall. And the Rebbe was so “crazy” about us, that he knew that as much as we may have achieved yesterday, there is still so much more we can achieve today, and even more so, tomorrow.
Rachel, our world today needs the Rebbe’s “craziness,” perhaps, more than ever. Much ink has been spilled on our generation’s record-breaking low of self-worth. Too many of us evaluate ourselves based on the amount of Facebook likes, Twitter followers, YouTube subscribers, and yes, even Tinder inquiries, that we receive. As a Rabbi, I am often visited by many despondent youngsters whom I wish could develop the same love and “craziness” for themselves, as the Rebbe had for them.
And so, Rachel, I invite you to be “crazy” too. If not about the Rebbe himself, then about all the people whom the Rebbe was crazy about, including you and me and all of the people we know…
For, as a wise man once said: “The people who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”