Chassidic leader, "the Rebbe"- of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the leader -"the Rebbe"- of the Lubavitch movement of Chassidic Judaism for forty four years, was a paradoxical man.
While he barely set foot outside his neighborhood (Crown Heights - New York) during his entire leadership, his influence was felt worldwide. While he was considered one of the worlds foremost religious scholars, he was also recognized as a brilliant scholar in mathematics and science. While he appeared to be an Old World leader whose community was somewhat cloistered, he was thoroughly knowledgeable about the modern world and reached out enthusiastically to society at large, to Jew and non-Jew alike, encouraging the pursuit of virtuousness education, and unity.
Menachem Mendel Schneerson was born on the eleventh day of Nissan. His father, Rabbi Levi Yitzchock Schneerson, was a renowned scholar, his mother, Rebbitzen Chana Schneerson, was an aristocratic women from a prestigious rabbinic family. He had two younger brothers, Dovber and Yisroel Aryeh Leib.. When Menachem Mendel was five years old, the family moved to Yakaterinoslav, now Dnepropetrovsk, where his father was appointed chief rabbi.
From early childhood, Menachem Mendel displayed prodigious mental acuity, leaving school for private tutoring. By the time he reached bar mitzva, he was considered a Torah prodigy, and during his teenage years, he immersed himself in the intricacies of Torah study. In 1923, he met Rabbi Yosef Yitzchock Schneerson - then the Lubavitcher Rebbe- who drew him into his inner circle giving him various responsibilities; five years later, in Warsaw, he married the Rebbe's second eldest daughter, Chaya Mushka (1901-1988).
A short while later, the couple moved to Berlin, where Rabbi Menachem Mendel had already begun studying mathematics and science at the University of Berlin, Because of the Nazi rise, the young Rabbi and his wife left Berlin in 1933 for Paris, and he continued his studies at the Sorbonne. Primarily, however, he immersed himself in prayer and religious study, and was referred to by his father-in-law on various matters, including the preparation of Lubavitch publications. He also served as his father-in-law's private secretary and traveled on his behalf to visit various Jewish leaders in
When the Nazis occupied Paris, the couple was forced to escape the city. On June 23, 1941 they arrived in New York, where Rabbi Yosef Yitzchock Schneerson appointed his son-in-law head of Lubavitch's educational arm, as well as the movements social-service organization and its publishing house.
In 1950, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchock passed away. Although Rabbi Menachem Mendel was the obvious successor, he was initially reluctant to accept the mantle of leadership. A year later he formally assumed the title of Rebbe, explaining to members of the movement that while he would be devoted to his work as leader, each man and women was ultimately responsible for his or her own actions, and for his or her pursuit of G-dliness.
The ensuing forty-four years of the Rebbe's leadership saw Lubavitch grow from a small movement nearly devastated by the Holocaust to a worldwide community of 200,000 members. The Rebbe, recognizing the unique needs of the current generation and anticipating the societal needs of the coming decades, began to establish education and outreach centers, offering social-service programs and humanitarian aid to all people, regardless of religious affiliation or background. He established a corps of Lubavitch emissaries (shluchim) and sent them out to build Chabad - Lubavitch centers worldwide,
to serve the spiritual and material needs of the local communities. Today there are more than fourteen hundred Chabad-Lubavitch institutions in thirty-five countries on six continents.
By blending his intense religious and secular training with deep compassion and insight, the Rebbe quietly became a leader to whom other leaders - those in politics, business, and religion - turned for advice. Beginning in 1986, he would personally greet thousands of visitors each Sunday, distributing dollar bills that were meant to encourage the giving of charity; many people saved the dollar bills as a memento of their visit with the Rebbe, a testament to being moved by his presence.
With the fall of communism and the miracles during the gulf war, the Rebbe stated that these are heralding a time of peace and tranquillity for all mankind, the time of Mashiach (messiah). To this end the Rebbe placed much emphasis on the traditional Jewish teachings regarding the time of Mashiach, placing great emphasis in the studying of these concepts. The Rebbe also oft repeated the statement of our sages that through doing just one good deed we can usher in the era of Mashiach. May it be speedily in our days.
In 1992, at the age of ninety, the Rebbe suffered a stroke; he passed away two years later, on June 12, 1994. Shortly thereafter, a bill was introduced in the US house of representatives to bestow on the Rebbe, the Congressional Gold Medal. The bill passed both houses by unanimous consent, honoring the Rebbe for his "outstanding and lasting contributions toward improvements in world education, morality, and acts of charity".
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson
A d d r e s s i n g t h e f o l l o w i n g T o p i c s:
One of the comprehensive mitzvot of the Torah is the mitzvah of ahavat yisrael, the love for a fellow Jew, which is said to be a great principle of Torah, and the bases of the entire Torah. Essentially, the mitzvah points to the unity of all Jews, as if they constitute a single entity. As such, any action by a Jew, whether negative or positive is consequential to the entire Jewish people. Certainly the fulfillment of mitzvot by any individual Jew affords the Jewish people tremendous strength. Every Jew - wherever he or she may find themselves, even a solitary Jew in the most remote corner of the earth must remember that they are part of the whole Jewish people and representatives of the entire Jewish people - the one people ever since the Torah was given at Mt. Sinai, until the end of time. The division of Judaism into "Orthodox, Conservative, Reform," etc. is artificial, for all Jews have one and the same Torah, given by the one and same G-d, though there are more observant Jews and less observant Jews. To tag on a label does not, of course, change the reality of Jewish essence If you find a Jew who has love of G-d, but lacks love of Torah and the Jewish people, tell him that his love shall not endure. If you find a Jew who has love of the Jewish people but no love for G-d or the Torah, work with him to fan that love, for he will come to an enduring love of G-d, Torah and the Jewish people.
Contrary to the conventional perspective which regards children as potential human beings who do not reach their full worth until maturity, Jewish tradition perceives children as worthy and deserving of our greatest
resources of time and energy to create an environment that is both physically and spiritually nurturing for it is the children who embody the purity of intent, sincerity, faith and enthusiasm for life. In America, most parents, however well intentioned, have been more concerned about their children's material, rather than spiritual, well being. Having themselves faced economic hardships as immigrants or the children of immigrants, and having found that religious conviction and principles not infrequently proved "restrictive" in a materialistic society, they decided to do their utmost to shelter their children from the economic hardships which they had experienced They were thus primarily interested in providing their children with careers and professions and other means of economic security, leaving it to their children to find their own way eventually, in regard to such things as religion and a world outlook. However well meaning the parents may have been, the result is the same. It fostered a way of life where principles have been sacrificed to expediency, and time honored traditions have been relinquished for material gains, actual or imaginary..The bankruptcy of ideas and ideologies have left many young people terribly disillusioned, morally and spiritually. A void has been created in their hearts and minds which they do not know how to fill.
One of the main distinguishing features, which set man apart from all other creatures, is the free choice of action, which the Creator bestowed upon him. Man can use this Divine gift either for self-destruction and the destruction of everything around him; or he can choose the right way of life, which would elevate him and his environment to the highest possible perfection.
Time belongs to those things over which man has no control or influence. Time just stretches on and we can neither slow its march, nor speed it, nor can we change its quantity and make an hour last more or less than sixty minutes. But this is only superficially true. Actually, time holds out for us possibilities not existing in other things. For Time is like a vessel which is highly elastic, with an infinite unlimited. For Time is like a vessel which is highly elastic, with an infinite absorptive capacity. It has the power of expanding or contracting, depending upon how much or little we put into it. We can fill our time with unlimited content, or waste it away, and the very same unit of time may mean infinity to one, or shrink to nothingness to another. Its true measure varies in direct proportion to what is achieved in it.
BODY AND SOUL
The human being is a composite of body and soul. Consequently, all his affairs and activities likewise contain elements of both body and soul- the material and the spiritual. One's mundane and routine activities are
generally motivated by material and physical gain. Yet the "soul" within all these mundane affairs calls out for recognition- for the infusion of these ordinary affairs with an awareness of greater objectives and a higher
purpose. The giving of charity, and the support of Torah education for Jewish children-these are the spiritual incentives that ought to motivate one in his daily activities.Each one of us is a microcosm of all Creation. The achievement of harmony between one's soul and one's material life, is the achievement of harmony between the heaven and earth.
FAITH IN G-D
The intellect must service to uncover the inner absolute intuition and faith in things which lie beyond the realm of the intellect: the faith and intuition which are the heritage of every Jew, therewith to illuminate his
entire being and to guide him in his daily living to a life inspired by Torah and mitzvoth. Faith in G-d, is deeply engraved in the Jewish heart and soul; all that is necessary is to bring it forth to the surface so that it
permeates the daily life in all its aspects. This means that one ought always to feel reassured and convinced that G-d will help overcome all difficulties in life, both material and spiritual, since "G-d is my light and
my salvation". One must feel especially certain that they are able to carry out their intended purpose in life, and to do so with joy, with the assurance of G-d's light, help and fortitude to carry out this mission.
G-d enabled the Jewish people to live as sovereigns in the Holy Land, the place of our forefathers - the land promised to the Jews by G-d. This reality places a special burden and privilege upon Israel's citizens and its
government, to preserve the Jewish integrity of the country. Its educational system must be founded and inspired by Jewish values and the Jewish tradition so that its citizens grow to be proud keepers of their Jewish heritage. In its relations with other nations, those responsible for representing its government in foreign affairs, must proudly assert its Jewish pride and traditions, which is certain to enhance the esteem with which Israel will be regarded.
Jewish law sets for the criteria necessary for Israel's peace and safety: these can only be achieved from a position of military strength and secure borders. Any signs of strategic vulnerability are sure to encourage
terrorism in Israel and abroad.
Education that is merely concerned with the transmission of information is doomed to failure. It must serve the greater and more noble purpose of cultivating the student's moral character. The development of a student's mathematical skills, knowledge of history, science, etc., cannot be divorced from his growth as a well-functioning and productive member of society. It behooves us to acknowledge that children reared with a strong consciousness of a G-d who watches over them and bids them to conduct their lives with sensitivity, honesty, respect and compassion for others, have far less difficulty checking their behavior against those criteria.
It is this consciousness - sorely lacking today among our youth that must be nurtured a priori, within each child, so that he knows even before he learns to read and write, that there is "an eye that sees, and an ear that hears", observing all of our actions. Certainly before a student maps out his or her career path and financial future - she/he must have a strong awareness of his/her responsibility to those around them, and of those precepts upon which any functioning human society depends, as mandated by G-d, such as that "I may not take what does not belong to me," and that "I may not cover what belongs to my friend." Our reality, however, is sadly remote from this ideal. Eighty-four percent of America's children are educated in its public schools. Since the 1962 Supreme Court decision that formal recognition within the public schools of a Supreme Being is unconstitutional, G-d has effectively been eliminated from the cognitive experience of million of children attending public schools. Growing up to believe in G-dless world, these children are deprived the opportunity to explore and fulfill their innate potential to aspire to a higher kind of existence than is the norm today.
Love alone is not enough to sustain an eternal bond between husband and wife. It is their commitment to G-d and the dedication of their lives to the eternal values that gives their union an eternal foundation upon which to thrive. By inviting G-d into their relationship, the union between man and woman achieves a sacredness which is carried through to every aspect of their lives.
The home should be perceived as a microcosm of the universe: The harmony that permeates the home and the family extends beyond, fostering harmony between families, communities and ultimately, the nations of the world. In the absence of harmony between one's own family, we can hardly expect to find harmony between strangers.
Ours is a society in which one's value is too often measured in terms of physical strength. This has engendered feelings of uselessness among many elderly, which in turn, contributes to depression. The Torah perspective, which prefers wisdom to physical strength as a measure of value, holds the elderly in high esteem. For it is with age and the experience of life that one gains wisdom. Whereas the physical strength of an aging person is generally diminished, the faculties of the mind are enhanced. It is for this reason that the elderly must occupy and utilize their mental faculties, and aspire to greater spiritual growth. I advocate the establishment of learning institutions for the elderly for this express purpose.
THE PHYSICALLY CHALLENGED
If an individual is handicapped, he or she is challenged by Divine Providence to uncover hidden abilities and energies to overcome his/her handicap, and to attain higher levels of achievement than others who are not similarly handicapped. I strongly recommend a change in the term "handicapped "- and prefer the term "outstanding" or "excellent ones," for it is their excellence that enables them to transcend whatever physical limitations they may have.
The giving of charity, which brings sustenance to a needy individual, is a life sustaining act one that effectively allows us to imitate G-d, "the animator of the living," and provides each person with the noblest direction
in life - to "walk in His ways." The Hebrew word tzedaka, commonly translated as "charity," literally means "justice" or "righteousness." 'Charity" connotes a generosity of spirit giving of the rich to the poor. Tzedaka, on the other hand, implies that one is fulfilling his/her obligation, and giving not of one's own, but that which has been entrusted by G-d to that individual, to give to others.
The Torah enumerates and defines many forms of punishment for sinners and convicted offenders, from simple fines to flogging and even capital punishment. Yet nowhere does it suggest incarceration as a form of
punishment. This is simply because the purpose of existence is to establish a G-dly abode in this world, which is accomplished by utilizing our ndividual, Divinely endowed strengths and talents in the service of G-d.
With all other forms of punishment, the individual suffers the penalty, is cleansed of his sin, and is then restored to freedom where he is expected to resume a productive life in the making of a more G-dly world.
As a prisoner, however, one is denied the freedom to fulfill his Divinely ordained mission, and hence, his reason for living. This is the consequence of the death penalty, a punishment which, if warranted by Torah, is the only atonement the offender can obtain. However, to allow one to live, and yet to deprive him of living, is inhumane.
If you see what needs to be repaired and now how to repair it, then you have found a piece of the world that G-d has left for you to perfect. But if you only see what is wrong and what is ugly, then it is you yourself that needs repair. There are ethereal beings who bask in the Divine light of spiritual worlds. But it is human beings, who struggle with the darkness of a material world who shall ultimately arrive at the Essence.
THE POWER OF THE INDIVIDUAL
Let no one think: "Who am I and what am I to have such tremendous powers of building and destruction."" For we have seen, to our sorrow, what even a small quantity of matter can do in the way of destruction through the release of atomic energy. If such power is concealed in a small quantity of matter - for destructiveness, in denial of the design and purpose of Creation, how much greater is the creative power entrusted to every individual to work in harmony with the Divine purpose. For in this case one is also given special abilities and opportunities by Divine Providence to attain the goal for which we have been created: the realization of a world of goodness and holiness.
People often perceive themselves in terms of their constraints as mortal beings. Yet there are times that call for transcendent actions. One must at times do more than they can possibly do. For each mortal is endowed with a G-dly soul - and G-d transcends mortal constraints.
All good actions unite to make the world as a whole progressively better. Even when a moral relapse seems very much in evidence, with many yet to become wiser and more faithful, the world as a whole is essentially becoming more purified with every passing year, everyday and every minute, for no instant passes without many good deeds. The final redemption is no longer a dream of the distant future, but an imminent reality. This generation is the final generation of exile and the first generation of redemption.
May the merit of the tzaddik Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson protect us all,