April 13, 2024
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April 13, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

I just received a copy of a new book and I can’t put it down. While I found Yehuda Aviner’s The Prime Ministers quite impressive, the book I am now reading is worlds ahead. Ac­tually, not specifically the book itself, though it is a very impressive work that the author took three years and countless interviews and much, much research to prepare, it is the subject of the book that is overwhelming. The book is simply entitled Rebbe, by Joseph Telushkin (Harper Wave, 2014). The book is 576 pages long and includes76 pag­es of endnotes and references. It is an overview of the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.

I have been following the Rebbe from the sidelines since I was a teenager, and once had a Yechidus with the Rebbe when I was 19 years old. I am quite sure that virtually every Orthodox per­son knows a fair amount about the Rebbe, and an extremely large number of marginally Jew­ish people (and a smaller number of non-Jews) are likewise very aware of Chabad. But few know about the amazing details of the life of a Manhig Yisroel unlike anyone else since at least the time of the Rambam, and probably a lot longer.

The Rebbe welcomed conservative and reform rabbis into his farbrengen. In fact, one prominent Orthodox rabbi complained to the Rebbe about his allowing Conservative and Reform rabbis to attend public events at Chabad. The Rebbe dismissed the objection, saying that all Jews were and continue to be fully welcome at Chabad events. The Reb­be was once approached by a Reform rabbi who asked if he should leave his congrega­tion. The Rebbe said, “You’re a soldier on the front” and that he not only shouldn’t leave, but should challenge his congregants to do more! That is unimaginable from any oth­er Orthodox rabbi, rosh yeshivah, or Gadol Hador, who would negate in the strongest possible terms any non-Orthodox religious leader, or at the very least, simply never re­fer to them.

Telushkin quotes the former chief rabbi of Great Britain, Lord Jonathan Sacks, as de­scribing the amazing accomplishments of the Rebbe by saying that, “Among the very greatest leaders of the Jewish past there were some who transformed communities. There were others who fostered many disci­ples; there were yet others who left us codes and commentaries that will be studied for all time. But there have been few in the en­tire history of one of the oldest peoples in the world, who, in one lifetime made his in­fluence felt throughout the entire Jewish world…The Rebbe was one of the immortals.”

And his influence was hardly limited to the Jewish world. On the night preceding his election to the senate, Cory Booker (an Afri­can-American Christian) went to the previ­ous Rebbe’s grave to pray. It was done private­ly and only came to public attention after the election. Booker has often made clear that he regards the Rebbe as one of his fore­most teachers. Something similar happened when in 1968 Shirley Chisholm became the first black woman elected to Congress [from Crown Heights, where Lubavitch is centered]. Southern Democratic congressmen, many of whom in those days were racists, assigned her mockingly to the Agriculture Committee. Chisholm was frustrated and furious. Short­ly after that, she received a call from one of her constituents, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and was told that the Rebbe would like to meet with her. When she came she told the Reb­be that she was upset and feeling very insult­ed. The Rebbe said, “What a blessing God has given you. This country has so much surplus food and there are so many hungry people and you can use this gift that God’s given you to feed hungry people!”

On her first day in Congress, Chisholm met Robert Dole who expressed great con­cern regarding the plight of mid-western farmers who were producing more food than they could sell and were losing mon­ey on their crops. Working with Dole and on her own, in an effort that eventually ben­efited millions of poor people and farmers, Chisholm greatly expanded the food stamp program. She played an even more critical role in the Special Supplemental Nutrition­al Program for Women, Infants, and Chil­dren (WIC) which mandated food supple­ments for high-risk pregnant women and for young children at nutritional risk. Today, some 8 million people receive WIC benefits each month.

Telushkin relates an incident about his father, Shlomo Telushkin, who was the Reb­be’s accountant and had been the accountant for the previous Rebbe since he came to the United States. Shlomo Telushkin had a seri­ous stroke. For several days, he lay in a hos­pital bed in a coma. Though he came out of the coma, he never fully recovered. The fami­ly received calls twice daily from the Rebbe’s office asking about his condition. A few days later the family received a call from the Reb­be’s secretary stating that an accounting issue had come up and the Rebbe had said “ask Sh­lomo.” Despite Joseph saying, “But you know how sick and disoriented my father is,” he was told the Rebbe “of course remembered, but insisted that we ask your father.”

Joseph was told the issue and he went to his father and asked him. Shlomo said the answer was obvious and told it to Joseph. At that moment Joseph realized what the Reb­be had done. “He had made a calculation and asked my father a question that he knew my father would be able to answer. Sitting in his office at 770 Eastern Parkway, dealing with macro issues confronting Jews and the world, he had the moral imagination to feel the pain of one individual, my father, lying in a hospital bed, partially paralyzed, and won­dering if he would ever again be productive. And so the Rebbe asked him a question, and by doing so, he reminded my father that he was still needed and could still be of service.”

The stories go on and on, each one more remarkable than the others. On this, the 20th Yahrtzeit of the Rebbe, let every Jew and eve­ry human being dedicate himself to being a better Jew and a better person.

Please feel free to contact me regarding this (or any) topic. You can do so anonymous­ly by writing to [email protected]. Dr. Glick was a clinical psychologist in pri­vate practice for 35 years as well as the rabbi of Congregation Ahavat Yisrael in Montreal. If you would like to submit a question, or contact him for an appointment, he can be reached at [email protected] or by calling him at 201-983-1532.

By Rabbi Dr. Mordechai Glick

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