28 years after his death, the Rebbe’s impact lives on

10 months ago The Connections Staff 0

Today, April 12th, or the 11th day of Nissan, is the birthday of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, known as the 7th Lubavitcher Rebbe. 28 years after his passing, CTeen Connections wanted to do something special to honor and commemorate his birthday and his legacy. Many members of our team contributed to this unique piece, one that is a little bit different than the articles we typically publish. Take a look at the Rebbe’s lasting impacts on Jewish communities all over the world, and how his legacy grows as the years grow!

Energy never disappears

Chloe Baker// Fairfax, VA

The Rebbe was a jack of many trades. A scholar, a teacher, a leader, a mensch and an inspiration to countless people around the world, during his time on Earth and even after he passed away. I’ve learned many things from the Rebbe, and have been impacted by him, his teachings and his initiatives in so many ways. However, I would like to focus on a certain teaching that really impacted me after my Zaida, or grandfather, passed away.

In the book Toward a Meaningful Life, author Simon Jacobson explains how the Rebbe references physics and scientific teachings by emphasizing that energy never truly disappears; it simply changes form. This can be easily explained by the example he used: a tree. A tree can be cut down and used to build furniture or houses. Regardless of how the form changes, one thing stays true and that is the wood always remains wood. When that same wood is burned in a fire, its form changes yet again, but the tree, the furniture and the fire are all different forms of the same original substance.

“If this is the case with a material substance, it is even more so with a spiritual substance,” the Rebbe says. “The spiritual life force in man, the soul, never disappears; upon death, it changes from one form to another higher form.”

I often think about this lesson when I miss my Zaida and I always remember that he is never truly gone; it is just his physical presence that is missing in my life. This simple paragraph I read in this book has brought me comfort in hard times, and has reminded me that my Zaida’s neshama is brighter than ever, and that he is watching over my family and I every day.

Influencing religious—and secular—movements

Alfie Joseph// Manchester, UK

The Rebbe was a well versed observant man. He was not only capable of being a Rav and installing Yiddishkeit within the Jewish community, but he was also able to turn an organization that almost fazed out after the Holocaust into one of the most influential and biggest Jewish organizations: Chabad.

What’s more, the Rebbe believed heavily in the power of teens and their ability to lead. The Rebbe reinforced the idea of “you have the power to move worlds”, talking about the teens of the generation. Because of the Rebbe’s belief in teens after his passing, CTeen was founded in 2008 and here we are today with 640+ chapters across 40 countries and 7 continents.

Therefore, we can give credit to the Rebbe for influencing both the start of CTeen and Chabad as a whole. But would it surprise you to know that the Rebbe wasn’t all about religious knowledge, but secular knowledge too?

The Rebbe studied at the University of Berlin. One thing we can take from his time there is the fact that he was always surrounded by people in their trackies and hoodies. The Rebbe believed that secular knowledge should be used to understand Jewish concepts, which is one reason that he was able to write over 300 different books understanding Jewish concepts. The Rebbe’s versatile approach in understanding both the religious and secular aspects of the world make him one of the greatest and approachable Rebbes of our time.

The Mitzvah Tank: A legacy

Sophie Edelstein// Milwaukee, WI

In 1974, a new apparition began to make its appearance in the streets of Manhattan. Even in the chaos of the crowd, this “strange” vehicle attracted attention. It was a standard van of the U-Haul variety, and its backdoor was rolled up showing a cargo of one large wooden table, two wooden benches and a dozen young men with beards and black hats. From a loudspeaker played a medley of Chasidic songs at high volume. That is, high enough to make sure people heard it among the chaos and commotion of the New York streets.

This is one of the first “Mitzvah Tanks” in Los Angeles, CA during the 1970s. He would send his students to help him. If one of his students came across a Jewish female, she would be offered a free kit containing small tin candlesticks, candle and brochure with all of the information necessary to light Shabbat candles that Friday evening, the proper times, the blessings (in Hebrew and English), accompanied with a short message about the importance of bringing Shabbat into her home. In addition, she would be offered literature on the Rebbe’s other mitzvah campaigns or assistance, in anything from having a mezuzah checked to finding a Jewish school for her children. Eventually, these vans were replaced with small homes. Regardless, the mission remained the same: “Go out there and get a Jew to do a mitzvah.”

Large posters secured to the side of the van read “Mitzvah Tank!” The Rebbe had sent these “tanks” into the heart of the city for the soul of the average “American Jew”. If a large portion of the American Jewery had ceased to come to Shul each morning to put on Tefillin and pray, then the Rebbe was going to bring the tefillin to them.

Before the Rebbe’s mitzvah campaign, doing a mitzvah was a private deed, performed only by religious Jews at their home or at synagogue. One may question—what is the purpose of doing one mitzvah on the way to lunch in a non-kosher restaurant? Mitzvot were seen as the details that made up a religious Jew’s lifestyle.

The Rebbe saw things differently. As a connection between man and G-d, as a bridge between creator and creation. A mitzvah is a deed of significance, a deed of infinite value unto itself. The Rebbe repeated time and time again: A single person performing a single mitzvah could be the deed that tips the scales and brings redemption to the entire world and all of creation.

The Rebbe believed and would always say, “If you see what needs to be repaired and how to repair it, then you have found a piece of the world that G-d has left for you to complete. But if you only see what is wrong and what is ugly in the world, then it is you yourself that needs repair.” As we commemorate his birthday, this is an important and relatable aspect to consider.

A source of guidance amid difficult times

Benjamin Samuels// Brooklyn Heights, NY

Rabbi Aaron Raskin, leader of the B’nai Avraham synagogue in Brooklyn Heights, has had to guide his congregation through difficult times. Covid-19 particularly affected the elderly parts of the community, and the current war in Ukraine has hit many families close to home. I sat down with him after ma’ariv to ask him how the Rebbe’s teachings animate him and provide him with the energy to manage the needs of the whole congregation.

He tugs his beard, quoting the Rambam: “The world is always on a scale,” he tells me, “of fifty percent ‘good’ and fifty percent ‘bad’. We stand right there at that scale. We have the power to tip that scale in one way or the other.”

He is really trying to explain the spiritual obligation we have to people separated from us, people that we’ll never meet. The Rebbe believed that the light of Torah could touch the farthest reaches of the world. But six feet away and behind a mask, or thousands of miles away in Ukraine, there are millions of people who are faceless to us. They’re separated by widening financial, social, religious—even physical—distances. How are we, as Jews, to make decisions from across this kind of vacuum?

Benjamin Samuels during his interview with Rabbi Aaron Raskin.

“Everyone has a clash within them between the forces of good and evil,” says Rabbi Raskin. “Now we must look at the war in Ukraine, and then look at ourselves.”

The idea that the tending of the divine spark is neither individualized and lonely nor a crusade for which we can sacrifice human decency was a central principle of the Rebbe’s. An action we take within ourselves has the capacity to vibrate through the spiritual architecture of the whole world.

“Jews have a whole list of ways they can connect to G-d,” Rabbi Raskin explains. “So can non-Jews. I’m writing a whole book about all the ways that non-Jews can connect to G-d. The Rebbe believed that every person, Jew and non-Jew, was placed here to make a difference.”

Someone with clear vision is able to see the unity of our own spiritual health and the spiritual health of the world. But is it more important to make a difference in our own lives or the lives of others? Rabbi Raskin shrugs. “Which is more important, water or bread? We have the power to give leadership and guidance to a world that craves it. Everything in it must motivate us to become its compass.”

The 120 million mitzvah mission

Benjamin Rosen// Apex, NC

With the Lubavitcher Rebbes’ 120th birthday this year, a particularly special milestone, it makes sense to make our “present” to the Rebbe equally special. There is now a global movement to perform 120 million mitzvot to take us that much closer to Moshiach. It is a massive number to hit, but we can be sure to try our hardest.

That being said, it is not always clear what mitzvot to do everyday; there are books and books of rules and traditions, but where to start? To try and make observance as available as possible, I have constructed a list of some of the daily or weekly things you can do as your gift to the Rebbe:

1. Shabbat

There is so much to say about Shabbat. It is arguably the single uniting day that has kept the Jewish people together for so long. For the passionate Jew, seeking to elevate themselves in deed, there can be no place better to start than here. Of course, there are many levels of rule to be followed; everyone should figure out for themselves how they want to honor the Sabbath. A good start is putting the mentality of the day before the actual law. On Shabbat, we should be focusing on family and community—that can mean attending synagogue or just spending the day playing cards with loved ones. Once the relaxing and spiritual energy of Shabbat is welcomed into the home, then it is advisable to begin observing the commandments of what cannot be done on Shabbat, such as working, spending time on the phone or on the TV.

2. Kosher

Keeping kosher can feel like a bit of a daunting task. To truly take on all of the laws that denote kosher foods—kashrut—may seem very difficult and should be approached both slowly and carefully with the help of a Rabbi. But there are some notable things that can be done to make each meal with this mitzvah in mind. First, anything with a kosher hechsher can be trusted as being kosher (see a list of symbols above); simply make the choice to seek these out specifically whenever possible. In these instances where we can be confident that our meal is kosher, we can perform the beautiful mitzvah of food prayer. Before we eat we say a simple and short prayer depending on the food in question. This reminds us to be thankful for our food and eat with purpose and kavanah, or intention.

3. Modeh Ani

Checking your phone first thing in the morning really isn’t healthy, so make it the second thing in your morning routine and start off right—with a mitzvah! You might know the prayer by now, but if not, it’s relatively short. Recite this short line when you open your eyes and get a little spiritual pick-me-up.

4. Tzedakah

This is self-explanatory. All charity is a mitzvah. No matter how small, even a penny a day counts. For someone looking for simple but meaningful good deeds to do every day, there is no tool better for the job than a tzedakah box.

5. Kippah and Tefillin

Boys, if you really want to make your mark in the heavens above, this is the way to go. If you have had your Bar Mitzvah, you have probably put on a kippah and tefillin at least once. What’s a few more times? Speaking from experience, there is nothing like the feeling of going through life with a kippah on; I would implore all of you reading to try it at least once—bonus points if you wear it at school. For those who want to go the extra mile, no Jewish boy can start his day any holier than with wrapping tefillin and saying the prayers. If you would like to take that mitzvah on, I’m sure your CTeen Rabbi would be more than happy to help.

These mitzvot, and many more, are part of the 120 million mitzvah challenge, and with just a little bit of help from you I’m sure we can get there. For more examples and help growing in your own Judaism, I encourage reading this article on the Rebbe’s 10-point guide to Jewish observance.