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Lubavitcher Rebbe hunted far-flung Jews in love

  • MichaelRebbe
The Lubavitcher Rebbe was a marketing genius, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, the author of Rebbe, the Life and Teaching of Menachem M Schneerson, the Most Influential Rabbi of Modern History, said at the launch of his book at the Linder Auditorium in Johannesburg last week.
by MICHAEL BELLING | Sep 03, 2014

PHOTOGRAPH BY MICHAEL BELLING

 

Pictured: Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, author of a new book on the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who was in conversation with radio personality and author Mandy Wiener at the book launch last week.

He said the book told the story of the leader of Chabad, the most dynamic religious movement in Judaism for hundreds of years.

“The power of the Rebbe lay in exercising moral imagination.”

When the Rebbe took office in 1951, the movement was relatively small, but he already had a vision of reaching every Jewish community and every Jew in the entire world.

“The Nazis hunted every Jew in hate, the Rebbe hunted them down in love,” Telushkin said.

He had an unusual background for a rebbe, having lived in several countries and having studied at university.

Through his shluchim, emissaries, Chabad’s reach extended far and wide, to small communities and far-flung places, including the world’s largest Pesach seder this year in Katmandu, Nepal. Many shluchim remained in their posts for life.

“Chabad’s outreach to the Jewish world is extraordinary. It extends to the non-Jewish world as well.” Examples were the Museum of Goodness and Kindness and spreading the seven Noachide laws to non-Jews.

Among the Rebbe’s “secrets” was a conviction that every act counted - “in the journey of life every great commitment starts with a simple mitzvah, each step has a value in and of itself.

Acts such as putting on tefillin or women lighting Shabbat candles had a revolutionary and transformative effect.

The Rebbe’s conduct emanated from a love of fellow Jews and humankind. Love your neighbour as yourself was a very old precept, “but Jews were not super efficient in carrying this out”.

The Rebbe’s innovation lay in preaching unconditional love, love without judgement.

He was able to express disagreement without becoming disagreeable, focusing on commonalities, on approaches.

He looked at ways people could grow. He could appreciate people.

When he asked one rabbi about his work, the rabbi replied he tried to bring near those who were far from Judaism. The Rebbe replied, “How do we know who is far and who is near?”

Said Telushkin: “He wasn’t only very smart, the love that had was very great.”

In conversation with radio personality and author Mandy Wiener after his talk, Telushkin said another of the Rebbe’s secrets was that if something was worth doing, it was not only worth doing well, but should be done now.

Another trait was that he wanted to create leaders, not just followers, to empower people, and he did so.

“He used to personalise a mitzvah, make it special to the individual, in terms of the individual.

“That was his gift to the individual Jew, the Jewish people and now to the world.”

Wiener asked whether the movement would continue after the Rebbe death.

“Normally when a charismatic leader dies, a movement tends to find another charismatic leader or to decline,” Telushkin said. Chabad was bucking this trend and was expanding.

“The future of Chabad looks quite bright, because of a sense of mission.”

Rabbi David Masinter and Rabbi Michael Katz, directors of Chabad House, introduced  Telushkin and Wiener and thanked them.

 

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