Sunday, July 3, 2011

Gimmel Tammuz: Long live the Rebbe!

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, was born on 11 Nissan 5662 (April 18, 1902) in Nikolaiev, which was part of the Russian Empire and present-day Ukraine. The Rebbe (as he is most commonly known) is the 7th Grand Rebbe (Admor) of the Chabad dynasty and served as head of the Lubavitch dynasty from 1951 until 1994, during which he opened the doors of Chassidus to tens of thousands of Jews around the world and prepared the world for Moshiach.

The Rebbe's father, Levi Yitzchak, was a descendant of the Tzemach Tzedek, the third Rebbe of Chabad.  The Rebbe's father was his primary teacher. In 1927 the Rebbe moved to Berlin. On 14 Kislev 5689 (1928) the Rebbe married Chaya Mushka Schneerson, the daughter of the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, in Warsaw, Poland. After the wedding the Rebbe lived in Berlin and studied philosophy and mathematics at the University of Berlin. In 1933 the Rebbe moved to Paris, where he completed a degree in electrical engineering. After his degree he continued to study mathematics at the Sorbonne. Recently, the Rebbe's Torah discourses during his time in Berlin and Paris have been discovered and published.

In 1941, the Rebbe fled Nazi-occupied France to Portugal, and with his wife boarded the Serpa Pinto ship which departed from Lisbon and arrived in New York City on June 12, 1941 (exactly 53 years to the Gregorian date of his passing), which was also the 28th of Sivan 5701 (the 70th anniversary of which was last Tuesday, the yartzheit of the Holy Tanna Yonasan ben Uziel). Upon the Rebbe's arrival in the U.S., his father-in-law appointed him to oversee the main Chabad institutions, and in the year 5703 he was appointed as head of the Chabad publishing house. Also in this year, the  Rebe published his first book, Hayom Yom, a compilation of teachings of the sixth Chabad Rebbe, arranged by the day of the Jewish calendar, studied to this day on a daily basis by all those connected to the Rebbe.

In the year 5710 (1950), the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe left this world, and on the 10th of Shvat 5711 (the 70th anniversary of which was also this year, 5771), which was also the 1st yartzheit of his father-in-law, the Rebbe gave his most famous Chasidic discourse, Basi LeGani, which was a commentary on his father-in-law's last discourse. The Rebbe later related that 10 Shvat 5771 was the date on which his leadership of Chabad began in a revealed manner.

During the years of the Rebbe's leadership, a wide range of institutions were established to spread the teachings of Chassidus and Jewish practice and heritage across the world. In the first five years of his leadership, the Rebbe established a chain of Chabad schools in North Africa, Chabad Youth movements in Israel, New York and Canada, Chabad women's organizations in Israel, Australia and the U.S., and the Chabad summer camp movement, which exists today in 40 different countries.

In 5727, after the six-day war and the Liberation of Jerusalem and the Old City, the Rebbe oversaw the renovation and re-opening of the Tzemach Tzedek synagogue in the Jewish Quarter (where a special celebration will take place tomorrow evening). In the 1980's the Rebbe started the Tzvaos Hashem youth movement, and called for parents to purchase a letter for $1 in a new Sefer Torah for all Jewish children under the age of 13 (a project which he initiated for adults as well) whose purpose was to unite all Jewish children through the Torah. Aside from three trips to Chabad camps in the Catskills in the 1950's, the Rebbe never left New York City during his years as leader of the Chabad movement.

770 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, NY

Hundreds of thousands of people around the world had the zechus of meeting with the Rebbe, or writing to him, and receiving his blessing. Between 1986 and 1992 the Rebbe distributed one-dollar bills to be given to tzedaka to his thousands of weekly visitors. Every Sunday, a long line of people waited up to six hours to collect shliach mitzva from the Rebbe, ask a question and ask for a blessing.

On every Jewish and Chasidic holiday, the Rebbe conducted a hisvadus celebration in at his center, 770 (named after its address, 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, New York). Jews of all backgrounds flocked to these gatherings. During them the Rebbe sat in the middle of the Beis Midrash on a bimmah  and delivered words of Torah related to the weekly Parsha or the particular holiday. Between the various discourses, which lasted late into the naight, the attendants would sing niggunim and drink lechayim according to the Rebbe's glances.

To our great fortune, almost every word the Rebbe spoke was recorded by satellite, phone or fax and disseminated to Chasidim worldwide. The discourses given on Shabbat and other holidays, during which the use of technology is restricted, were recorded by a group of attendees at the end of Shabbat or the festival and then faxed to the Chasidim. While the Rebbe did not write his discourses himself, his students would gather after each discourse and record the discourses -- some of which lasted for up to thirteen hours -- for publication.

In the 1980's, the Rebbe called on his Chasidim to act to hasten the redemption. In the 1990's the Rebbe called on Chasidim to announce in public that the time has arrived to prepare for the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu. In 1991, the Rebbe said: "I have done everything I can, now I am handing over to you; do everything you can to bring Moshiach!" Below is a satellite feed from a 1985 12 Tammuz Gathering with the Rebbe from Jewish TV. The 12th of Tammuz is a Chasidic holiday celebrating the release of the Rebbe's father-in-law, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, from prison. The video includes two Chasidic discourses given by the Rebbe during the height of the movement's Messianic sentiment, each about 25 minutes long, separated by a session of singing by the Chasidim:

According to the Chasidic dictum u'faratza -- and you shall spread -- the Rebbe encouraged his Chasidim to set foot to the farthest corners of the globe and engage Jews of all backgrounds to engage in Torah and mitzvot, Through the mivtzaim, the Rebbe called on his Chasidim to light Chanukah candles in city centers and malls to instill Jewish pride, conduct Lag BaOmer parades with an emphasis on youth involvement, set up stands to perform the mitzvah of the Lulav on Sukkos, dsitribute matza on Passover, blow the Shofar on Rosh Hashana all around town and college campuses, and arrange public Purim Seudos in cities and college campuses around the world. The Rebbe made sure to direct Chasidim to keep events free of charge and provide for those who could not afford the means to purchase items needed to fulfill the mitzvot.

The Rebbe's Ten Mivtzoim project called on all Jews to take the plunge and keep 10 major mitzvas: Ahavas Yisroel (love of your fellow Jew, i.e. concern for their physical and spiritual well-being), Jewish education, Torah study, Tefillin (for Jewish men), Mezuzah, Tzedakah (charity), filling the home with Jewish books, lighting Shabbos candles, keeping Kosher, and keeping the laws of family purity (Mikvah and Niddah).

In the 1980's the Rebbe called to raise awareness of the importance of the 7th Noahide Laws among non-Jews and to urge humanity to adhere to them. The Rebbe's efforts led to a bill passed by the U.S. Congress on January 3, 1991 to designate March 26, 1991 as Education Day, in coincidence with the beginning of the Rebbe's 90th year. The bill acknowledges the Seven Noahide Laws as "the bedrock of society" and praises the Rebbe and Chabad for promoting these values and principles throughout the world.

On 27 Adar 5752 (1992), while standing at the grave of his father-in-law, the Rebbe suffered a stroke, which subsequently impaired his ability to speak. Eight months after the stroke the Rebbe appeared publicly every so often, on a special balcony built outside his room, on the Western side of 770. During this time, the Chasidim would sing Yechi Adoneinu Moreinu V'Rabbeinu Melech HaMoshiach L'Olam Voed, to which the Rebbe would quietly nod his head. On 27 Adar 5754 (1994), the Rebbe entered a coma and was hospitalized. Three months later, on Gimmel Tammuz (June 12, 1994), the Rebbe departed, leaving the world ready for Moshiach in body and spirit. In a letter to the 2nd President of Israel, Yitzchak ben Tzvi, the Rebbe wrote:
From the time that I was a child attending cheder, and even before, the vision of the future Redemption began to take form in my imagination – the Redemption of the Jewish People from their final Exile, a redemption of such magnitude and grandeur through which the purpose of the suffering, the harsh decrees and annihilation of Exile will be understood...(Igros Koidesh Vol. 12, p. 404)
It is said that tzaddikim are more available to each and every Jew once they are freed from the physical limitations of the body and of this world. On the day of the Rebbe's Yartzheit, it is a good day to write a letter to the Rebbe from wherever you are, light a candle in memory of the Rebbe, ask for all you need on a physical and spiritual level, and of course...


  יחי אדוננו מורנו ורבינו מלך המשיח לעולם ועד

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