I am in the middle of reading a few books. I will leave for another time reflections on Tamar Ross' excellent book Expanding the Palace of Torah. Over the last few days, I have read 2/3 of M. Avrum Ehrlich's The Messiah of Brooklyn: Understanding Lubavitch Hasidism Past and Present.
It is a biography of Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the seventh leader of the Lubavitch Hasidic dynasty (often referred to as Chabad). Rabbi Schneerson, usually referred to as The Rebbe, was a larger-than-life figure in 20th century Judaism. Living from 1902 - 1994, he truely personified (or inspired) many of the trends in contemporary Judaism--the shift of the centers of Jewish life from Europe to America and Israel, a return to Orthodoxy and tradition, renewed interest in the Jewish mystical tradition, and much more.
In an attempt to write more about my spiritual influences, I thought I should share my connections with Chabad and The Rebbe.
Starting towards the end of my high school years, our family became close with Rabbi Chuni and Oryah Vogel--the inspiring, brilliant, and kind-beyond-measure directors of Chabad of Delaware. As I became observant during college, I spent many a vacation and summer shabbat at their house in Wilmington. Over the years, I got to meet many of their extended family members.
In August of 1991 (I remember the date clearly because it was during the failed Coupe attempt on Soviet Premier Gorbachev), I went to the Habad home base of Crown Heights Brooklyn for a shabbaton. The week before I left, Oryeh's parents were visiting Wilmington and I spent some time talking with her father, Rabbi J. I Schochet, before I left. Rabbi Schochet is a respected author and lecture on Chabad Hasidut and other Jewish topics from Toronto. I remember clearly one line of our conversation. My hebrew name, Tzadik, means "a righteous one," and is a term used to describe holy or special individuals--especially rebbes such as The Rebbe. Rabbi Schochet said to me: "Tzadik, you are going to visit Tzadik this weekend." I thought I was going for a Shabbaton to learn and experience the Chabad community in Crown Heights, but to this teacher and Hasid, I was going to visit Tzadik Ha-Dur (the Righteous Person of the Generation). Indeed, the roomate in the house we stayed at was an advanced student at a Chabad Yeshiva. When I met him, I asked if he was here for the Shabbaton. He replied: "I am here to spend Shabbas by The Rebbe". I did briefly get to meet The Rebbe that weekend, on Sunday morning when he handed out Dollars for Tzedakah. I received his blessing for me and a special blessing for my brother Larry.
Those few seconds remain a blur but I remember very clearly the Fabrengen (Hasidic talk by the Rebbe or other Hasidic teachers) on the Shabbat afternoon of the visit. An hour or more of talking (in Yiddish) was interspersed with frenzied singing and the Rebbe offering l'chaim to individuals in the crowd of thousands. At one point, the Rebbe looked in my direction and raised his cup of wine towards me and said l'chaim. It felt as though he were looking right at me, piercing my soul with his deep eyes but I thought I was imagining it. Evidently I wasn't because quickly a shot of something was passed to me from the dias where the Rebbe sat. People patted my back as I drank from the Rebbe's l'chaim. While hundreds got to have a l'chaim that day, none of the other visitors with whom I was sitting were so honored. Tzadik really had gone to visit Tzadik.
With this remembered tale from my past, I wish all of you a l'chaim (wine or juice) on these concluding days of our holiday of liberation. As we continue to count upwards day by day, may our spiritual liberation and renewal help us prepare to once again receive the Aseret Ha-Dibrot (Ten Utterances) on the Festival of Shavuot.
Shabbat shalom and Hag Sameach,
Rabbi Bruce (HaRav Tzadik Abba ben Levi Tzvi v'Rachel)