This post is dedicated in memory of Etya Sarah bat Yitzchak ha-Levi. May it be an aliyah for her neshama.
By Jackie Ross
While the term "The Rebbe" ostensibly could be apply to any Chassidish rabbi, the term has come to be associated with one specific Rebbe - Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. The seventh, and last, of the Chabad-Lubavitcher Rebbes. His yahrzeit, or the anniversary of his death, is the third of Tammuz - from sunset on June 30th until sunsent on July 1 of this year. It is the 20th anniversary of his death, but the work he started during his life has continued and thrived even as the movement has been operating without a leader.
Born erev Shabbat in 1902 in what is now Ukraine, he was quickly recognized as a special and talented person. After marrying his wife, Chaya Mushka, in Poland, the settled in Berlin, Germany. Here he studied math, physics and philosophy (at the same time!), but feeling Hilter's tightening grip on the country's Jewish population, fled to Paris in 1933, where he then studied mechanics and electrical engineering. He became a certified engineer, but continued his mathematical studies at the famed Sorbonne, until the outbreak of World War II in 1939. It must be noted, that while pursuing his secular studies, the Rebbe continued his learning of Torah, answering questions, and editing Jewish issue journals and periodicals. He was forced to move throughout France, while learning how to speak the language, and eventually was able to flee Europe and landed in New York in 1941. Here he settled with his father-in-law, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. He served at the 6th Rebbe's pleasure - often answering the halachic (pertaining to Jewish law) questions sent to the Rebbe, while producing and editing his own work, and establishing himself as a great Torah scholar. When the Rebbe passed away in 1950, it is well known that Rabbi Menachem Mendel did not want to assume the position of 'The Rebbe'. After the Lubavitch membership made it clear they wanted him as their leader, he finally acquiesced.
While serving as the spiritual leader to the Lubavitch sect, the Rebbe also sought to reach out to all Jews, especially those not observant. He encouraged Reb Shlomo Carlebach to use his musical talents to awaken the spirituality in Jews. He promoted higher education for religious women, setting the stage for countless women to attend seminaries after their high school studies were done. He would send 'shluchim' or messengers to go live Jewish lives in communities all over the world where the Jews had little to know community structure. Nowadays, thanks to his efforts, it's hard to go to any major city in the world and not be able to sit down to a Shabbat dinner on Friday night.
His specialness was recognized by religious Jews, secular Jews, and even non-Jews. They would reserve months in advance for a few moments of the Rebbe's time when he would meet with literally anyone at his famous residence 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, New York. Sometimes, he would give people a dollar to give to charity. I've seen these dollars mounted in homes around the world, and their owns promised they gave another dollar to charity instead. Something as special as a gift from the Rebbe isn't easily parted with.
When the Rebbe passed in 1994, and the age of 91, he left no heirs. He and his wife never had children, and there were no natural heirs to the dynasty. Chabad continues to grow and flourish. On the Rebbe's yahrzeit, we are able to tap into the spiritual gifts he uniquely possessed. For the next 24 hours, let us all do our best to inspire, learn, educate, and uplift each other!