The Advantage Of Not Knowing The Rebbe

Sometimes I think about weird things. For example, recently, I started thinking what it must have been like after Moshe passed away. For some reason, I imagine that for a whole generation, people that lived while he was alive would have been talking about him and how awesome he was.

“Dude! Do you remember that time he came down the mountain and his face was glowing?”

“Totally, bro! That was crazy. But remember that time he made his staff into a snake and then those other guys made their staffs into snakes but then his staff that was a snake ate their snakes?”

“I don’t know, man, is that story for real?”

“Yeah man, Aaron was there, remember? He told us all about it.”

I just feel like these conversations must have happened a lot. How could you know a tzadik like Moshe without being totally blown away by him and all that he did?

In a way, you could say that about the generation that lived when the Rebbe was alive. There are stories after stories, first hand accounts after first hand accounts, and miracles after miracles recorded online, in print, on video, and orally. When people describe the Rebbe, they talk about his eyes penetrated your soul, how when he talked to you it was like you were the only person in the world.

Stuff like that makes us folks who didn’t know about the Rebbe when he was alive, and had no chance to connect with him personally, or to have yechidus with him, or get a dollar from him, feel hardcore bummed. We missed it! We missed the leader of our generation doing miracles and telling people exactly how they should live their lives, and looking into our souls and bringing out the best in us.

Think how the generation after Moshe must have felt.

“Dude! Can you believe it, we were only one generation after Moshe. We missed the frigging sea being separated!”

“And the plagues, man, don’t forget the plagues. That’s like 7 miracles or something.”

“How the heck am I supposed to connect to Moshe like this? How can I appreciate anything in Judaism, in this Torah he gave us, when we don’t have him here to blow our minds and tell us how to live our lives, and to guide us?”

The same might be said about Chabad. How can someone truly be a Chassid without the Rebbe? It’s like a country without a president or a child without a father.

It’s a tough question, and tends to cause baal teshuvas and young Chabadniks to ask the same question at practically every farbrengen: how can I connect to the Rebbe when he’s gone?

Ironically, it was my move to Crown Heights that helped me understand that there’s a different angle to this whole thing.

This is the thing: Moshe didn’t exist to create miracles. The miracles existed to fulfill an end: to give the Jews the Torah. The whole thing was about the Torah. About the lessons G-d was trying to teach the Jewish people. The miracles were simply the most expedient way to go about that.

In Chabad-speak, the miracles, the awesomeness of Moshe, the mind-bending theatrics of the escape from Egypt and the acceptance of the Torah on Har Sinai, these were all the gashmius (the external element) of what was really happening: the transfer of G-dly wisdom into the minds and souls of the Jewish people.

I would imagine, then, that the people who lived during Moshe’s time might have had their own special challenge. Looking past the gashmius of Moshe, the miracles, and the escape from Egypt.

Imagine all the Jews sitting together in a sukkah during Sukkot and talking about all the crazy things that happened to them in the desert.

“The manah, bro, it was insane! One time, I imagined that it was like, a chocolate cake layered on top of vanilla ice cream with sprinkles and I tasted every bit of it. Even the sprinkles! Blew… my… mind.

“And Moshe, man, he made it all happen, it was all thanks to him.”

And I imagine a few Jews who didn’t experience it all, after they heard that story for the hundredth time, some of them might have wondered… okay, but what’s the point? Fine, so it was crazy, but why was it crazy? What’s the meaning behind the manna, what’s the connection? Was there a significance to Moshe’s glowing face? What was the lesson behind the splitting of the sea?

In Crown Heights, you hear a lot about the Rebbe. Amazing stories. Miracles you wouldn’t believe. Many of these stories are told through first-hand accounts. This is the Jerusalem of Babylon, ground zero of mind-blowing moments and the epicenter of world-changing events.

That power, that vision that some people had of the Rebbe is so powerful that they sometimes have trouble letting go of it. Entire farbrengens can consist of describing little actions the Rebbe did, or trying to remember what year he gave a famous speech. All these are beautiful expressions of a deep connection to the Rebbe, something none of us in this generation can fully understand.

But we also have an advantage because of that. We don’t need that gashmius. We don’t need to know exactly what year a sicha was given over, or what the Rebbe ate for lunch. We don’t even need the miracles.

If those help us reach deeper, that’s fine. But they aren’t the point.

The point is what the Rebbe taught us. The Torah he and all the other Chassidic Rebbeim brought down from Mount Sinai. The ahavas yisrael he demanded from us. The goal of bringing G-d down into this world, and the ultimate goal of ushering in the age of Moshiach.

The Rebbe said himself that we don’t connect to any Rebbe in any other way than “through his books”.

And so, in a way, our generation can connect to the Rebbe more deeply, and in a much truer capacity than the generation before us. Because we can connect straight to the essence of the Rebbe.

What a gift.

  • Zecharya

    Wow, i wish i knew about your site a bit before yesterday. Good stuff man, keep it coming.

  • disqus_eaLPmP2mZY

    beautiful!! Pure Emes.

  • Pingback: After Gimmel Tammuz |()

  • I would say over 30% of Lubavitchers never got to see the Rebbe. I offer my simple perspective below. While I agree with much of what is written, I think that some very critical points were missed which can help a person who might struggle with this challenge of being born 20 years to late.
    Such an article (as yours and mine) can only be written by someone who didn’t see the Rebbe’s hakafos. To see an Ish Elokim, a man of G-d, a Jew completely bound up and nullified with Hashem, Torah, and Klal Yisroel, which Chassidus explains is all one. You are right that miracles are not the ikkar, but to write them off as something second rate, or not an important focus misses a foundation of Chassidus, and even the pshat of Torah S’B’Ksav. Everything has a purpose including miracles and the reason they are recorded in the Torah and in Jewish books throughout history is because we have a special relationship with Hashem and the world. All Jews believe in miracles. Someone was sick and B”H recovered, thats a miracle! Someone sealed the deal on a big business acount, now THAT is a miracle and so on. The non Jewish world leaves such events to chance, luck, their own skills and intellect, and most of all, nature. We are above nature and therefore we are in a realm where miracles exist, have a purpose, and are there to teach us a very important message. Still they are not the ikkar, and neither was being in 770 with the Rebbe, as the Rebbe made clear on many occasions.
    It is recorded in HaYom Yom 9 Adar II [that] the intense longing to be bound closely (to a Rebbe) can be satisfied only by learning maamarim of Chassidus which the Rebbe delivers as oral discourses and writes down; simply seeing him is not enough. This doesnt mean that seeing him, isnt anything, but it is not the ikkar. This is why no other Chassidic group can survive without a physical Rebbe outside of Chabad. In Breslov it seems that some of these big Rabbi’s act as Rebbe.
    I never met the Rebbe, and neither did my parents. That means, no Rebbe stories, no dollars, no kos shel bracha (although I do have wine from kos shel bracha), and most of all never seeing the Rebbe’s Hakafos on Simchas Torah. How is it then that people who have all of the above and more ask me how I have such strong hiskashrus? How do I have such a determined driver to fulfill the request and demands of the Rebbe when I receive all of them from a book or a video?
    I believe with 100% emmunah that the purpose of the decent of the Rebbe soul was to bring Moshiach. He lifted up a generation after one of Jewish History’s greatest tragedies and strengthened them. Through his powerful and inspirational words of Torah and yes, his miracles, he turned a Chassidic group of a thousands at best into a movement connecting millions of Jews to Hashem and his Torah. His demands on his Chassidim are great, but I know the results are worth it. The Rebbe wanted us to simply do a little more today than we did yesterday.
    I Farbreng almost every Thursday and on Shabbos, and depending on the week it could be more. Fabrenging is as vital to a Chassid’s life as davening and learning, and the Alter Rebbe said that what a Chassidish Farbrengen can accomplish, even the Malach Michoel cannot. Are there stories of the Rebbe? Yes. Are there Miracles spoken about? Yes? Do you leave the Farbrengen ready to grow in your Avodas Hashem? Only you can answer that. We focus on what we want to focus on and I am sure if the main talk at a farbrengen is miracles and you try to bring out the action, b’poel, no one will mind.
    I have heard many times people say, “If only I had lived before Gimmel Tammuz….”. I ask them what would be different? They are usually convinced they would be a better person, in a better place, with better things, etc. We are born and live in the generation where our potential can reach its highest. This is why we are writing blog posts in 5773 about how we are lucky to live in our generation because of x, y, and z, and not in the generation of Moshe, R’ Yehudah HaNasi, the Arizal, or any of the Rebbeim. Our greatest potential is to live in the generation that brings Moshiach Now! B’Poel Mamash!!!

    • I could understand why you would assume I don’t think miracles are important, but that’s not at all what I meant. As with anything, miracles have a purpose behind them, as you say. But even if that’s true, people can focus ONLY on the miracle and not on the purpose behind it, as if it exists on its own, in a vacuum. That’s the danger I’m talking about.
      Anyway, besides that, loved your comment (and blog post). I really appreciate you put so much thought into the things I write.

  • Really beautiful and interesting article. Thanks. I’m really enjoying your posts and Tweets!

  • Benjamin Friedman

    actually thats a benefit in any other chasidus as well

  • Pingback: Hurricane Sandy video | OyVaGoy! (Chas Newkey-Burden)()