The Talmud (Ta’anit 5b) teaches us that the Biblical Jacob never died, despite the eulogies that were delivered in the presence of his mortally deceased body. His impact continues so long as his children, the Jewish people, endure.
On Tuesday, July 1 (the 3rd of Tammuz on the Jewish calendar), the world marked the 20th anniversary of the passing of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of blessed memory.
The Rebbe taught that since our forefather Jacob was identified with Torah (Bereshit 25:27), which exists outside of nature, Jacob himself was as well, and the natural consequences of death did not apply to him.
The Rebbe has not been with us physically for 20 years. But his message of love, of areivut (serving as a guarantor for other Jews), of love of God and His people, of never judging fellow Jews and valuing their tiniest actions and steps, continue in perpetuity.
Two passions of the Rebbe that have had a tremendous impact upon world Jewry are the study of Torah through inspiring educational opportunities, and the desire to give every Jew positive, joyous Jewish experiences. Perhaps they are really one passion, for if one loves Torah, one endeavors to share it with anyone and everyone. From that vantage point, this was the essence of the Rebbe and his broad vision.
The “Ten Mitzvah” campaign, which is comprised of Shabbat candle-lighting, Tefillin, Mezuzot, Torah study, giving tzedakak, having Jewish books in one’s home, keeping kosher, loving one’s fellow, Jewish education for children and family purity for married couples, demonstrates how the Rebbe was truly ahead of his time by establishing a curriculum to educate unlettered Jews with the fundamentals of Jewish life. Having served as a Beginners Rabbi for almost 40 years, I too have learned the importance of teaching the basics.
When we established National Jewish Outreach Program (NJOP) in 1987, we felt that a basic Hebrew language course would be a gateway to greater observance and thus created the very first Hebrew Reading Crash Course. After five thousand Jews responded positively, we asked the participants if they would be interested in a Crash Course in Basic Judaism. Indeed they were, and thousands enrolled. We used the Rebbe’s model to create a course for the “whys” and “whats” of Judaism. The course provided Jewishly-illiterate American Jews with the basics about God, Prayer, Shabbat, Jewish observance and marital intimacy.
With God’s help, over 80,000 American Jews have already taken the Basic Judaism Crash Course. Undoubtedly, too, for many of them, their first step toward greater observance was through the Rebbe’s campaigns of a mezuzah on their door, tefillin wrapped around their arm and head, candles illuminating their Shabbat home, and Jewish books adorning their walls.
Those beginnings, too, may have been supplemented by their families’ involvement with Chabad’s Gan Israel summer camps, Gan Yeladim pre-schools, Friendship Circles, recovery programs, shofar and matzah factories, challah baking, or simply the warm embrace of a Chabad House. The non-judgmental love for each Jew that reverberated through the Rebbe’s personality, is emulated by the Rebbe’s followers today with great passion and palpably felt in each of these programs.
My revered teacher, Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt’l, shared a life-long friendship with, and admiration for, the Rebbe. The stories about their mutual admiration and camaraderie are legendary. It has been my experience that the students of these two Torah giants frequently maintain the ideological closeness of their mentors. It is therefore no surprise that NJOP and Chabad often find themselves working hand in hand. NJOP’s effort to be non-judgmental and to love every Jew is very much a copy of the Chabad “manual” that serves as a source of inspiration for all.
As of June 2014, 809 Chabad centers and shluchim of the Rebbe in 8 countries, 46 US states and 6 Canadian provinces have partnered with NJOP on our campaigns such as Read Hebrew America, Shabbat Across America, and other acclaimed NJOP programs.
We are particularly proud of our partnership on campus with the Rohr Centers for Jewish Life sponsored by Pamela and George Rohr, Chabad and NJOP supporters. Campus outreach is just one of the many tools in the Chabad toolbox, all consequences of the inspired foresight and leadership of the Rebbe.
Some find it difficult to explain Chabad’s massive expansion during the last two decades, despite the physical absence of the movement’s leader. To me, there is no need to explain. The Rebbe’s impact is felt daily not merely by the thousands of shluchim and shluchot embedded around the world spreading his message, but also by the many thousands of Jews whom they reach.
May all of us who seek to bring our lost brothers and sisters home find success in emulating the Rebbe’s inspired life actions and teachings.
Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald is the founder and director of NJOP, the National Jewish Outreach Program.