This Shabbat will mark the 28th yahrtzeit-hilula of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson.
The Rebbe’s mother would recall that when he was nine years old, the Rebbe dived into the Black Sea to save the life of a boy who had fallen from the deck of a moored ship. The adult onlookers didn’t feel confident enough to jump in. Those who witnessed this heroic act recalled the sacrifice the Rebbe had made that day. He himself collapsed, almost lifeless, soon after bringing the young boy to shore.
To me, this story is emblematic of the Rebbe’s life; the sacrifice and deep sense of responsibility for all who cry out for help. The call of those drowning and no one hearing their cries. For all people calling out for moral guidance in a world engulfed in darkness, the Rebbe rose to this historic calling offering guidance and leadership.
The Rebbe selflessly acted as that spiritual lifeguard and moral compass, jumping into the most dangerous waters to pull out those who were sinking and save their lives, and going where others were afraid to, despite the personal cost he may have had to pay.
Over decades, he carefully taught, living by example, of complete dedication to G-d and the Torah, dedication to world Jewry with Ahavat Yisrael, and humanity in general, encouraging acts of goodness and kindness, bringing us all closer to the fulfillment of Isaias's prophecy of true peace when "nation shall not lift up sword against nation. . . they shall beat swords into plowshares," when the world will be filled with the wisdom of G-d with the coming of Moshiach.
Through the sheer force of his convictions -- his dedication to G-d and his fellow human being -- along with his deep insight into the human condition, the Rebbe quietly, unassumingly but most determinedly, inspired and empowered people of all walks of life all over the globe with his teachings that stirred the conscience and spirit of a depleted and demoralized post-holocaust world Jewry to rebuild and flourish, and reached far, far beyond the confines of the Jewish people to inspire countless human beings of all walks of life to a life dedicated to serving.
In the last 28 years, the Rebbe's reach has expanded exponentially. Today there is not a single Jewish community in the world that has not been positively impacted, and in many cases transformed and completely revived and revitalized, by the Rebbe's vision and teachings. Recognizing his urgent call for world Jewry and humanity, millions of people around the world study his teachings, and movements well-beyond Chabad are looking to Chabad and the Rebbe's teachings to identify what makes Judaism and Jews tick and what keeps people inspired and engaged.
Of course the Rebbe is very personal to Mussie and myself. Our move and work in South Dakota is inspired and guided by the Rebbe's vision and leadership. When a lonely Jew in South Dakota has a seder to go to and matzah on Passover for the first time in decades, it is because of the Rebbe, when a young child learns Alef Beit, it is because of the Rebbe, when a Jewish college student can have a home away from home, it is because of the Rebbe, and when a destitute woman who had been shunned by her community receives a proper Jewish burial, it is because of the Rebbe.
So today, please join me and millions of women, men and children around the world and do an extra mitzvah in honor of the Rebbe. Take a few moments and study some Torah. If you have a pair of tefilin, put it on and say a short prayer. Light the Shabbat candles this evening. Place a few coins in a tzedaka charity box to be given to a person in need or a worthy cause. And do what you can and be ready "to jump into the water" to save someone in need.
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Rabbi Mendel Alperowitz Blog
Serving the spiritual needs of the South Dakota Jewish community. Based in Sioux Falls and travels the state.