This Thursday and Friday, the 12th and 13th of Tammuz (June 13 & 14, 2013), is the 86th anniversary of Rabbi Yosef Y. Schneerson’s release from imprisonment under the Stalinist regime. 27 days earlier, Rabbi Schneerson, the 6th Lubavitcher Rebbe, had been arrested by the NKVD, thanks to informers of the Yevsektzia (“Jewish Section” of the Communist party) for his activities to preserve Judaism.
For this heinous crime, Rabbi Schneerson had been sentence to death, G-d forbid. His sentence was subsequently commuted, and he was exiled to Kostrama, from which he was eventually liberated completely on the 13th of Tammuz. The 12th of Tammuz was also his birthday.
Rabbi Schneerson’s goal was not merely to preserve Judaism, but to bolster it. He did not isolate his efforts towards one segment of the Jewish population, but endeavored to reach out, directly and through his valiant representatives (“Shluchim”) to all Jews, whoever and wherever they may be.
After his passing in New York in 1950, his son-in-law, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, took over the helm, and became known worldwide simply as “the Rebbe.” On a personal note, when I traveled to Siberia on two occasions to a city which never had a rabbi, a synagogue, a mikveh, or anything else Jewish — other than the Jews, of course! — they knew who the Rebbe was. When I mentioned how the Rebbe fought for their freedom, they cried. And so did I.
This week, a colleague shared with me a brief transcript of a 1974 meeting between the Rebbe and the Young Leadership Cabinet of the UJA. Typed on their stationery, the transcript begins by stating that the audience began at 11pm and, “the informal interview session lasted into the early hours of the morning and was, by consensus of all who participated, one of the landmarks of our Jewish explorations.”
I share with you some excerpts of their conversation, as written by the UJA (I have preserved the language as written by them):
“REBBE: There is a special goal which takes priority over all others and that is education. By educating people you are preparing the young leadership of tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. Education is not a question of making someone who is not so learned, more learned, someone who is not fluent more fluent, someone who is not charitable to become charitable or more charitable….
“I am not asking you for a check, what I am asking is that every one of you, before asking someone for a check tomorrow, to become more Jewish than today by adding at least one mitzvah in your personal life, in your private life and in the life of your family. And, in addition, and I know this from my personal experience, I am not seventy years old, and nevertheless I hope that tomorrow morning, I will be a better Jew than today. Performing a mitzvah in your private life as a private person — has an immediate impact on your communal activities….”
In response to a question from a member of the UJA about how to deal with questions about the Holocaust, the Rebbe responded (in part):
“If history teaches us something that we must not repeat or emulate, the best lesson can be taken from the destruction of the Second Temple. We witnessed something so terrible it must bring every Jew to become more identified with his Jewishness, not by giving charity alone but by putting on tefillin, observing Shabbat, not Sunday, not as a day of rest, but as a day of holiness. The difference between Sunday and Shabbat is not that it’s not only Sunday. It’s the first day but Shabbat is a day of holiness. Because it is holy you must rest. Sunday is a day of rest because you are resting. It’s the reverse….
“For a Jew, it is not enough to exist, he must be holy. What does holiness mean? It means that special action. When he performs any action… eating his lunch… he should have something else in mind, not only to provide for his hunger. He has a purpose that is on a higher level than his eating. Similarly, when he makes money in his factory or in his supermarket, it must be only a means to something on a higher level….
“Tzedakah (charity) itself is a mitzvah, but tzedakah for the purpose of tzedakah is one of the biggest mitzvahs. You need not have any additional qualification….
“G-d Almighty has given so many mitzvot because He’s trying to make it possible for everyone to be a ‘mitzvah Jew.’ G-d Almighty has given the possibility to everyone, on every level, to become holy, and because of that, he has given every kind of possibility to achieve this goal….
“If I may add another suggestion… an additional task: take upon yourself, I hope for tomorrow morning, to add to your Jewishness by performing one mitzvah. A good thing for every one of us is to add study on top of this additional mitzvah that you’ll take upon yourself for tomorrow morning. Start to study in everyday life… to give ten minutes or fifteen minutes more for studying the Torah. It has a special quality that invigorates Jewish life and what is more important in this case is that it will imbue in you more deeply the Torah that was given on Mt. Sinai and that is growing among Jews around the world. Make it a good habit and that will bring every one of us closer to our heritage — and if you become closer to your heritage, it makes you more invigorated, more forceful about our future.”
P.S. Last year, I sold 318 tickets in our $10,000 Fundraising Raffle. So far this year, I have sold 108. Please do a mitzvah and purchase a ticket (or 5!) and help me surpass last year’s ticket sales! All proceeds directly benefit my favorite Chabad House 🙂 www.QueensRaffle.com