Blog Post


Parsha Chukat/Balak: The Rebbe

You say you want a Revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
-The Beatles

I wrote a piece, I Am Chabad over 10 years ago. People, particularly Chabad folk, still talk to me about it, like the fellow who came to Aish earlier this week for Mincha/Maariv services. Also on my Chabad radar, I visited my dear friend, Rabbi Moishe Meir Lipszyc this week. He had triple bypass surgery. Rabbi Moishe Meir has had more than his share of illnesses and challenges in his life. Yet, despite it all I have never heard him complain or kvetch and he soldiers on as he and his wife host many people almost every Shabbos in their home along with his other myriad of activities. He is truly an inspiration to me and so many others. (Please keep Moishe Meir HaKohen ben Chana in your prayers.) And finally, last week was the yahrtzeit/anniversary of the passing of the Rebbe in 1994. 

So with all this Chabad activity swirling around, it’s fitting to recall the time, four years ago, when I was asked by Rabbi Motti Seligson, director of media relations for 770 Chabad Lubavitch Headquarters, to write a piece on the Rebbe on his 25th yahrtzeit. I told Rabbi Motti at the time that I am not sure if I am a good candidate for such an undertaking since I had never personally met the Rebbe. 

I was trying to figure out an angle on how to approach this. What more could I contribute to the already numerous articles, and now even books, about the Rebbe? Yeah, I know it’s kind of cute for an Aish rabbi to write about the Rebbe, but I used up that cuteness on my earlier piece already. Can’t keep going back to the same well. 

Originally I was going to do something along the lines of this: Even though I have not personally met Rembrandt or Shakespeare, I can still feel a tremendous connection with them from their art and literature, respectively. And so while I may have never met the Rebbe personally, nevertheless, meeting his amazing, devoted, selfless, courageous and loving-every-Jew students, shluchim, emissaries and literally army, has given me an awe-inspiring sense of how great a man he must have been. 

And then I saw the movie, Yesterday. 

It’s about an English bloke, Jack Malik who suffers a freak bus accident during a mysterious global blackout. When Jack wakes up he discovers that he is living in a world where The Beatles have never existed. Any memory and reference to them has somehow been completely wiped out. Jack starts performing songs by the greatest band in history to a world that has never heard them and, with a little help from his friends, quickly becomes an overnight sensation. 

While the movie stuck with typical Hollywood plot lines – a love story and the obvious fame that resulted from Jack’s unique knowledge – it didn’t explore the deeper meaning of how The Beatles changed, and in some ways, created the world of modern music. Now I don’t blame the director for this, for that really would be too complicated to portray in a 117 minute flick. But that is indeed what happened historically. The Beatles changed our music world forever. 

And it got me thinking. What would our world be if Chabad did not exist? What would it look like if the Rebbe did not undertake his vision to transform the Jewish world? And not just the Jewish world but, by extension, the entire world. 

Think of the hundreds of thousands of lives Chabad has affected. The thousands of Jewish travelers and students all over the world who have a Jewish home because there is a Chabad center in the most far off places, like my daughter had many years ago when she took a six-week course in Thailand. Think of the countless people who would not step foot into a synagogue or send their child to a Jewish pre-school if not for one of the thousands of Chabad shuls that dot every neighbourhood. Or the myriad of casual Jews who would never put on tefillin, give some tzedakah, light Shabbos candles or shake a Lulav if not for Chabad. 

Chabad’s impact is so far and wide that even supermodels like Naomi Campbell have visited the Rebbe’s grave and wrote, “An inspirational leader, scholar, and teacher, the Rebbe taught that we are all inherently good and we each have the potential to change the world for the better, one good deed at a time.” 

And it is not just the Rebbe, but the same can be said about the founder of Aish, Rav Noah Weinberg. What would our world be if he did not undertake to do something similar? Of course Aish isn’t as large as Chabad – we all know that. But with millions of visitors to every month, thousands visiting the world center located on the best real estate in the Jewish world – opposite the Kotel in Jerusalem – along with the programs and institutions that Aish has spawned such as Momentum where Lori Palatnik has brought over 20,000 women to Israel for an 8 day life-changing journey (Karen is there right now leading 20 women from South Florida on her 9th trip), Rabbi Packouz of blessed memory and his weekly email to hundreds of thousands (now carried on through others), Justifi that takes students on Tikkun Olam experiences to far flung places all over the world, that was a pioneer in taking news outlets to task for their unfair reporting on Israel, or Aish branches such as in the UK which are so successful that a young person who has been turned onto Judaism there is referred to as being “Aished”… what would our world indeed be like without Rav Noah? 

What would our world be like had not the Rebbe, the Rav Noahs, and every other impactful Jewish leader not been in it? I am not sure and I shudder to think. But one thing I do know. If we indeed inhabited such a place there would be only one option. And that is to do what Jack Malik did in his alternative universe of Yesterday. And that is to recreate every forgotten Beatles song. 

And isn’t this what we are supposed to do? Isn’t that what each and every one of us are here for and meant to do? “To change the world for the better, one good deed at a time”? As they say on the Momentum videos: “Inspire a woman and you inspire a family. Inspire families (and) you inspire a community. Inspire enough communities (and) you change the world.” 

Movements may start with a few charismatic individuals, but if there isn’t a groundswell of others to take up the cause and carry it forward, then they become one-hit wonders and don’t get very far. And so it is up to us – every one of us – to recreate the forgotten songs of our past, of our legacy, of our history and of our destiny. 

The Rebbe made his mark on our world and continues to do so. It was and is a huge mark beyond anybody else. We might not achieve his status, but each and every one of us can do the same in our own way. And that’s exactly how revolutions and movements happen. So start writing your song…

So let it out and let it in
Hey Jude, begin
You’re waiting for someone to perform with
And don’t you know that it’s just you

Hey Jude, you’ll do
The Movement you need is on your shoulder

(Fun fact: Revolution was side 2 for the Hey Jude single. 
Don’t know what I am talking about? Ask someone over 55.)

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