Cultivating Our Connection with the Rebbe

Yud Shvat is the yahrtzeit of the Frierdiker Rebbe and the beginning of the nesius of our Rebbe. As such, it is an appropriate time to discuss our connection with the Rebbe.

Chazal tell us that Hashem revealed the reason for parah adumah to Moshe Rabbeinu. Parah adumah is a chok, a superrational mitzvah, and among chukim themselves it is the most counterintuitive. Nevertheless, Moshe was able to comprehend its reason.

Chukim have a certain advantage over mishpatim in that their observance expresses kabbalas ol, acceptance of Hashem’s unquestioned authority. Since Moshe knew the reasons for all the mitzvos, including parah adumah, it would seem that he was lacking the full expression of kabbalas ol. How is this possible?!

The Rebbe’s Connection With Us

In the maamar Zos Chukas Hatorah (5729), the Rebbe describes Moshe Rabbeinu’s lofty reach, atik and pnimius atik, to the very highest of levels. But the Rebbe continues that none of these levels exemplify Moshe’s most essential characteristic. What truly characterized Moshe was his role as ro’eh yisrael, the shepherd of the Jewish nation.

A true shepherd doesn’t only care for his flock. It’s much more than that: His flock is his essence, and if the flock is lacking, he is lacking too.

The Rebbe further explains that this does not simply mean that the shepherd sympathizes with their loss so deeply that it is as if he is lacking as well. Rather, their loss is actually his loss, which he himself is suffering.

Moshe was a rich man, both materially and spiritually, and there was nothing he lacked. Yet, since the Jewish people were central to his very being, their lack was his own.

This is how Moshe achieved the advantage expressed through chukim. Even though he understood the reasons for all the mitzvos, if a certain mitzvah was an unfathomable chok for the Jewish people, it was a chok for Moshe as well.

This also explains the known statement that after the Alter Rebbe was released from imprisonment, he reached a higher level than he had been able to attain previously. The reason for this is because “light is brighter when it comes after darkness.” But did the Alter Rebbe truly experience darkness? The Alter Rebbe would never have been imprisoned without his consent (as evident from the well-known story that the Alter Rebbe caused the wagon to stop for Shabbos). If so, the imprisonment was merely external. On the other hand, the high level he reached afterwards was genuine. How can superficial darkness lead to a true ascent? 

The answer is that although the Alter Rebbe himself did not experience true darkness, the Chassidim did. What can be worse than the Rebbe sitting in jail?! Since the Rebbe’s essence is his flock, when it is dark for them, it is dark for him too. His wondrous abilities and great spiritual stature were all external; his essence lay in the void felt by his followers.

Our Connection with the Rebbe

The above illustrates one facet of the relationship of the Rebbe with Chassidim—the degree to which the Rebbe is influenced, as it were, by Chassidim. There is another facet as well: the degree to which we are influenced by the Rebbe.

The word nosi (נשיא) is an acronym for nitzutzo shel yaakov avinu, “a spark of Yaakov our forefather.” Why Yaakov in particular? Why not say that a nosi is a spark of Avrohom or Yitzchok?

The Rebbe explains that Yaakov’s effect on his offspring was different than that of the other Avos. Avrohom’s holiness did not permeate all of his children; although Yishmoel was also Avrohom’s son, he did not absorb his father’s holiness. Similarly, Yitzchak’s holiness did not continue with Eisav. But Yaakov had no such limitations; all of his sons retained his holiness.

This is why we describe a nosi as “a spark of Yaakov Avinu.” A nosi’s qualities pass on to anyone with whom he connects.

To give a tangible example of this concept:

In the summer of 5710 (1950), I received a letter from my father about a distant relative of ours named Yitzchak, who had drifted away from the proper path. My father asked me to request a berachah from the Rebbe for his spiritual welfare.

I entered the Rebbe’s room and relayed my father’s request. “How old is this individual?” the Rebbe asked.

I started to think, and the Rebbe said, “I’ll tell you why I’m asking.” The Frierdiker Rebbe had visited Eretz Yisroel in 5689 (1929), and the Rebbe wanted to know if the Frierdiker Rebbe had seen this relative of mine. That’s why he had asked how old he was.

I confirmed that he had once been in the Frierdiker Rebbe’s presence. The Rebbe thought for a moment and said, “Since the Rebbe saw him, everything will certainly be alright.” A few weeks went by, and some incident occurred that prompted this individual to return to Yiddishkeit.  

This episode demonstrates the power of the Rebbe’s glance. Of course, it wasn’t only the Frierdiker Rebbe’s glance in 5689 but also the Rebbe’s words in 5710 that affected this individual. But the Rebbe’s words are very noteworthy.

How to Connect

All of this includes Chassidim who were born after Gimmel Tammuz as well. The Rebbe invested himself in certain things, and through them we can connect to the Rebbe.

There are three ways a Jew can connect to Hashem: Torah, avodah, and gemilus chassadim. “Ana nafshi kesovis yehovis,” Hashem wrote his very self into the Torah, and therefore through learning Torah we connect to Hashem. Gemilus chassadim is a general term for mitzvos; by following Hashem’s commandments we connect to Hashem. And then there is avodah, which today refers to tefillah. When a person lacks something, he must daven to Hashem and ask Him to provide his needs.

Each of these three methods of connection has particular advantages the others don’t have. The advantage of tefillah is that in a certain way, it best expresses our relationship with Hashem.

At first glance it seems otherwise: With Torah and mitzvos, the focus is on Hashem: you are learning His Torah and doing His mitzvos. When davening, on the other hand, the focus in on yourself and your personal needs. But in a certain respect, tefillah—which translates as attachment—better expresses the relationship of the person with Hashem. When the focus is on learning Hashem’s Torah and doing Hashem’s mitzvos, the person’s personal relationship with Hashem is not as apparent. But tefillah is the result of something that is bothering you. There is something on your mind, and you express your personal hope that Hashem will fulfill your request. This cultivates a far more intimate relationship.

Chazal tell us that “Tzaddikim are similar to their Creator.” These three elements exist in our relationship with the Rebbe as well.

First of all, we must learn the Rebbe’s Torah. Try to set aside time every day to learn a maamar, sichah, or letter. Of course, there may not be as much time during the week as on Shabbos, but make it a habit to study for at least five or ten minutes each day.

Second, we must fulfill the Rebbe’s directives, such as to study Chitas and Rambam (whatever your level of understanding may be) and to go on mivtzoim.

Finally, when a Jew is bothered by something, he knows he has where to go and by whom to ask. This has not changed in any way since Gimmel Tammuz. The Rebbe is interested in what is bothering you, and when you read your note or pidyon, the Rebbe listens and it touches every fiber of his soul. When a Jew feels pain, the Rebbe actually experiences that pain and davens on his behalf. And then, when he returns a second time to relay the good news that the situation has improved, the Rebbe derives pleasure. The relationship is personal and intimate.

Additionally, the Rebbe provided us with guidance in a very practical sense. The Rebbe’s maamorim may be viewed as difficult and profound which discuss lofty ideas, and the same might be said of the sichos. But then there are the Rebbe’s letters. The Rebbe’s letters can serve as a practical guide for every Jew, providing answers for any problem he may have. There is no issue that the Rebbe’s letters do not address.

The more we connect ourselves to the Rebbe in these three areas, the quicker we will merit to see the fulfillment of the promise, “vehakitzu veranenu shochnei ofor,” with the geulah bekarov mamosh.