During one of my first recent encounters with Lubavitch Chabad, last August, I was so impressed with Rabbi Manis Friedman's speech that I joked I "wanted to convert." Since that time, I've attended a few more Chabad-Lubavitch events, and I keep meaning to write them down--especially since Rabbi Yochanan Posner of Chabad of Skokie is a fan of this blog. So here's a brief summary.
Leibel Groner Jan. 14 (?) at B'Nei Reuven - Mr. Groner was one of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's inner circle of aides and secretaries. He worked with the Rebbe z"l for several decades; I'm not sure if it was the extent of the Rebbe's position as Rebbe, from 1951 (I think) until his passing in 1994. Anyway, he explained how the Rebbe never took a vacation and was on call to visitors 24-7. (He would not answer mail or take phone calls on shabbos/yontif but would see visitors who stopped by.) Mr. Groner said he and his colleagues arranged for the Rebbe to take a vacation--just him and his wife--to a Long Island cottage. The Rebbe flatly refused, explaining that he would fall hopelessly behind in mail and phone messages. The Rebbe asked Mr. Groner how many pieces of mail and phone messages would accumulate in two weeks. When Mr. Groner replied with some high number, the Rebbe responded, "And you call that a vacation?" His work ethic, even at an advanced age, amazes me. When I visited the yeshiva at Lakewood, N.J., in 2008, a rabbi told our group that Rav Kotler z"l taught 35 classes a week right up to the week before he died. That is amazing too.
In discussing the challenge of welcoming Moschiach and the Messianic Era, Leibel Groner told us this should be easy. (Well, that's a relief.) He explained how Abraham stood in the face of a pagan world and persuaded his family to become G-d-fearing Jews. He started a tradition of ethical monotheism that changed the world and continues to this day. Moses told the most powerful man in the world he was taking his people out of enslavement and into the desert, which he did with G-d's help. And all we need to do is perform acts of loving kindness for Moschiach to reveal himself to the world? For Liebel Groner, no problem is insurmountable with G-d's help.
Rabbi Manis Friedman returns to Chabad of Skokie Feb. 20 - this was after a beautiful shabbos dinner--Chabad of Skokie's biggest dinner ever. Rabbi Friedman didn't speak for very long. He had some tough talk on Israel, though. He said Israel should deal with the rocket launchers and hostage-takers with a strong hand. He said human rights complaints would last for about a week. But Israel would gain respect, and the incentive to capture soldiers and to send rockets into Israel would disappear. I agree with him. But the Israeli government is too cowed by world opinion to take serious steps to keep its people safe.
Shabbos at Chabad of Blue Ash May 22-23: I spent Memorial Day Weekend with my Cincinnati cousins, and one of them lives with her family just 3/4-mi. from the Chabad Jewish Center in Blue Ash, northeast of Cincinnati. It's not such an easy walk--up and down a series of hills in both directions--but it's nice to be able to walk to shul on shabbos. I went to the Chabad House--one of the most beautiful Chabad Houses I've ever seen, a masterwork of 21st-Century architecture--Friday night, Saturday morning, and Saturday afternoon. I had dinner with Rabbi Mangel and his family Friday night. This was a truly spiritual, uplifting experience. Only four of the Mangels' nine children were home for dinner, so they were delighted to host a guest for the meal. Mrs. Mangel is a wonderful cook. I had a great time, and I hope I can return soon.
Shabbos at Chabad of Bucktown and Wicker Park, June 5-6: The Moscowitzes found a place for me to stay near their beautiful home, so I was able to attend their first Shabbos on the Roof of the season. Fifty young people (who, thankfully, did not address me as "Sir" or "Gramps") showed up for dinner, and Mrs. Moscowitz ably accommodated everyone. Their roof has a breathtaking view of the downtown skyline, 3.5 mi. to the southeast. Rabbi Moscowitz spoke briefly after dinner. He pointed out how Moses is famous in the Torah for his humility: he was the most humble person who ever lived. This is a little surprising, since he brought us out of Egypt, with G-d's help, ensuring the survival of the Jewish people. At the end of his life, as the Jewish people were about to enter the land of Israel that G-d gave to them, G-d revealed to Moses the entire future of the Jewish people. Moses saw the tragedy the Jewish people endured, especially its near extinction in the 20th Century. And still, G-d showed Moses that Jews were still keeping Torah mitzvahs, such as the shabbos dinner we were attending that evening. Moses recalled how the men he brought out of Egypt turned to the Golden Calf as an idol even after they saw with their own eyes G-d parting the Sea. And he was deeply ashamed that after all the miracles they witnessed, they still turned to idolatry. On the other hand, after all the tragedy and murder the Jews of our modern era witnessed and endured, we are still keeping Torah.
Let's emulate Moses and try to avoid hubris. But there's nothing wrong with a pat on the back. In another story Rabbi Moscowitz told, a rabbi thought he was going to get a pat on the back from the Lubavitcher Rebbe himself. This rabbi told Rabbi Schneerson that he was bringing Jews "with no Jewish background" back to Torah. The Rebbe was a tad annoyed. "No background? What do you mean? All Jews have Jewish backgrounds!" Of course we do. The Rebbe loved every Jew regardless of observance level. He knew we all have that Jewish neshama (soul) burning inside us. It's up to us to make that spark shine.