Sunday, March 22, 2015

My Rebbe, by Adin Steinsaltz

Rabbi Steinsaltz's biography of Rabbi Menachem Mendal Schneerson, known to many as "the Lubavitcher Rebbe," starts off with an interesting history of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. The "Rebbe" was actually the seventh head of the movement, and Steinsaltz starts off with the first, Rabbi Schneur Zalman.

Rabbi Zalman came up with Chabad in 1755 as an acronym for chochmah, binah and da'at, or wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. Steinsaltz gives a good overview of the leaders who followed.

Anyone of any religious background who lived in New York City from the 1950s through early 1990s would have been familiar with the Lubavitcher Rebbe, as he was an influential character in the city.  Some of his believers were said to have thought he would be the Mashiach, the messiah discussed in the Bible (Old Testament).  In Jewish belief, the mashiach isn't a savior (ala Christ) but rather a human being, a political leader, and someone who's development will be an indicator of a messianic age (imagine an End of Days without the plagues). [1]

Clearly Steinsaltz is a deeply committed fan of the Rebbe. Yet he describes the Rebbe as a relatively poor administrator. Or perhaps that was a part of his approach: to be so ambiguous in direction and over-demanding as a leader so as to force the really good ideas to survive. I found this objectivity refreshing.

[1] Interested in the notion of Mashiach? See: Isaiah 2, 11, 42, 59:20; Jeremiah 23, 30, 33, 48:47, 49:39; Ezekiel 38:16; Hosea 3:4, 3:5; Micah 4; Zephaniah 3:9; Zechariah 14:9; Daniel 10:14.

My Rebbe

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