When the Rebbe passed away twenty-one years ago, my ten year old self was probably walking nonchalantly home in jean shorts and an airy purple t-shirt, feeling the sun soak into my skin, wondering which classmate I should make plans with next.
Reveling in the simple childhood of secular suburbia, I was blissfully unaware of any sort of catastrophe happening in the Jewish world. It would be years later, after the trials and tribulations of middle school, high school, and halfway through college, until I would really understand that something so dramatic and shocking had happened on that peaceful day so many years ago.
On this similarly calm and perfectly mild summer day, I’m painting in the backyard of a friend’s home in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, Chabad headquarters. I’m painting with two friends; one a shlucha I had at Mayanot Seminary that I attended five years ago, and another a writer for chabad.org. I’m listening on my iPhone to Levi Robin, who’s soulfully wrangling like a country western turned folk singer about the chassidic idea of the mighty waters that will never wash Him away. I’m alternating between that and a sicha from my Rebbetzin from Chicago I found online. And to top it all off, I’m diligently working on the underdrawing of a portrait of the Rebbe while I pour these melodies and concepts into my head.
If that juxtaposition between my careless days of yore and my current Chabadly-plugged-in self doesn’t illustrate the reality that the Rebbe is alive and well in 5775, I don’t know what will.And I’m not even a card-toting Chabadnik, I’m just a Jew with a love for Chassidus and an appreciation for the conductor of the Chassidic symphony.
I don’t miss the Rebbe because after so many years of not knowing I had anything to miss, he’s right here with me now. I see the outburst of growth and creativity within the Chassidic world. I see the future bright.
Which isn’t to say I don’t see the corruption and disillusionment within this community or others. I feel frustrated of Chabadniks who think that to be Chabad is to pretend that all other forms of Yiddishkeit aren’t as good or valid, and that Chassidus is the only answer, and that sheitals and kapotes are The wardrobe of the Jewish people. I feel sad that opinions from Rav Moshe Feinstein are mocked or dismissed.
But that’s not the Rebbe. That’s people. And people be crazy.The Rebbe was a visionary, his mind was wide open, and even if he had a specific route for his Chassidim, there is a reason why all different types of Jews flocked to him. Because he understood that Chassidus is the oil that coats all the other layers of Pshat, Remez, Drush, and Sod, and it wasn’t the oil that washed them all away. He knew that Chassidus brought us all, all Jews, to the next higher level, together.
While people are fickle and strange and unreliable, the Rebbe is the constant water that pounds around me, the trust I can rely upon.Others have let me down, but the Rebbe- in his talks, in his ideas, in his character- not once.
My birthday was last Thursday, the 24 of Sivan. I checked the Ha Yom-Yom of the day and it read, perfectly: ” You ask how you can be bound to me when I do not know you personally… The true bond is created by studying Torah. When you study my maamarim, read the sichot, and associate with those dear to me- the chassidic community and the tmimim- in their studies and farbrengens, and you fufill my request regarding saying Tehillim and observing Torah-study times- in this is the bond. “
So count the years and moan if you must, but I cannot join you. For to mourn, you must mourn what you have lost, and in the last 21 years, I have lost nothing. I have gained everything.
I never sat in on his farbrengens, but I have felt the power of his words reverberate through me, as I push to fulfill his mission, that being Hashem’s mission in the world. I don’t miss him, because he’s here. Because we are his hands, eyes, and feet. Like a parent to a child, we’re going in places he could only have dreamed of. And there’s nothing a father wants more than for his children to surpass him. There’s nothing more he would have wanted than for us to be singing his song, louder and farther than he ever could.
So this Gimmel Tammuz, let’s Shimon-Bar-Yochai- it.Let’s sing, and let’s dance. For the Rebbe is here, and the geulah is upon us.