Why the Rebbe Stayed in America

The Lubavitcher Rebbe is a prophet.

Time and again we ask him, respectful and pleading, “Why won’t you visit Israel? Why won’t you move to Israel? How can a leader of world Jewry avoid the Holy Land?”

Then the Rebbe’s response. He smiles, reminds us of the laws that would not permit his return if ever he goes, and speaks of his responsibility to the Jewish community here, here in the diaspora, here in America, here in New York.

We do not fully understand these answers. We accept them, or we don’t, and we leave blessed. Prophets are too rarely understood in their time, and make no mistake: The Rebbe is a prophet.

G-d does not send such men for the comprehension of the masses. To fully understand a prophet is to be a prophet. The world has yet to plumb the mourning of Yirmiyahu or scale the heights of Yeshaya’s futures. No, G-d Almighty sends prophets with instructions. The Rebbe is a prophet, and by the thousands we do as he says.

Across the land we proliferate, the Rebbe’s words clutched like gems in our chapped palms. “America is no different,” opalescent, pure, hard as sharpened diamond. “Words from the heart enter the heart,” a blood-red ruby. “Share the Mitzvot out of love,” a glittering sapphire of ten facets.

Ever faster, word begins to travel. The message operates outside conventional frameworks. We threw clumsier Judaisms, laden with baggage and ablaze with connotations, into the New York harbor. Yet the family wagons and their small, harmless gems seem to slip through, because they refuse to say Judaism is more than it is. “Light this Shabbos Candle. It is Judaism. You are a Jew.” There is nothing else. They do not explain. They are emissaries of a prophet, and there are no explanations.

Always, the Rebbe is here. Here in the diaspora, here in America, here in New York. His very person is an endless source of Judaism, and from across the country and the world, they come to see him, those who light the candles and find it has changed them. Many are members of Reform synagogues, of JCC gyms, or of nothing. They define Judaism ethically, or socially, or they don’t define it at all. It does not matter. There is a prophet in New York, and so they come.

The Jews return to Passaic, Peoria, and Pasadena with gems of their own, souls awake. Many of them devote their lives to the Rebbe’s mission. The ranks begin to swell until people are fighting each other for the right to spread the message. Wherever there are Jews, the Rebbe’s shluchim are there with Judaism, giving it over the only way possible, with love, soul to soul, one on one.

It is not exciting. Soul-to-soul-one-at-a-time is not the stuff history books are made of. Israel, a bona fide biblical miracle, somehow lands in the 20th century and becomes the heart of world Jewry, the theme of our modern story. It represents redemption from the holocaust, salvation from the nations. It is imperiled, courageous, and, some say, the beginning of the Messianic Age. It is, in short, where things are happening. The prophet sends emissaries to her, meets with her politicians and generals, fiercely defends her people. But he does not go to her.

We do not understand the prophet, because we cannot see what he sees. There is a future in which the center cannot hold and world Jewry is in danger of splitting in two. There is a future in which millions of Jews stand in danger of being unable to live with a Judaism millions of others consider essential, of declaring their fate separate from the Jewish people and disappearing into history.

The Jews of the land, focused by unifying threats and the weight of history, will, with the help of G-d, carry Judaism forward. The land of Israel is entwined with Judaism, and that will not be soon forgotten.

But the Jews here in the diaspora, here in America, here in New York, must somehow find hope. Despite America’s Jewish leadership, despite the nature of the land to lend Judaism fragile, compromised definitions, there must never be a split in our people. It must never come to pass that a preponderance of American Jews defines Judaism such that they must choose between their religion and the lives of Jews in Israel.

The predictions of 2018, that the rift between the State of Israel and American Jewry will soon be unbridgeable, must not come true. It must be known from sea to shining sea that the Yiddishkeit of Israel, with its story and manifestations, and the Yiddishkeit of America, are two sides of the same coin, two versions of one thing.

So: Past the border guards, under the radar, sneaks a robust, flexible Judaism. Tied to no politics or country, bound up only with immutable soul, eternal commandment, and Almighty G-d, this iteration of Judaism is the common denominator, the core curriculum of all Jews. It is the thirteenth gate, that which is essential and simple, and no prime minister or army or worldly faction can validate or invalidate it.

The prophet gave it most personally to the Americans. It is the light that will drive away the specter of schism some will foresee in 2018, in the unimaginable case that the Moshiach has not come by then.

 

Image: The Previous Rebbe (seated) takes the oath of US citizenship, 1949. His son-in-law and future successor, the Rebbe, watches on the right.