The Rebbe's Riddle
Question of the Week
Question of the Week
I see a lot of contradictions in the way the Rebbe is portrayed. He is sometimes described as the founder of Jewish outreach, focusing his energies on bringing lost and ignorant Jews back to the fold. But then when you analyze his writings and teachings, they are not aimed at the novice, but are of the highest level of scholarship, challenging the most advanced student of Torah. He is said to have been accepting of every person, no matter their religious level, and yet was uncompromising in his strict observance of Jewish law, and demanded the same of his followers. I have studied many of the world's great leaders and cannot think of another example of one who held these paradoxical characteristics in such abundance - open-mindedness together with unquestioning faith; being able to equally relate to the common man and to the intellectual elite. How did the Rebbe manage to encompass such extreme opposites and appeal to such polar constituencies?
The Rebbe was a man of G-d. He did not seek to connect people to himself, he sought to connect people with the divine part of themselves, their soul, and with the divine force in the world, G-d.
There is not much we know about G-d. But one thing we know is that G-d is infinite. There is not much we can say about infinity, but one interesting aspect is that infinity has two sides to it - it is both infinitely high and infinitely low. In mathematics, there is no number that is too low to be included in infinity, and there is no number too high to be beyond infinity. So too with G-d's infinite light. In the words of the Zohar, G-d's light shines upwards to endless heights and downwards to unlimited depths.
What this means practically is that there is no person too far away, too disconnected, too lowly to be able to find G-d. And at the same time, there is no person so close, so high and so accomplished that their quest is over and they have reached infinity. G-d is infinite enough to be accessible to the person who has descended to the lowest depths, and unreachable by the person who has ascended to the highest heights.
With this we can understand some of the paradox of the Rebbe's approach. There is one singular unified theme that permeated all of his work, and that is connecting the finite world to its infinite source. But that one theme expresses itself in two differing ways.
If you feel unworthy, if you think your life doesn't matter, if you think you have nothing to contribute, the Rebbe tells you that you have infinite worth, that even one good deed you do can change the world, and no matter how far you have strayed, you can't stray beyond G-d's infinite embrace.
And if you feel content, satisfied, complacent in your current spiritual state and comfortable with your own achievements, the Rebbe tells you that you have much more work to do, that no matter how high you have reached there is infinity more to achieve.
To the ignorant Jew the Rebbe said that even the little you know you should teach. To the learned Jew the Rebbe said you still know nothing and have so much more to learn.
To the unobservant Jew the Rebbe said that you are full of mitzvos, even if you don't know it. To the devout Jew the Rebbe said take your mitzvah observance is hollow until you deepen your understanding of the secrets of Torah.
To the poor Jew the Rebbe said that one dollar is also charity. To the wealthy Jew the Rebbe said that a million dollars is not enough.
The truth is, we are all rich in some areas and poor in others, we are all a bit ignorant and a bit learned, sometimes devout and sometimes unobservant. The Rebbe's infinite call is not to belittle even our small achievements, and not to be satisfied even with big ones. We all need to hear that.