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A Silence Louder Than Words

A Silence Louder Than Words

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The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, on the morning he suffered a stroke. (Photo: Fridrich Vishinsky)
The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, on the morning he suffered a stroke. (Photo: Fridrich Vishinsky)

The 27th of Adar marks an unhappy anniversary. On this day in 1992, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, “The Rebbe,” suffered a severe stroke, which robbed him of his power of speech and led to the illness from which he never recovered. This is the date when the voice which educated, inspired and encouraged millions of Jews and gentiles was stilled.

As the Rebbe always taught us, we look to the Torah portion of the week to gain insight and perspective. Incredibly, this week’s portion offers a resoundingly clear message regarding this anniversary, as well as Chabad’s apparent state of “leaderlessness.”

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, but each individual component is independently significantThis week we have a compound Torah reading—the combined portions of Vayakhel and Pekudei. The Rebbe pointed out on many occasions that these two names convey an important message. Vayakhel means to “gather” and “congregate.” Moses gathered the nation into a kahal, a congregation. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts; the congregation is a new entity which, like a marriage, is greater than the sum of its members. Each and every one of us is a part of this greater body, the Jewish people, unified, mixed and blended with each other.

Having said this, we proceed to Pekudei, “numbers”: the numbering and counting of each individual vessel in the Sanctuary. Yes, the total is greater than the sum of its parts, but Moses counts the individual vessels, because each individual component is independently significant. The same holds true with the Jewish nation: each Jew is endowed by the Creator with a uniquely precious personality, and is individually significant—not just as part of the total. Every Jew serves G‑d in a unique and inimitable fashion. Both vayakhel, the congregation, and pekudei, the individual, are absolutely essential components in the construction of a Tabernacle where G‑d’s presence will be manifest.

In 1950, the Rebbe was crowned as the seventh leader of the venerable Chabad-Lubavitch movement. At that point, Chabad possessed a prestigious history—but not much of a present, and it certainly did not seem to have a bright future. This glorious movement, which had once laid claim to hundreds of thousands of adherents throughout Eastern Europe, was almost completely decimated by the Nazi Gestapo and the Soviet KGB. The “grand” Lubavitch synagogue in Brooklyn, where the Rebbe presided, couldn’t comfortably fit more than 150 people!

Over the next decades, the Rebbe cultivated Chabad, building it into one of the largest Jewish movements of modern times. He did this through vayakhel—uniting all Jews by talking to the collective Jewish soul. The Rebbe spoke the language of the soul, and souls the world over heard the call and flocked by the thousands to the doors of the Rebbe’s ever-expanding synagogue. The Rebbe then removed layers of tarnish and rust, revealing stunningly beautiful Jewish souls.

I repeat not stories that I heard from my father or teacher, tales from another generation or a faraway land . . .I vividly remember standing by the Rebbe’s public gatherings. My heart still aches when I recall the vayakhel feeling of being amidst a sea of thousands of Jews who had “lost” their individual identities, egos, talents, desires, etc., and become caught up in an atmosphere of holiness and purity that transcended their own existence. I repeat not stories that I heard from my father or teacher, tales from another generation or a faraway land . . . I am conveying that which my own eyes saw and my own soul experienced.

As beautiful and uplifting as all this was, in order for the divine presence to be revealed, we must now turn to pekudei mode. The next step for us is to take the Rebbe’s soulful message, and instead of using it to transcend our beings to become part of a collective whole, to allow this message to penetrate and transform our G‑d-given unique strengths and capabilities. The Rebbe’s passion and fire must now be the light which causes the millions of unique colors of our nation’s kaleidoscope to sparkle and dance.

Unbelievably, the Rebbe’s very last address was given on the Shabbat of Vayakhel. The next week, on the Shabbat of Pekudei, the Rebbe’s voice was silent. Perhaps it can be said that now he can be heard through the voices of each and every one of his countless followers and admirers who live his message, and anxiously await the moment when they will be reunited with him with the coming of Moshiach.

Rabbi Naftali Silberberg is a writer, editor, and director of the curriculum department at the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute. Rabbi Silberberg resides in Brooklyn, NY, with his wife Chaya Mushka and their three children.
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Discussion (13)
March 4, 2014
Born after..
Thank You for such a beautiful poignant piece
Anonymous
April 24, 2013
If I meditate on this I see everyone wants some of his light, what about your own light? Don't you believe you have it, God gave it to you? The journey from Egypt to Israel in exodus is a journey from the ego to love. If you find that inside you then you are one of the ones who were positive and said we can take this land it is full of grapes and honey. Moses like the Rebbe died before they entered this land, the people entered it - can't you see? You can't stay back in the desert with the tour guide who took you across, he is not the Creator. The creator is the Creator - be a light, be positive, be kind to yourself and others. The new leader is in your heart - the temple is your heart…take care brothers and sisters a new time is dawning on the earth
Peter
London
March 4, 2011
To David Goldstein:
The Rebbe's last public address was held on Shabbat, the 25th of Adar I, two days before he suffered his stroke.

V'Attah Tetzaveh was actually said by the Rebbe 11 years earlier, in 1981, but was released and distributed (by hand, to men, women, and children) by the Rebbe nearly two weeks before his stroke. Hence it was the last chassidic discourse that the Rebbe released to the public.

I hope this clarifies.
Naftali Silberberg (author)
Brooklyn, NY
March 3, 2011
Re: The Rebbe's last address (correction)
The last address was Parshas Vayakhel. The Maamer V'ata Tetzava was the last Maamer the Rebbe edited (it was said in 5741-1981), and distributed.
(Correction: the picture of the Rebbe is from 27 Adar 1)
Itche
brooklyn, NY
March 3, 2011
The Rebbe's last address
Rabbi, you wrote the Rebbe's last address was Parasha Vayakhal. Was this the occasion of the maamer V'Ata Tetzaveh?

Thanks,
David Goldstein
Great Neck, NY
March 11, 2010
a knockout!
As a long-time Lubavitcher and teacher, I have been at a loss to define where we are holding right now as a movement. This has given me a whole new and encouraging perspective.
G-d bless you, Rabbi, and may all those who admired / were helped by / were inspired by the Rebbe find direction here
chana
March 23, 2009
A silence louder than words
If I understand correctly, Rabbi Silverberg asserts that Chabad's lack of a central leader after the passing of The Rebbe is to be replaced by a sea of devoted followers who will spread the light. He note that he personally heard and saw the Rebbe and is not merely repeating teachings. This would imply that some of the strength of Rabbi Silverberg's message comes from this familiarity.

What of the next generation who will only know through teachings? Now will the next generation be filled with the light that the Rebbe imparted.

As I study with Chassidic teachers who have the fire the Rebbe kindled versus those who never knew the Rebbe, I feel a clarity of direction and message from the former, and hollow repetition of stories from the latter.

Will Chabad need another leader, or will the Sheliach system be sufficient? In either case, G-d will provide.
Jerome Krasnow
Manchester, CT
March 18, 2009
May Moshiach come speedily, and the Earth become the Garden it was always meant to be.
Josh F.
March 18, 2009
Moving Forward
This article so reflective, yet so filled with hope is exactly where the Rebbe was. He was very aware of the past and knew where that past could be used to formulate renewal and growth and spiritual awakenings. Thank you for the emotional and inspiring feelings your article evokes.
stanley miller
Owings Mills, MD / USA
March 18, 2009
The Rebbe
I will translate from "Glava Pokoleniya" page 12. [We must continue the work of the Rebbe in "Ahavat Isroel" The Love of the Rebbe for each Jew, wherever he was, had no equal. He loved each Jew, cared about him, as if he was his very own son. The sickness of a Jew was his own sickness, the pleasure of a Jew was his own pleasure. Jews of the whole world repaid him with love. There was never a Tzaddiq like unto him.]

I might add that I am a mitnagid myself.
Ya`akov Nachum ben Avraham
Vancouver, BC/Canada
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