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Everyone A Tzaddik: Miracles, Transmission and Ascent

Everyone A Tzaddik: Miracles, Transmission and Ascent

1991-1994

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It is a fundamental tenet of Jewish faith that history will culminate in a universal redemption, heralded by a global leader called Moshiach (messiah, “the anointed”).1 Moshiach will usher in a new era of peace, prosperity and autonomy for the Jewish people, freeing them to study the Torah, observe all its commandments, and bring enlightenment to all the world. If there is one thing that marked the Rebbe’s life it was his mission to bring this vision to fruition.2

Before and after the Gulf War the Rebbe repeatedly cited the Midrashic prediction that “the king of Persia will incite against the king of Arabia” prior to Moshiach’s arrival.3 He also interpreted the Hebrew letters signifying the Jewish year as an acronym referring to the messianic prophecy, “I will show you wonders as in the days that you left Egypt.”4 Though Saddam Hussein threatened Israel with chemical weapons, the Rebbe insisted that there was nothing to fear.5

The United States invaded Iraq on the 17th of January 1991, and Iraq retaliated by launching the first of 39 Scud missiles against Israel. Despite the onslaught, the fatality rate was at least sixty times less than expected.6 Though Iraq boasted the fourth largest army in the world, coalition forces swept to victory in a matter of weeks.7 Though Saddam Hussein threatened Israel with chemical weapons, the Rebbe insisted that there was nothing to fear.

Miracles reveal G‑d’s presence in the physical world. Accordingly, miracles herald the Messianic era, in which the world will be filled with knowledge of G‑d. But miracles also disrupt the natural order, rather than illuminating the world from within. Only Torah study and mitzvah observance permanently reveal the Divine essence of everything. Accordingly, the Rebbe urged Jews everywhere to play their part in making the world a more G‑dly place.8

These calls reached a startling climax shortly after the war’s conclusion. On the 28th of Nissan 1991, the Rebbe shifted the onus of leadership directly onto the shoulders of his listeners:

What else can I do that all Jewish people should agitate, truthfully cry out, and effectively bring Moshiach in actuality… We are still in exile… and more importantly, in an internal exile with regards to serving G‑d.

The only thing I can do is give it over to you: Do all you can… to actually bring our righteous Moshiach, immediately and directly… I have done my part, from now on you do all that you can.9

This was not a statement of resignation, but a statement of transmission. The Rebbe did not retire, but intensified his activities, and spoke ever more passionately about the responsibility of every individual to do more good. The Rebbe was reemphasizing a message that had always been central to Chabad teachings: The Rebbe is a teacher and a guide, but the Rebbe cannot serve G‑d for you. The Rebbe’s vision is only actualized when we illuminate our lives and environments with the Divine light of Torah and Mitzvot.10With the passing of the Rebbetzin in 1988, the Rebbe looked towards the time when his soul too would ascend on high.

With the passing of the Rebbetzin in 1988, the Rebbe looked towards the time when his soul too would ascend on high. Returning from her funeral, he told Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky that he wanted to write a will.11 In a public talk delivered a few weeks later, he clearly addressed the question of leadership and direction following his passing, saying that questions should then be submitted to a rabbinic court composed of three Chabad rabbis. He also said that spiritual, medical and other personal questions routinely referred to him should instead be addressed in consultation with personal mentors, doctors and friends.12

In hindsight it seems clear that many of things that the Rebbe said and did over the course of the next few years were part of this process of transmission. The Rebbe was empowering chassidim to perpetuate his leadership, and extend the actualization of his efforts, into a time when he would no longer be among them physically.13

On Sunday, the 26th of Adar II 1992, Gabriel Erem, the CEO and publisher of Lifestyles Magazine, approached the Rebbe as he distributed dollars. “On the occasion of your ninetieth birthday,” Erem told the Rebbe, “we are publishing a special issue… What is your message to the world?”

“Ninety,” the Rebbe replied, “in Hebrew, is ‘tzaddik,’ which means ‘righteous.’ And that is a direct indication for every Jew to become a real tzaddik - a righteous person, and to do so for many years, until 120.” This message, the Rebbe added, applies equally to non-Jews.14

The word tzaddik is usually applied exclusively to saintly leaders, but the Rebbe applied it to everyone. Righteousness, he further emphasized, is not a static state. Every day of your life, “until 120,” you must become more righteous.

The following day, Monday, the 27th of Adar II 1992, the Rebbe suffered a stroke while praying at the gravesite of his father-in-law. His right side was paralyzed and he was robbed of the ability to speak. The word tzaddik is usually applied exclusively to saintly leaders, but the Rebbe applied it to everyone.

The life of a tzaddik, wrote Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, is not physical but spiritual, consisting of faith, awe, and love of G‑d. Accordingly, the soul’s ascent from bodily constriction only makes the tzaddik’s life more accessible. Rather than saying a righteous person died, we say the tzaddik left life for all who live.15

On the 3rd of Tammuz, June 12th, 1994, the Rebbe left life for all who live. His body was laid to rest in Montefiore Cemetery, Queens.

Footnotes
1.
Maimonides, Laws of Kings and their Wars 11:1.
2.
For more on the Rebbe’s vision and anticipation of Moshiach’s coming see Yanki Tauber, The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Adin Even-Israel (Steinsaltz), Marching Orde.
3.
Torat Menachem Hitvaduyot 5751 Vol. 1, pages 203, 319, 356; Vol. 2, pages 189 and 442; Vol. 3, page 3; Vol. 4, page 237.
4.
Ibid., Vol. 1, pages 22, 83, 202; Vol. 2, page 311 and 443.
5.
See some examples of the Rebbe’s encouragement and advice to individuals regarding the situation in Israel while distributing dollars here.
6.
For a full analysis of the impact of the Scud attacks on Israel see Lewis, Fetter, and Gronlund, Casualties and Damage From Scud Attacks in the 1991 Gulf War. In note 37 they discuss precisely how many were killed by direct scud impact.
7.
The Washington Post’s report of the ceasefire is viewable here.
8.
See for example the letter addressed by the Rebbe “To the sons and daughters of Israel, wherever they are,” in anticipation of Passover 1991, published in Torat Menachem Hitvaduyot 5751 Vol. 3, pages 1-4.
9.
Torat Menachem Hitvaduyot 5751 Vol. 3, pages 115-119.
10.
This was also a central theme of the last chassidic discourse edited and distributed by the Rebbe, Ve’atah Tetzaveh, published in Sefer Hamaamarim Melukot 5741 Vol. 3 (new edition), pages 34-43.
11.
Lipkin, Cheshbono Shel Olam, pages 47-53.
12.
See the transcript of this talk in Binyamin Lipkin, Cheshbono Shel Olam, pages 53-56.
13.
Lipkin’s Cheshbono Shel Olam, is a complete book dedicated to the documentation of the Rebbe’s preparations for his passing.
14.
A video of this exchange can be watched here.
15.
See Tanya, Igrot Kodesh, Chapter 27.
Eli Rubin studied Chassidic literature and Jewish Law at the Rabbinical College of America and at Yeshivot in the UK, the US and Australia. He has been a research writer and editor at Chabad.org since 2011, focusing on the social and intellectual history of Chabad Chassidism. Through his writing, research, and editorial work he has successfully participated in a range of scholarly interchanges and collaborative endeavors.
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Twenty-eight articles, each encapsulating a period of the Rebbe’s life, and highlighting key themes that distinguish his ideas.