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A "World Leader"

A "World Leader"

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Transcript of a speech delivered shortly after the Rebbe’s passing

The last of the five books of Moses which we are presently reading begins with the summation of Moses. Among the things that Moses says is "How can I bear alone Your cumbrance and your Your burden?" He confesses that he cannot carry the burden of leadership all by himself. He decides that individuals should be selected to assist him. He describes their qualifications as follows: wise men, understanding men and full of knowledge. One cannot help but associate this statement of Moses with Chabad. The three Hebrew words form the acronym for Chabad.

The leadership of world Jewry was given to the Lubavitcher Rebbe and he fulfilled that mission to the maximum. The entire people of Israel were his concern, and a deep concern. Jews in every corner of the world, no matter how forsaken and no matter how small in number, were on his mind and in his heart and soul.

If there was a man qualified to reconstruct Jewish life after the great "Churban," the tragic Holocaust that befell our people, it was the Rebbe. He reconstructed Jewish life, making Jews, without any exception, no matter what their station in life, feel that they are part of this reconstruction. He was concerned about every Jew wherever he was. This was a unique devotion and dedication to world Jewry.

I do not claim to have understood the Rebbe, I do not pretend that I am capable of evaluating his scholarship or his spiritual greatness. Yet, I was privileged to spend a great deal of time with the Rebbe, many times, from late at night into the early hours of the morning. Often during our discussion the secretary would ring, and I would rise to leave because I knew there were people waiting. But the Rebbe would keep me back saying, "What? We are talking about the community." There was to be no disturbance when he was engaged in the work of strengthening world Jewry.

One of his great concerns was the Jewish community in the former Soviet Union where three generations of Jews were alienated from every facet of Judaism. The only underground movement that succeeded in Russia during the Bolshevik regime was Lubavitch. This underground movement functioned with tireless devotion in tending to the needs of Jews and Judaism. And the Rebbe was its leader! No matter how many thousands of miles away, these Jews were waiting, with a great deal of thirst, to hear something from "770."

Professor Herman Branover, a devoted Chassid and a great scientist, relates the following: When Gorbachev came to power, the people were very apprehensive, and the Rebbe sent a message to the Jewish community in Russia telling them not to worry, that things will get better. They, naturally, accepted the Rebbe's word, and it calmed them down somewhat.

Years later, when Gorbachev was in Israel, Professor Branover spent quite some time with him and he took the opportunity to ask Gorbachev: "When you came to power, did you really think you were going to change course from your predecessors?" And Gorbachev said, "No, not at all. In fact, my idea was to tighten up a little more than my predecessors." Gorbachev didn't know where he was heading, but the Rebbe had enough insight to predict that things would improve.

I recall an incident relating to the El Al plane which was hijacked to Algeria. Rumor had it that General Ariel Sharon was to be on that plane and that he cancelled his trip when told by the Rebbe not to travel. When I met with the Rebbe a short time later, I was curious and told him of the rumors in order to ascertain their validity. The Rebbe did not acknowledge the fact that he kept Sharon from the plane. He said, "Sharon came to say goodbye to me before he went to Israel and I said to him 'don't go'. And Sharon didn't go."

So naturally I asked the next question, "If you knew that the plane would be hijacked, why only save Sharon when you could have saved everyone else?" The Rebbe responded with incredulity, "Do you think that I saw a plane being hijacked? He came to say goodbye and all I did was say 'don't go.'"

For me this was testimony of a certain insight that only rare human beings possess. This is the insight to which Professor Branover referred. This same insight was used to reconstruct Jewish life in the world.

The Rebbe's involvement in the land of Israel was well known. I had the privilege to be the youngest delegate to the last Zionist Congress held in Basel, Switzerland before the establishment of the Jewish state. There I had the opportunity to sit on important committees and meet many of the leaders. I was also privileged to meet the leaders of the Torah world. Each one had a certain area of knowledge and expertise. One may have been politically or diplomatically well versed; one may have been involved in economics; one in science or in military affairs, however, the Rebbe had them all. During the many hours that I listened and discussed every conceivable phase in the life of Israel and world Jewry, I witnessed the Rebbe's expertise not only in education, not only in the knowledge and practice of Torah but in all facets of human life. His great concern for the entirety of the land of Israel is, of course, well known.. Unfortunately, in the last few years he had much to worry about, as we now see it.

He talked much about outreach. There are many, many who work in this field and I do not minimize their efforts. But the outreach of Lubavitch is second to none. The devotion and dedication; the self sacrifice of the emissaries, in all parts of the world, is legend.

I recently had the opportunity to spend a Friday night with the Chief Rabbi of Latvia, a Lubavitcher emissary. During the very late hours of that Friday night, I came to appreciate the devotion, the discipline. Nothing is too difficult. If there is Jewish life today in Riga, it is due to this chief rabbi, who could have stayed with his family in comfort in Kfar Chabad. Instead, he is suffering the rigors of Riga. I also had occasion to meet Rabbi Leib Raskin who has been active in Casablanca for many, many years, as an emissary of the Rebbe. When I left his apartment about 1 A.M. on a Friday night. I asked him to excuse me for keeping him so late. He said, "What do you mean excuse me? First of all, you are the first one who is here who was ‘there’ ("there" at that time in Morocco meant "Israel"), enabling us to hear what's doing. And secondly, let my children know that there is a Jew in the world who speaks Yiddish."

I was in South Africa in the 70's when the Jewish community was in turmoil and the Rebbe calmed them down. The Shluchim there did their job, and did it well.

If there is a Seder in Himalaya, who does it? If a shochet is needed in Tazmania who supplies it? If a mohel is needed in any part of the world, they were there, and they are still there.

Outreach to its maximum is all part of the reconstruction of Jewish life. A tremendous amount of creativity is constantly displayed. When the Rebbe started the Tefillin campaign during the Six-Day war, Tefillin were not the most popular thing on the American scene. It was popular, perhaps, on the day of Bar Mitzvah or a month before the Bar Mitzvah. But now look what Tefillin has done. When you come to the Kotel, the Western Wall, a religious Jew either prays Mincha or Maariv or Shacharit, and if he comes during another part of the day he recites Tehillim. But what does a non-religious Jew do at the Kotel? Tefillin has become synonymous with the Kotel for the non-committed Jew. He comes to the Kotel knowing that this is the time to put on Tefillin and say Shema Yisroel.

There are many other projects that were initiated by the Rebbe. The campaign to light Shabbat and holiday candles is another example of the Rebbe's creativity. The Rebbe was also the first one on the American Jewish scene who did not permit Jews to run away from Jewish neighborhoods.

Yet, at the same time, the Rebbe never forgot the individual. This brings to mind another experience I had which has marked the rest of my life. On one of my travels (until this day I don't know how the Rebbe discovered where I was going), I was called to "770" and the Rebbe asked me to do something in that particular country. I came back and gave the Rebbe a report and I concluded that the Rebbe should know that this was not an easy task for me. It was, rather, very difficult. The Rebbe looked at me quizzically and said, "Rabbi Segal, since when did you make a contract with the Al-mighty for an easy life?" This among many, many things has become a guide in my own life, especially during the past few years.

There is a great deal to be said, my friends, and a great deal will be said, because in this there is immortality. The Rebbe was not only the leader of our generation. He will be the leader of generations to come. Many, many generations will benefit from what the Rebbe was for the people of Israel. And I'm as sure as I can be that, right now, as he stands before the Heavenly Throne, he is doing everything he possibly can to bring about our complete and speedy redemption, Amen.

Rabbi Zev Segal (1917–2008) was president of the Rabbinical Council of America and longtime spiritual leader of Young Israel of Newark, N.J.
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Anonymous June 28, 2006

Rabbi Segal

I read with interest your relationship with the Rebbe. I was born in Newark and attended HYA in your building and never knew your relationship! It is too bad, the students never were exposed to the Rebbe nor had the opportunity to hear first hand from you, your travels and participation in historic Jewish events.

We had a phenomenal Jewish neighborhood that most people have no idea of.... Over 100,000 Jews in a 7 block radius. . I would love an opportunity to sit with you and learn more about the history of Newark... Reply

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