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The Cure for the Common Cynicism

The Cure for the Common Cynicism

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The Rebbe 1953
The Rebbe 1953

"Many became leaders because others believe so deeply in them; the Rebbe is a leader because he believes so deeply in us"—Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of Great Britain.

I'd be a cynic, but I'm sure I'd fail!

The allure of skepticism is its exoneration from obligation: if nothing works properly why try? If everyone is insincere why be honest? How can we trust when deceit is rampant, when cultural heroes are routinely toppled?

Pessimistic and cold from relentless newspaper exposés, we dismiss the entire "system" as corrupt; fearing betrayal we jump ship. We corroborate every report, certain that everyone is lying, trying to cheat us for their own gain.

Society called them hippies, unkempt embarrassments; the Rebbe saw them as idealistsCredit checks, two forms of identification, "don't take rides from strangers..." Sadly, pessimism and suspicion infest our homes and souls. Motives are questioned, acts of kindness scrutinized for the "angle," the self interest.

The Rebbe is the antidote to cynicism. Even the calloused cynic, the one who triple-checks affidavits, can't help but trust the Rebbe. The most seasoned pessimist with the dimmest view of humanity can't protest that no one is sincere when he learns of the Rebbe's relentless love and activist concern for complete strangers.

Others shunned 20th century Jewry for its apparent addiction to materialism, its race to "keep up with the Goldbergs." The Rebbe saw souls thirsting to find the G‑dliness hidden in that Rolex. Society called them hippies, unkempt embarrassments; the Rebbe saw them as idealists needing to focus their romantic view of life.

The Rebbe's constant, repetitive harping on the cosmic value of each Jew, each person, and each act stands in stark contrast to the folded-armed snarl of the seasoned skeptic.


Cynicism has a cousin—sarcasm. You've met him; he's the know-it-all for whom nothing is worth knowing. He ridicules sincerity; guarantees that you'll regret every decision. You can find him at the bar getting a refill because his cup is always half full. Every statement bites; but he's always "just kidding." Sarcasm is a second-rate attempt at humor, devoid of wit; indicative of untreated ugliness.

Where cynicism projects failure, sees greed in every gesture of kindness, cousin sarcasm anticipates criticism and rejection and lashes out in self defense. Cynicism is the strategy; sarcasm the tactic.

The Rebbe reawakened souls numbed by Auschwitz and squelched by shopping mallsAs the ultimate optimist, the Rebbe is the salve for this ailment, too, and its abhorrent manifestations.

The Rebbe's deep-seated belief in each individual's inherent value led to action: the Rebbe reawakened souls numbed by Auschwitz and squelched by shopping malls. The Rebbe highlighted the G‑dliness in the trivial, the indispensability of the ignored.

It's a favorite hobby of the media to seek the darkest side of athletes and celebrities; absence of any such material is proof positive that he or she is a phony; something unimaginably sinister must hide in the closet. The Rebbe, conversely, directed that exploratory energy to seek the G‑dly within even the brutally indifferent.

So out to the streets the Rebbe's legions go, armed with industrial-strength doses of "yes." Yes you can, yes you must! The Rebbe doesn't insulate us from life's challenges; the Rebbe offers context, confidence and a plan to address them. With the Rebbe you're never too low that you've forgotten how to smile.

Rabbi Baruch Epstein is a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary to Illinois, and serves as the rabbi of Congregation Bais Menachem. He and his wife Chaya are the proud parents of three daughters.
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July 9, 2008
On Rosh Chodesh Shevat, 5711 The Rebbe instucted us to "explain how he (The Freidiker Rebbe) loved every Jew." And now you are doing the same for us. Thank you for your focus on doing as instructed by our Nassi and setting an example for the us all.
Dovid Grossman
Chicago, IL
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