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As a searching adolescent immersed in the thoughts of Lao
Tse, Richard Alpert, the Dalai Lama, and Alan Watts, I still
felt dissatisfaction an empty craving left in my gut. It was
not until I came across the teachings of the Rebbe that I felt
that sense of "these are the words of my heart speaking
I went to study in the Rebbe's yeshivas for nine years,
and continued learning for another ten while raising a fam-
ily and making a living.
On the 3rd of Tammuz, 5754 (June 12, 1994), the
Rebbe passed on. I felt a need to gather the pieces of
everything the Rebbc had given me, to package them in
tight little parcels so they wouldn't be lost. Then I put
them in this book. When i look at the book I find the
Rcbbe still alive.
The Rebbe has been held prisoner in society's box of
stereotype and preconception. People simply don't look in
Brooklyn for modern-day gurus. They are not searching
out a rabbi in eighteenth-century clothing. Perhaps had he
hailed from the mountains of Tibet or taught psychoanaly-
sis at Berkeley, perhaps . . .
But he never even tried to make himself marketable. He
didn't dress it, he didn't speak it, and he didn't seem to
want it. So his light remained pure but within.
This is how we'll liberate him, you and I: Don't read this
book. Live with it as 1 have. Make it a dialogue between The
Rebbe and your life.
Take it little by little, day by day. When you need an
answer, look here. When you need to come up for air, find
it in the Rcbbe's words. When life is getting tough and con-
fusing, open up just anywhere and sec what the Rebbe has
If you find heaven, bring it down to earth.
Some of the lines in this book are direct quotations trans-
lated from Yiddish or Hebrew. The bulk, however, arc
droplets condensed from a mass of teachings and concepts.
Sources include public talks, private correspondence,
the Rebbe's personal diary and private notes, and some
anecdotal material. Since everything the Rebbe taught is
firmly grounded in the teachings of his predecessors, I have
included vital legacy teachings that the Rebbe often cited.
About gender usage: I use "him," "he will," "a man,"
and all the other non-PC terms. The fact is, the Rebbe
generally used the neutral Yiddish form of "one" as in "one
will . . ." In Hebrew, the Rebbe was careful to use both the
masculine and feminine form of "one will." English is ter-
ribly clumsy with these things, so I've committed the sins
of mistranslation you read here.
"Rebbe" means a teacher. It is a term also used to refer to
a master of the mystical path of Chassidic Judaism, as
taught by the Baal Shem Tov.
"Lubavitch" refers to many things: A town in Belorussia,
a neighborhood in Brooklyn, and an international associa-
tion. Lubavitch, the town, was the seat of a line of chassidic
masters, rabbis who followed in the practical/mystical path
of the Baal Shem Tov, as his teachings were elaborated by
Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi. At the outset of World
War II, Lubavitch moved to Brooklyn.
"The Rebbe" is the title by which Rabbi Menachem
Mendel Schneerson has come to be known worldwide, or
sometimes, "The Lubavitcher Rebbe." He was born in
1902 to Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson and the kabbalist and
legalist, Rabbi Levi Yitzchaak Schneerson, chief rabbi of
Dniprepetrovs'k in the Ukraine. He studied at home,
because the teacher at the [ewish school complained he had
nothing to teach him.
In his teen years, his father gave him permission to
study science, mathematics, and languages but with the
warning. "G-d forbid any of this should take away from
your sixteen hours a day of Torah study."
Young Menachem passed the government matricula-
tion exams six months later. He also acquired a working
knowledge of English, Italian, French, Gruzian, and Latin.
From the years 1932 to 1940, the Rebbe studied the sci-
ences and humanities at the University of Berlin and at the
Sorbonne in Paris. In 1941, he fled Nazi-occupied France
for the United States. For a short time he was employed as
an engineer with the U.S. Navy. His work was labeled as
When the previous Rebbe of Lubavitch passed away in
1950, the surviving remnants of Lubavitchers around the
world turned immediately to his son-in-law, Rabbi
Mcnachem Mendel Schneerson. Although he hid himself
by dressing in modern clothes and avoiding any sort of
prestige, they knew him as a great scholar and leader.
He was begged to take the leadership. He refused,
repeatedly. He claimed he knew himself too well to imag-
ine he might be fit for the job. When a delegation of elders
came with a petition accepting Rabbi Schneerson as their
Rebbe, he placed his head in his hands and began to cry.
"Please, leave me alone," he pleaded. "This has nothing to
do with me."
It was only after one complete year of such episodes that
the Rebbe finally accepted the position. Even then it was
with a condition: "I will help," the Rebbe announced, "but
each of you must carry out your own mission. Don't expect
a free ride, holding on to the fringes of my prayer shawl."
For the next forty-two years, the Rebbe never missed a
day at his office. Seven days a week, .365 days a year. When
in 1977 he suffered a heart attack, he went to his office and
stayed there until he recovered.
For many years, the Rebbe granted private audiences
three nights a week. ]ust about every kind of person you
could imagine activists, businessmen, scientists, politi-
cians, journalists waited their turn until two, three, occa-
sionally even nine o' clock in the morning. The Rebbe
talked warmly with each one, providing guidance and
advice when solicited, blessings whether solicited or not.
Letters came from everywhere bags of letters, daily. But
the Rebbe wouldn't allow anyone else to open letters to him.
He read each one and instructed his personal secretary, Dr.
Mindel, what to write back and then edited after him.
Much of this book is derived from those letters.
But the central fountain from which we drank in the
Rebbe's wisdom was the "farbrengen." This was when we all
packed tightly together as the Rebbe spoke for timeless hours,
filling the interludes with song and 1'chaim. Those who came
with questions left with answers and those who came know-
ing all the answers left understanding just how much there is
to ask. The Rebbe's words were broadcast live over a network
of telephone lines and later, by satellite to listeners all
over the globe and then transcribed into print, often to be
heavily edited by the Rebbe's hand.
All the time, the trappings were conspicuously absent.
No majestic, flowing robes. No magnificent estate. No pri-
vate jet. A modest home in good taste and a bare bones
office. Nothing on the outside to distinguish him from any
of his admirers. The Rebbe didn't need the big show. There
was no ego involved. He was a master of simplicity, at
being nothing and just allowing the essential G-dliness of
the soul to shine through, And so he was able to guide oth-
ers without consuming them.
The Rebbe was an orthodox rebel, a traditional radical.
In the sixties, the rest of the Jewish Establishment looked
on in disdain at what was happening to their youth and
cried, "Student unrest! Hippies and freaks! This is cer-
tainly a deranged and lost generation." The Rebbe
declared, "Finally the iceberg of America is beginning
to melt! Finally, its young people realize they do not have
The Rebbe told his students to go out and bring Jewish
youth in touch with their roots. He was ridiculed for it for
years. Only after the strategy began to work did those who
had mocked him jump on the bandwagon as well.
He was always a maverick, not consulting with others
on his strategies and campaigns, often ridiculed for what
they considered outrageous decisions. There were never
any followers of the Rebbe- followers couldn't keep up.
The Rebbe has only leaders. Those who rebel with him.
Perhaps most controversial and least understood
was his vision of a new era dawning upon the world.
Almost uniquely, the Rebbe mixed messianic vision with a
down-to-earth embracement of the here-and-now. There
were others in the past who shouted "The Messiah is com-
ing! Sell your homes and leave for the Holy Land!" The
Rebbe shouted, "A new time is on its way! Build homes!
Build institutions! Find meaning in all that is today. Re in
that new time now."
In 1983, on the occasion of his eightieth birthday, U.S.
Congress proclaimed the Rebbe's birthday, "Education
Day U.S.A." and awarded him the National Scroll of
Honor. In 1995, the Rebbe was (posthumously) awarded
the Congressional Gold Medal, an award granted only 130
Americans since Thomas Jefferson, for "outstanding and
Perhaps I should write something here about the
Rebbe's passing. But for me, as for many of his students,
the Rebbe never passed on. His life was never in the phys-
ical body. It was his words, his wisdom, his spirit we felt
inside us. That is still here with us, as vibrant as the day we
heard it from his mouth. And if enough people absorb this
book and learn from his great wisdom, he will be even more
alive than before.
The teachings of the Rebbe are not just a collection of advice
and nice thoughts just as a year is more than the sum
of 365 days. The teachings of the Rebbe make up one sim-
ple whole. All revolve around the same essential concept:
The fusion of the loftiest spiritual heights with the most
mundane physicality. In the Rebbe's words, "the highest
with the lowest."
The concept is not only radical but powerful: It means I
can be myself living a "down-to-earth" existence, and yet
fulfilling a transcendental goal. It means that there is noth-
ing we are trying to escape other than the notion that we
must escape something. We don't run away from this world
to join a higher one, instead we work to fuse the two. We
aren't in the business of "making it to heaven" we're busy
bringing heaven down to earth.
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