Today -- 24 Tevet -- marks the beginning of the 200th yahrzeit of the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812).
The Alter Rebbe, the founder of Chabad Chassidism, drew from all previous Talmudic and mystical teachings to create the most comprehensive blueprint to date for modern life, training us how to unite faith and reason, spirit and matter. Deeply involved in the turbulent history of his day, author of the Tanya, Shulchan Aruch and thousands of discourses, Rabbi Schneur Zalman revolutionized every aspect of Jewish life. Full bio.
Many people wonder what did Chassidus contribute... On this auspicious day, we are pleased to bring you an article about the Alter Rebbe's pioneering contribution to Jewish thought and tradition.
never forget the question posed to me by a woman in
Miami Beach. I had just finished a lecture about my book, Toward a
Meaningful Life, presenting the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi
Menachem Mendel Schneerson, to the secular public.
the Rebbe recognize Conservative Judaism?" asked the woman. "Because if he did
not, I don't want to buy the book of a bigot," she bluntly stated. The entire
auditorium fell silent.
paused before I replied. "No, he did not recognize its legitimacy." The
audience became uncomfortably restless, until I continued: "But he also didn't
recognize Orthodox Judaism, ultra-orthodox, reformodox, reconstructodox, and
all the other 'doxes' that have been and will be created.
reason being: Nowhere is mention made of all these labels in the constitution
of Judaism - The Torah.
allow me to ask you in return: Was Moses Orthodox, Conservative or Reform?
Anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of spirituality knows that one
cannot stereotype and fit the soul into man-made labels and structures. The
soul is not square, round, tall or short. Neither is it orthodox, conservative
or reform, any more than it is republican or democrat. The soul is a Divine
force in each of us, infusing us with an indispensable mission to fulfill in
learned this fundamental truth in Chabad, as a student and chassid of
the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994).
Schneerson, or as he is lovingly called "The Rebbe," was the seventh in a
dynasty of Rebbes, spiritual leaders, that began with the founding of the
Chabad Chassidic movement in Belarus by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812).
Rabbi Schneur Zalman, whose lineage traces back to King David, was the youngest
student of Rabbi Dovber of Mezeritch (d. 1772), who in turn was the student and
successor of Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer (1698-1760), known as the Baal Shem Tov,
the founder of Chasidism in 1734.
The contribution of
Chabad Chassidus can be appreciated by placing its advent in historical
context. The primary challenge facing the Jewish people following the
Emancipation in the 18th century was: How to benefit from their
newfound freedoms while not compromising the integrity of millennia-old Jewish
tradition. Indeed, modern assimilation was birthed as a result of a people
unprepared for the challenges of accelerated emancipation. The challenge would
take on different forms in the subsequent years – the battle between religion
and science, between church and state and between faith and reason. Some chose
insulation to protect from these progressive forces; others
compartmentalization, and yet others assimilation.
Schneur Zalman, and the six successive generations of Chabad Rebbes, developed an
eloquent and comprehensive system to bridge the schism between the material and
the spiritual - offering a dynamic blueprint for Jewish life today, one that makes
the spiritual journey personally relevant to contemporary times.
from the vast corpus of mystical and Talmudic teachings, Chabad (an acronym for
Chochma, Binah, Daat, the three defining intellectual faculties, conception,
understanding, knowledge) teaches that within all of matter lies potent
spiritual enegy. Each of us is charged with the mission of discovering the Divine
"sparks" allocated to us in our respective corner of the world and sphere of
relieve the tension between matter and spirit by spiritualizing the material,
releasing the Divine energy embedded in every person, object and experience.
Redemption is the natural culmination of this process. Recognizing the Divine
soul in each person naturally leads to a loving attitude toward every
individual, regardless of background or persuasion.
Kabbalah manifests the Divine in the human then Chabad Chassidism transforms
the human into the Divine. This interface between God and Man allows us to
enter the emancipated world of the West without compromising timeless values.
On the contrary: it begets the opportunity to integrate both freedoms, material
and spiritual, by refining and spiritualizing material secularism, turning the
world into an intimate home for the Divine. Chabad offers man the tools to
perceive and reveal the Divine in every aspect of life: to integrate personal
independence with the highest moral standards of Torah, to blend fiery passion
with profound intellect.
ultimate litmus test for the success of any movement or philosophy is its
future - does it inspire passion and commitment in its youth? Does it have the
power to perpetuate into future generations?
its inception, some 250 years ago, Chabad has spawned generations of adherents,
men and women from all walks of life. Today, Chabad is a vibrant force in
Judaism: Infused with a profound sense of mission, tens of thousands of young
revolutionaries can be found all across the globe, directing Chabad houses,
schools, synagogues and community centers - perpetuating Jewish life and
lies behind this power is a profound philosophy that plumbs the depths of
Talmud and Kabbalah and integrates it into a systematic lifestyle, joining
ritual and spiritual in a seamless union, resting on the underpinnings of the
cardinal mitzvah in the Torah: Love thy neighbor as thyself.
intimate appreciation of each soul's dignity - regardless of background,
education, or Jewish experience - drives the Chabad individual, welcoming all with
an unmatched warmth and non-judgmentalism. Eternal and humble respect for the
mysterious journey of every unique soul, and the responsibility to do
everything possible to actualize that soul's potential, lies at the heart of a
Chabad Chassid's commitment: to not just warm yourself in this cold universe
but to warm all those around you.
Conservative, Reform, unaffiliated... is not the way a Chabadnik looks at a Jew.
A Jew is a Divine soul, period. And "who can know their [every soul's]
greatness and excellence of in their root and source in the living God...all
Jews are called real brothers" (Tanya chapter 32).
does the future hold to a Chabad Chassid? The Chassid is driven by the absolute
belief that we now stand at the threshold of Redemption - when all the Divine
"sparks" will be actualized. We therefore are compelled to do everything
possible to finish our work of refining and transforming the material universe
into a Divine home; to be "a light unto nations" and reveal the Godly "spark"
in every human being and in every part of existence. Then, our accumulative
effort, coupled with the hard work of generations past, will finally erupt into
a global surge of goodness and spirituality, bringing on the age of redemption,
the messianic age, when the world will be filled with Divine knowledge as the
waters cover the sea.