Where were you on September 11?

If you’re 21 years old and older, you probably remember exactly where you were on that dreadful day. Whether you were in New York or on the other side of the world, that moment in time stands frozen. But why? Why is this day, and that moment, etched in our memories?

Some may tell you it is because you lived a part of history. Others may say that it is because every one who wasn’t there, feels as if their life has been saved. And evidently, survivors who escape death, remember their miracle forever.

Yet, perhaps, there’s another, more profound, reason. September 11 did not just attack the tallest towers of the outside world, but it also threatened the innermost towers of inner being. Suddenly, life seemed so vulnerable. The achievements and ‘towers’ of our lives appeared so fragile. The creations and ‘buildings’ of our years on earth seemed so shatterable.

Interestingly, on the week of September 11, 2001, we read the Torah portion which speaks of the special mitzvah of “the first fruits”: If you owned land in Israel, and it was blessed with sweet fruits, you had to pick your first-ripened fruits, put them in a basket, and offer them to priests in the Holy Temple, to express your gratitude to G-d. But what did the landowners do with their basket? Did it go to the priest together with the fruit, or did they take it back home with them? It depends, the Talmud reveals. If the baskets were cheap and inexpensive, they were left in the Temple. If they were made of gold and silver, the landowners would keep them. But why? Isn’t a valuable basket a worthy offering too?

The lesson is profound: Baskets may be nice and flashy. But at the end of the day, baskets are only baskets. They come and go. And they certainly cannot substitute the fruit-offering itself.

Same with life. Our physical and conceptual baskets, our cars, our homes and our jobs, our buildings and towers, can be deceptive. They may be made of gold and silver, and can give us the sense that we are on top of the world, safe and secure. But we dare not loose sight of the fruits that we ought to plant, of the goodness that we ought to bring, of the sweetness that we ought to spread. For after all said and done, it is that fruit-offering that lives forever. In the words of Winston Churchill, “we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” And as opposed to the fleeting baskets of life, these fruits of giving, can never be destroyed.

When we ask ourselves, “Where were we on September 11,” we ought to ask:

Where were we, not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually, on September 11? Where were our instincts and feelings on September 11? What did they awaken in us? Did they shake our perspective on the meaning — and vulnerability — of life? And did we change in any way?

18 years have passed, but the same questions remain: Have we developed? Have we rebuilt our ruins with towers of goodness and kindness? Have we produced real, lasting fruits?

The state of our nation, and our world, may have forever changed on that fateful day. But the direction of that change depends on you and me. Let us make it productive, “fruit-full”, and eternal.

Time and again, the Torah orders us to fight evil by… burning it. In its saintly words: “You must burn the evil from within you,” (Deuteronomy chapters 17, 21, 22 and more). But do we really have to burn evil in order to overcome it? Can’t we just combat it? And if the Torah is implying that we should eradicate it, why not say so explicitly?

The answer reveals one of the great secrets of education. For there are two ways to tackle the evil “from within us.” One way is to engage in a face-to-face confrontation with it. When evil comes our way, we converse with it, we analyze it, we strive to understand its root and only then do we engage in an attempt to surgically remove it.

Another way to tackle evil is to simply burn it before it even has time to conquer the stage of our consciousness. How so? By igniting our soul with the flame of G-d, His Torah and His Mitzvot and allowing it to grow and expand until evil burns and fades away.

These two methods are diametrically opposed. The first gives room for evil to express its opinion. It may even legitimize its stance. Worse, it may even give evil an opportunity to allow its venom to permeate our mind. The second method dismisses evil completely. Not because we don’t believe in its existence, but because we believe in the power of the soul, so much more. Evil may have a way, but in the presence of our Divine soul, it stands no chance.

In the words of the author of the Tanya, the saintly Chassidic master, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi: “A little bit of light, dispels a lot of darkness.”

Friends, we too have the power to ignite just a little light that is brighter and mightier than any menacing force. We might define ourselves by the size of our height, the waist of our body, the dimensions of our home or the limits of our natural tendencies. We may even say to ourselves, from time to time, “this is the way I was born, and this is the way I will always be.”

But our confining nature can be altered; our narrow perspectives can be changed. And if we can just re-ignite our flame of G-d within, and engage relentlessly in deeds of goodness and kindness, all of life’s challenges will “burn” and melt away.

So, have you connected to G-d yet today? Have you performed a Mitzvah? Have you ignited just a little light of goodness that can, and will, expel a lot of darkness?

Article

In order to find happiness and fulfill our inner selves, we ought to ask what we ought to be and do. Am I actualizing my God-given skills and talents? Am I fulfilling my responsibilities? Am I being true to my Divine being and values? Am I performing Mitzvahs, today more than yesterday, yet much less than tomorrow?

Rabbi Allouche

“If he’s happy, I’m happy!”

A friend shared these words with me recently, as he was describing his cousin’s relationship with a lady that he was dating. He didn’t think she was a good fit for him, but he dismissed his feelings with this lame excuse.

It wasn’t the first time I had heard this sentence. Many of us utter it, or different versions of it, to excuse all sorts of behaviors. And we convince ourselves that as long as we are “happy,” almost any behavior is legitimized – from dating the wrong person to engaging in self-destructive habits.

But what do we really mean by “happy”? Can we be truly happy when we engage in conducts that are opposed to our values, and purpose?

The answer is a resounding “no.” A behavior that stifles our self-growth and engaging in actions that squash our infinite potential, may bring us temporary pleasure, but it will not engender long-term happiness. For genuine happiness can only come about when we dedicate ourselves to the vocation of our inner self and its values, and to the Divine calling of who we are asked to be.

The famed psychoanalyst Viktor Frankl, whose book, “Man’s Search to Meaning,” has become the second best-selling book of all times (after the Bible), shares a similar perspective on the secret to happiness:

“Happiness, cannot be pursued,” he wrote. “Happiness must happen, and you have to let it happen by not caring about it. Instead, one should dedicate himself to actualizing his highest self; only then, will true happiness ensue.”

Perhaps, this is the reason this week’s portion tells us that only after we have settled our land and worked hard to fulfill our purpose of bettering our part of this world, then, and only then, will we “rejoice in all the good things G-d has given you and your household (Deuteronomy 26:11).”

As a young teen struggling to find my purpose in the vastness of our world, I recall seeking the advice of my dear mentor, world-scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz. His poignant words have stayed with me until this very day:

“You ask a good question,” he told me. “But instead of asking what you want to be, ask what you ought to be and do. And if you ask what you ought to be and do at all times, your life will be happy, purposeful and satisfying to your inner ‘I.’”

He was right. In order to find happiness and fulfill our inner selves, we ought to ask what we ought to be and do. Am I actualizing my God-given skills and talents? Am I fulfilling my responsibilities? Am I being true to my Divine being and values? Am I performing Mitzvahs, today more than yesterday, yet much less than tomorrow?

If we can answer an affirmative “yes” to these questions, it will then be easy to find happiness, and we will then each be blessed with a good, sweet, and happy year!

Article

Let us remember that G-d's watchful eyes are indeed always upon us. No, they are not there to judge us; that, we have to do. But they are there to care for us affectionately and ensure that we remain "nice people," who make the world "nicer" and brighter each day.

Rabbi Allouche

Did you know that the average American is caught on camera more than 75 times a day!

Although many may think that this is a blatant intrusion of our privacy – we need not worry. For, after all, we are always watched. No; not just by video cameras at the corners of our every street and every building. Rather, Judaism teaches that it is G-d Almighty who has his loving eyes on us, at all times. In the words of our Sages in the Ethics of our Fathers (Chap. 2:1): “Know what is above from you: a seeing eye, a listening ear, and all your deeds are being inscribed in a book.”

Similarly, in this week’s portion, G-d commands us to appoint judges and officials at the gates of our every city (Deuteronomy 16:18). The founder of the Chassidic movement, the holy Baal Shem tov, teaches that this holds true regarding our inner cities too: our bodies and souls. For they too deserve inner judges, guided by the watchful eye of G-d, to decide which sights, sounds, and feelings, are allowed to come in, knowing all too well, that not all that we see, hear and feel, can benefit them.

Modern science has also confirmed the brilliance of this teaching. In a recent study, researchers set-up a coffee table in the hallways of a North American university. A box was placed on the table, where people could leave some tips after serving themselves with coffee. On some weeks, a large poster with big eyes was hung by this coffee-table. On other weeks, a poster with flowers. On the weeks where the big eyes were displayed, people left an average of 2.76 times as much money as at other times. The conductor of this study, Ara Nozenrayan, author of “Big Gods”, concluded that “watched people are nice people.”

Perhaps, this is also why the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, who compiled a list of 12 verses for children to learn by heart, included in this list the following awe-inspiring verse from Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi’s Tanya book:

“And, behold, G‑d stands over him, and the whole world is full of His glory, and He looks upon him and searches his reins and heart to see if he is serving Him as is fitting.”

As we continue to prepare in earnest for the High Holidays during this Elul month of introspection, let us remember that G-d’s watchful eyes are indeed always upon us. No, they are not there to judge us; that, we have to do. But they are there to care for us affectionately and ensure that we remain “nice people,” who make the world “nicer” and brighter each day.

May G-d’s loving gaze inspire us to do good during our life’s every moment, and may it bring upon us Hashem’s abundant blessings for a good, sweet, healthy and happy New Year. Amen.

Article

The real self is pure, wholesome, and even holy. The real self would therefore never do anything to hurt anyone. The superficial self, on the other hand, can act apathetically, egotistically, and cruelly.

Rabbi Allouche

Imagine this:

You behaved nastily to a friend. You hurt his or her feelings, and you now feel terrible about it. So, you ask for forgiveness and you say: “I am so sorry about what happened. I really don’t know what came over me. I just wasn’t myself…”

Your loved one forgives you, and even expresses sympathy and understanding, and life moves on.

In our friction-prone society, these scenarios happen all the time. But what does it mean that “I was not myself”? Are we schizophrenic? Do we live a dual life?

The answer is painfully simple: There is a real self, and there is a superficial self. The real self is pure, wholesome, and even holy. The real self would therefore never do anything to hurt anyone.

The superficial self, on the other hand, can act apathetically, egotistically, and cruelly.

So why do we sometimes allow the superficial self to demonstrate itself? Why do we allow it to eclipse the pure goodness within each of us?

Perhaps, it is because we sometimes cease to view ourselves as essentially good beings, created in the image of G-d, who are charged with a mission to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly in the ways of G-d” (Micah, 6:8). We then forget that real Divine self of ours and we fall into all sorts of compromised views of who we are and who we ought to be.

This is why the Jewish calendar has times like these. Tonight, tomorrow and on Sunday, we will usher in the Hebrew month of Elul, in which we prepare ourselves for the New Year and the high-holidays with much self-reflection and introspection. But it is also a month, in which G-d gives us the opportunity to jump-start our relationships with G-d and our loved ones and re-ignite the passion, love, and commitment toward our mission to serve as G-d’s agents of goodness in this chaotic world.

Here’s how great the Chassidic master, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi of the 18th Century, put it:

“During this month, the king comes out of his palace to the fields of his city. There, everyone who so desires is permitted to meet him; he receives them all with a cheerful countenance and shows a smiling face to them all. Later, however, after he enters his royal palace. None can enter into his presence except by appointment, and only special people and select individuals. So, too, by analogy, the month of Elul is when we meet God in the field…”
– Likkutei Torah, Re’eh 32b

Indeed, during this special month, our Divine King re-appears. He visits us in the city’s fields, but he also emerges from within, in our inner fields, deep within the chambers of our soul. And He waits for us to meet Him and heed His call to persist through our tribulations, and actualize our very best, Divine selves, at every moment of the day.

This encounter with our King yes may turn out to be the most rewarding moment in our lives.

Article

Every day ought to be treated as the most important day of the year. For every day is filled with infinite treasures that will never return. Every moment is filled with opportunities that beg to be actualized. Every hour holds within it blessings that impatiently wait to be unleashed.

Rabbi Allouche

In the 16th century, an innocent Jew was sentenced to life in prison by an anti-Semitic baron. One day, this cruel baron decided to show him a bit of mercy, and he said to him: “Look Jew, I am willing to grant you one day of freedom each year. I don’t care which day you choose. But remember, you only have one day a year.”

The Jew was torn. Which day should he choose? Should he choose Yom Kippur? Should he choose his birthday, or perhaps, his wedding anniversary?

He decided to pen a letter to one of the foremost rabbinic leaders of his generation, Rabbi David ibn Zimra, to share with him his great dilemma. The Rabbi’s advice did not tarry: “Don’t wait,” he replied to him. “Choose the first available day he gives you. Grab it immediately. Be it a holiday or a regular Tuesday.”

Rabbi David ibn Zimra words share a powerful truth. Every day ought to be treated as the most important day of the year. For every day is filled with infinite treasures that will never return. Every moment is filled with opportunities that beg to be actualized. Every hour holds within it blessings that impatiently wait to be unleashed. Yet, too many times, we are shackled by the troubles of our past or the fears of our future that we become complacent, and forget that our most important day of the year may just be… today.

In this week’s portion, we read about the forty-two journeys of the Jewish people through the desert. The founder of the Chassidic movement, the Baal Shem Tov, compares these journeys to the various stages of life. Over a lifetime of experience, we each undertake “forty-two journeys,” forty-two self-transformations, before we reach “the holy land.”

His underlying message is poignant: Life in an upward journey, in which we must constantly strive to make very day better than yesterday. That is not to say that life doesn’t have any setbacks and regressions. Even in the desert there were stops. But these stops were themselves a part of the journey. Indeed, every setback and interruption, are parts of our learning and growth, as they too can spring us further and deeper, than ever before.

During a trip to Israel a few years ago, I paid visit to my old high-school Yeshiva, the prestigious Mekor Chaim High-School, founded by my mentor, world-scholar, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz. As I entered the walls of the Yeshiva, I became the humble witness of an extraordinary sight: the Mekor-Chaim high-schoolers had formed a perfect circle around the Bima, as they held hands in unity, and danced with overflowing joy, as if that moment, was the most important moment of their lives. Their faces were beaming, and their hearts were set ablaze with the fire of G-d.

But it was the words of their song that moved me most:
“Ma shehaya, haya, ha’ikar lehatchil mehatchala…
Whatever was – was, the important thing is to start anew.
Father in Heaven, renew me completely, ignite my soul.”

I can still hear them sing those poignant words: “whatever was- was, the most important thing is to start anew. Today.”

So, have you turned today into your life’s most important day yet to date?

Article

But, deep inside, there exists another face. It stems from our very depth and it exposes our deepest vulnerabilities and strengths. This is the face of our inner self, and it cannot be fooled. If you would give yourself the chance to glance at this face, what would you find? Shame? Pain? Fear? Insecurity? A yearning for love? A quest for meaning?

Rabbi Allouche

It seems like FaceApp – the new app that can make your face look younger or older – has taken over our phones, and our lives.

To date, more than 150 million people have downloaded this app. Many of them, including numerous celebrities, have also posted their FaceApp images of how they may look like in a few decades.

But aside from the security concerns that have arisen concerning the origins of this app, I dare ask: Why have we become so obsessed with this app? Why this new craze?

Some psychologists have suggested that we love looking at FaceApp’s version of our old self because FaceApp only changes our faces. Our bodies and our posture remain young and strong. And so, when we look at the version of our old selves we are overcome with a soothing feeling and we say to ourselves: “Oh, getting old is not as bad as we thought… After all, we will still look pretty good in twenty years from now!”

Others think that our FaceApp obsession is reflective of our society’s ongoing pre-occupation with the selfish self. “This is just another way of taking a selfie,” a social critic wrote earlier this week. “But so long as we are so self-preoccupied, we will never be able to appreciate the blessing of selflessness and unity – a virtue that is, sadly, so lacking in our day and age.”

While many of these experts may have a point, I believe the reason is deeper.

FaceApp hit a sensitive chord because it relates — at least, partially — to an unavoidable truth: We each have many faces. We have a “young” face, an “old” face, a “happy” face, a “sad” face, and so on. But FaceApp does not reveal the entire truth. For these are all faces of our external self. They can, therefore, easily be tricked. Some band-aids, a little make-up, a FaceApp makeover, and abracadabra, all looks perfect and shining. Most of us wish these external faces were the only ones.

But, deep inside, there exists another face. It stems from our very depth and it exposes our deepest vulnerabilities and strengths. This is the face of our inner self, and it cannot be fooled. If you would give yourself the chance to glance at this face, what would you find? Shame? Pain? Fear? Insecurity? A yearning for love? A quest for meaning?

Of course, it is much more pleasant and comfortable to look at, and define ourselves by, our external face only. Thus, the obsession with FaceApp, selfies, and all sorts of other external-face exposures.

Alas, our inner face, which Kabbalists call “the Divine Soul” — is restless and it begs to be recognized, and, nurtured, too. And it yearns to serve its Creator, by doing good and actualizing its unique Divine purpose in our world.

In this week’s portion, we read that, “He (G-d) has not observed iniquity in Jacob; Nor has He seen trouble in Israel; G-d is with them, and the shout of a king is in them.”

This does not mean that Jacob and Israel do not have iniquities. But G-d does not “observe” them. And He certainly does not define His people by them, by their FaceApp appearances, and by any external face we may wear – young or old, mischievous or righteous. Instead, He prefers to focus on our inner face, on the “king” within us, and on its infinite opportunities to share its ‘shouts,’ its music, its light, and its goodness with its surroundings.

If that is G-d’s choice, shouldn’t it be ours too?

This piece was initially published online in the Times of Israel, HuffPost, and other publications.

This Shabbat, Jews worldwide will be marking the twenty-fifth anniversary since the passing of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, one of the most influential Jewish leaders of all times.

Much ink has been spilled on the Rebbe, and on his unparalleled influence. While most leaders only focus on their own constituents and following, the Rebbe was a leader of the world and all of humanity. And with his transcendent persona, the Rebbe successfully resuscitated a post-holocaust generation, by breathing into it new hope for a better future, and by arming it with a relentless mission to heal and rebuild our world with unconditional love.

But above all, the Rebbe changed the way we think, and thereby, act. Excuses that sought to stifle our growth, were disproved. Social norms that aimed to turn us into creatures of habits, were overturned. Preconceived notions that shackled our potential, were removed. And myths that were thought of as truths, were debunked.

Here is a sample of revolutionary lessons and ideas that the Rebbe gave our world:

1. No Such Thing As “Follower”:

In 1964, Israeli thinker, activist, and former Knesset member, Geulah Cohen, had a private audience with the Rebbe that lasted over two hours. A few days later, she described this meeting as life-changing.

In her words, “I have been in the company of wise of great learning and intelligence… But sitting opposite a true believer is quite a different matter. After having met a wise man, you remain the same as before — you have become neither less of a fool nor more of a sage. Not so with a believer. After having met him you are no longer the same… For the true believer believes in you as well.”

Similarly, Rabbi Sacks recently spoke about his life-altering meeting with the Rebbe, during his years as a student at Cambridge. “Here I was, a nobody from nowhere, and here was one of the greatest leaders in the Jewish world challenging me not to accept the situation [at Cambridge], but to change it,” Lord Sacks revealed. And he concluded, “That was when I realized what I have said many times since: That the world was wrong. When they thought that the most important fact about the Rebbe was that here was a man with thousands of followers, they missed the most important fact: That a good leader creates followers, but a great leader creates leaders.”

2. No Such Thing As “Overworked”:

My dear mentor, world-scholar, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, once shared with me that in his last communication with the Rebbe, he asked the Rebbe whether he should be slowing down, as his plate was over-flowingly full. At the time, Rabbi Steinsaltz was involved in three full time jobs: scholarly writing, outreach work in Russia, and a network of schools in Israel. The Rebbe’s reply to Rabbi Steinsaltz was typical: “Continue to do all these things and to do more things and work even harder.”

This was the Rebbe’s approach with every person he encountered. He was never satisfied with past deeds, as glorious as they may have been. Rather, he always challenged us to do more, to be more, each and every day. The Rebbe once quipped: “every living thing must grow!”

Why? Because he believed in us, and in our infinite potential. And he knew that as much as we have achieved yesterday, there is still so much more we can achieve today, and even more so, tomorrow.

As Rabbi Steinsaltz observed: the Rebbe wanted to change our very nature, from living as ordinary people with ordinary dealings, to becoming extraordinary people, with extraordinary achievement.”

3. No Such Thing As “Stuck”:

In the winter of 1967, a group of young ladies called the Lubavitcher Rebbe to ask him for a blessing. They were “stuck” at the Detroit Airport, on a Friday afternoon, and their flight home to New York had been canceled.

They spoke briefly with the Rebbe’s secretary, and after putting them on hold for a short while, he returned with a reply from the Rebbe: “The Rebbe doesn’t understand the word ‘stuck.’”

They tried to explain to him what the term “stuck” means, but the secretary interrupted them, saying: “The Rebbe knows what ‘stuck’ means. But the Rebbe says that a person is never stuck.”
They understood the Rebbe’s wise advice, and they rose to the occasion. Shortly thereafter, they ran around the airport, smiling at strangers, lending their support, and igniting souls with the light of Judaism.

The Rebbe’s words taught this group, and us all, that there is no such thing as ‘stuck.’ Indeed, every moment has a Divine call. Every place has a holy purpose. Every person has a vital role to play on the many stages of God’s world.

4. No Such Thing As “Disabled”:

Shortly after the Yom Kippur war of 1973, a group of “Disabled Veterans,” of the IDF, visited the Rebbe. Joseph Cabiliv — a veteran whose legs were amputated after his jeep hit a Syrian mine in the Golan Heights – was privy to this special meeting with the Rebbe, in which the Rebbe challenged them to see themselves not as “disabled,” but as “exceptional.”

Here is how Joseph chronicled this exceptional encounter with the Rebbe:

“The Rebbe passed between us, resting his glance on each one of us. From that terrible day on which I had woken without my legs in the Rambam Hospital, I have seen all sorts of things in the eyes of those who looked at me: pain, pity, revulsion, anger. But this was the first time in all those years that I encountered true empathy. With that glance that scarcely lasted a second and the faint smile on his lips, the Rebbe conveyed to me that he is with me-utterly and exclusively with me.

“The Rebbe then began to speak, after apologizing for his Ashkenazic-accented Hebrew. He spoke about our ‘disability,’ saying that he objected to the use of the term. ‘If a person has been deprived of a limb or a faculty,’ he told, ‘this itself indicates that G d has given him special powers to overcome the limitations this entails and to surpass the achievements of ordinary people. You are not “disabled” or “handicapped,” but exceptional and unique, as you possess potentials that the rest of us do not.

“‘I therefore suggest,’ he continued, adding with a smile ‘-of course it is none of my business, but Jews are famous for voicing opinions on matters that do not concern them-that you should no longer be called nechei Yisrael (“the disabled of Israel,” our designation in the Zahal bureaucracy) but metzuyanei Yisrael (“the exceptional of Israel”).’

Indeed, the Rebbe did not see “disabilities” in people. Rather, he chose to focus on their abilities. He never saw what we lacked physically. Instead, he saw what we possessed spiritually.

Imagine if we saw “disabled” people of all kinds, as the Rebbe saw them. Imagine if we saw our friends and neighbors, even the most “disabled” ones, as champions of the world. Imagine if we saw our fellow beings, even at their lowest state, and during their lowest hours, as beacons of mankind. Would our world then not become a better and happier place?

5. No Such Thing As “Retirement”:

Mrs. Chana Sharfstein, a noted author and educator, once visited the Rebbe, in honor of her son’s thirteenth Bar Mitzvah birthday.

“We had discussed everything we planned to, when the Rebbe surprised me by asking about my uncle, Rabbi Note Zuber of Roselle, New Jersey,” Mrs. Sharfstein recounted. She responded that “he was doing well, thank G d, and he had just retired.” Upon hearing these words, the Rebbe shook his head and said, “Retired, what does that mean?”

The Rebbe rejected the notion that people ought to “retire” and stop working. We may explore other vocations and channel our talents and experience into different avenues. But we cannot retire from life and from our Divine purpose to continue to make a difference in our world, each in our own way.

This gem of wisdom, perhaps also reveals the hidden ingredient behind the greatness of every giant of history: they never stopped growing. No matter the challenge. No matter the circumstance. No matter the age (- the Rebbe once quipped: “I am not as old as I am on my passport!”) And this is what made them robustly alive, and truly great.

6. No Such Thing As “Passivity”:

In 1974, the then Chief Rabbi of North Tel Aviv, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, journeyed to New York to visit the late Lubavitcher Rebbe and seek his advice and blessing.

During the course of their conversation, the Rebbe asked Rabbi Lau what was the mood “in the streets of Israel,” as people were just beginning to recover from the devastating 1973 Yom Kippur war in which close to 3,000 Israelis were killed, and over 9,000 were wounded.
Rabbi Lau responded that people are asking, “What will be?”

The Rebbe refused to hear these words. He grabbed Rabbi Lau’s arm and exclaimed, “Jews don’t ask: ‘What will be?’ Jews ask: ‘What are we going to do?”

This was the Rebbe’s approach to all of life’s tribulations. Passivity was not in his vocabulary. Inaction was never a legitimate response. The question of “what will be,” may belong to the passive and visionless being, roaming through life without a direction of purpose and meaning.

But the Rebbe believed in a different route. He asked not “what will be,” but “what are we going to do?” And with this question, he challenged Rabbi Lau, and us all, to become true leaders and difference-makers, who rise from the challenges of the past and the present, to march forward and upward into the opportunities of the future, with unending deeds of goodness and kindness.

Today, twenty-five years after the Rebbe’s passing, we are left with the Rebbe’s question of “what are we going to do,” ringing in our ears. For we each face challenges and moments of despair. But the Rebbe believed that actions are more powerful that sighs; that the acts of hope are mightier that feelings of despair; and that achievements that generate light are so much stronger than any type of darkness we may face.

Personally, I miss the Rebbe terribly.

I miss his penetrating gaze that set my soul ablaze. I miss his all-embracing smile that filled my being with warmth. I miss his unconditional love that made the small child that I was, feel like a giant of mankind. And I miss his words of advice that came from a rare combination of exceptional wisdom and sublime holiness. Sometimes I wonder how different our world would be today if the Rebbe was still physically with us.

But we must make up for his physical absence, with his spiritual presence in our own lives. And we ought to continue to learn from the Rebbe, his weltanschauung, and his ever-shining model, by becoming agents of goodness and ambassadors of healing in our broken world.

The Rebbe, as a leader par excellence, believed in each of us. It is now time we also believe in our deepest selves, and in our unique ability to change the world, and usher in a new era of lasting peace.