Likkutei Sichot

Menachem Mendel Schneerson

Menachem Mendel Schneerson (April 18 1902June 12 1994), known as The Rebbe, was a prominent Hasidic rabbi who was the seventh and last Rebbe (spiritual leader) of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. He was fifth in a direct paternal line to the third Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn.

In 1950, upon the passing of his predecessor, his father-in-law, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, he assumed the leadership of Chabad-Lubavitch. He led the movement until his death in 1994, greatly expanding its worldwide activities and founding a network of institutions, as of 2006 in 70 countries, to spread Orthodox Judaism, with the stated goal of "Jewish unity".

Biography

Early life

Born in Mykolaiv, Ukraine, Schneerson received mostly Jewish private education. He studied for a short while with Rabbi Zalman Vilenkin. When Schneerson was age 4-1/2, Vilenkin informed the boy's father that he had nothing more to teach his eldest son.

He later studied independently under his father, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, an authority on Kabbalah and Jewish law who served as the Rabbi of Yekaterinoslav from 1907 to 1939. He was his primary teacher. He studied Talmud and rabbinic literature, as well as the chasidic view of Jewish mysticism and Kabbalah.

Schneerson was involved in communal affairs of his father's office throughout his upbringing, where his secular education and knowledge of the Russian language made him a useful aid in assisting his father's public administrative work. He was also said to be an interpreter between the Jewish community and the Russian authorities on a number of occasions. He had two younger brothers, Dovber and Yisroel Aryeh Leib. Schneerson’s brother, DovBer, died in 1944 at the hands of Nazi collaborators. His youngest brother Yisrael Aryeh Leib was close to Schneerson, often traveling with him. He changed his name to Mark Gourary and moved to Israel, where he became a businessman. He later moved to England and began doctoral studies at Liverpool University but died in 1951 before completing them. His children, Schneerson's closest living relatives, currently reside in Israel.

He received his rabbinical ordination from the Rogatchover Gaon, Rabbi Yosef Rosen.

In 1923 Schneerson visited his second cousin twice removed, Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn for the first time. It was presumably at that time that he met Schneersohn's daughter Chaya Mushka Schneerson. He became engaged to her in Riga in 1923 and married her five years later in 1928, after being away in Berlin. He returned to Warsaw for his wedding, and in the announcement of his marriage in a Warsaw newspaper,"a number of academic degrees" were attributed to him. Following the marriage, the newlyweds went to live in Berlin.

Berlin

Schneerson reputedly "was known to have received several advanced degrees in Berlin, and then later in Paris," but Professor Menachem Friedman was only able to uncover records for one and a half semesters in Berlin and Schneerson's attendance was in a "record of the students who audited courses at the university without receiving academic credit."

In 1931 Schneerson's younger brother, Yisroel Aryeh Leib, joined him in Berlin, traveling under false papers with the name Mark Gurari to escape the Soviets. He arrived and was cared for by the family as he was seriously ill with typhoid fever. He attended classes at the University of Berlin from 1931 to 1933. In 1933, after Adolf Hitler took over Germany and began instituting anti-Semitic policies, Schneerson helped Gurari escape from Berlin together with his wife. Gurari escaped to Mandate Palestine in 1939 with Milgram where they married. Despite Gurari's secularism the two brothers maintained a relationship there and after his move to England, and arranged for Gurari's burial in Israel on his death in 1952.

Rabbi Soloveitchik

Rabbi Sholem Kowalsky, a close colleague of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, a former vice president of Agudas Harabonim of America, and an active member of the Rabbinical Council of America; Rabbi Herschel Schacter, a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; Rabbi Julius Berman, the current Chairman of the RIETS Board of Trustees; Rabbi Menachem Genack, Rabbinic Administrator of the Kashrus Division of the Orthodox Union; and Rabbi Fabian Schoenfeld, former head of the Rabbinical Council of America (all students of Rabbi Soloveitchik) have all asserted that Schneerson and Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik met for the first time while they both studied in Berlin. They met many times at the home of Rabbi Chaim Heller. It was in the course of these meetings that a strong friendship developed and in the words of Soloveitchik to Rabbi Sholem Kowalsky he "was a great admirer of the Rebbe." Rabbi Soloveitchik related that:

Schneerson always carried the key to the mikvah with him when he attended lectures at the university. "At about two or three o'clock every afternoon when he left the university he would go straight to the mikvah. No one was aware of this custom and I only learnt about it by chance. On another occasion, I offered him a drink. He refused, but when I pressured him I understood that he was fasting that day. It was Monday and the Rebbe was fasting. Imagine a Berlin University student immersed in secular studies maintains this custom of mikvah and fasting.

Rabbi Zvi Kaplan states that Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner recalled sitting with Schneerson and Soloveitchik at a lecture on Maimonides at the University and when the speaker asked Schneerson for his opinion on something, Schneerson deferred to Soloveitchik.

France

In 1933 Schneerson moved to Paris, France. He studied mechanics and electrical engineering at the École spéciale des travaux publics, du bâtiment et de l'industrie, a Technical College in the Montparnasse district. In July 1937 he graduated, and received a license to practice as an electrical engineer. In November 1937 he enrolled at the Sorbonne, where he studied mathematics until World War II broke out in 1939.

Schneerson lived for most of his time in Paris at 9 Rue Boulard in the 14th arrondissement, in the same building as his wife's sister Shaina and her husband Mendel Hornstein, who was also studying at ESTP. Mendel Hornstein failed the final exams and he and his wife returned to Poland; they were killed at Treblinka, together with their infant son, on 23 September 1941. In June 1940, after Paris fell, the Schneersons fled to Vichy, and later to Nice, where they stayed until their final escape from Europe.

Schneerson learned to speak French, which he put to use in establishing his movement there after the war. The Chabad movement in France was later to attract many Jewish immigrants from Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia.

America and leadership

In 1941 Schneerson escaped from France on the Serpa Pinto, one of the last boats to cross the Atlantic before the U-boat blockade began, and joined his father-in-law, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, New York. Seeking to contribute to the war effort, he went to work in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, inspecting the electrical wiring of ships being built or repaired.

In 1942 his father-in-law appointed him director of the movement's central organizations, placing him at the helm of building a Jewish educational network across the United States, but he kept a low public profile within the movement, emerging only once a month to deliver public talks to his father-in-law's followers.

Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn died in 1950. The two candidates for leadership were Schneerson and Rabbi Shemaryahu Gurary, Schneersohn's elder son-in-law. Schneerson actively refused to accept leadership of the movement for the entire year after Schneersohn's passing. Schneerson had a larger following and seemed more sincere than Gurary. Schneerson was eventually cajoled into accepting the post by his wife and followers.

On the anniversary of his father-in-law's passing, on the tenth of Shevat 1951, he delivered a Chassidic discourse (Ma'amar) and formally became the Rebbe.

Schneerson believed that the American public was seeking to learn more about their Jewish heritage. He stated, "America is not lost, you are not different from. You Americans sincerely crave to know, to learn. Americans are inquisitive. It is the Chabad's point of view that the American mind is simple, honest, direct-good, tillable soil for Hassidism, or just plain Judaism". Schneerson believed that Jews need not to be on the defensive, rather the Jews need to be on the ground building Jewish institutions, day schools and synagogues. Schneerson said that we need "to discharge ourselves of our duty and we must take the initiative".

Schneerson placed a tremendous emphasis on outreach. Schneerson made great efforts to intensify this program of the movement, bringing Jews from all walks of life to adopt Orthodox Judaism, and aggressively sought the expansion of the baal teshuva movement.

Activities

Schneerson's work included organising the training of thousands of young Chabad rabbis and their wives, who were sent all over the world by him as shluchim - emissaries -to spread the Lubavitch message.

Schneerson oversaw the building of schools, community centers, youth camps, Chabad houses, and built contacts with wealthy Jews and government officials around the world.

Schneerson instituted a system of "mitzvah campaigns" called mivtzoim to encourage Jews to follow Orthodox practices. They commonly centered on practices such as keeping kosher, lighting Shabbat candles, studying Torah, the laying of tefillin, helping write Torah scrolls and teaching women to observe the niddah laws of Jewish family purity. He also launched a global Noahide campaign to promote observance of the Noahide Laws among gentiles, and argued that involvement in this campaign is an obligation for every Jew.

Schneerson's activities spread to many far-flung areas of the world, and had contacts with Sefardi Jews, in North Africa, and Iran.

While Schneerson rarely chose to involve himself with questions of halakha (Jewish law), some notable exceptions were with regard to the use of electrical appliances on the Sabbath, sailing on Israeli boats staffed by Jews, and halakhic dilemmas created when crossing the International Date Line.

Schneerson rarely left Crown Heights in Brooklyn, except for frequent lengthy visits to his father-in-law's grave-site in Queens, New York. A year after the passing of his wife in 1988, when the traditional year of Jewish mourning had passed, he moved into his study above the central Lubavitch synagogue at 770 Eastern Parkway.

It was from this synagogue that Schneerson directed his emissaries' work and involved himself in details of his movement's developments. His public roles included celebrations called farbrengens ("gatherings") on Sabbaths, Jewish holy days, and special days on the Chabad calendar, when he would give lengthy sermons to crowds. In later years, these would often be broadcast via satellite and cable television to Lubavitch branches around the world.

Later life

In 1977 Schneerson suffered a massive heart attack while celebrating the hakafot ("circling" [in the synagogue]) ceremony on Shmini Atzeret. Despite the best efforts of his doctors to convince him to change his mind, he refused to be hospitalized. This necessitated building a mini-hospital in "770." Although he did not appear in public for many weeks, he continued to deliver talks and discourses from his study via intercom. On Rosh Chodesh Kislev, the first day of the Hebrew month of Kislev, he left his study for the first time in over a month to go home. His followers celebrate this day as a holiday each year.

In 1983, on the occasion of his 80th birthday, the U.S. Congress proclaimed Rabbi Schneerson's birthday Education Day, USA, and awarded him the National Scroll of honor.

As the movement grew and more demands were placed on Schneerson's time he limited the practice of meeting followers individually in his office. In 1986 Rabbi Schneerson replaced these personal meetings, known as Yechidut, with a weekly receiving line in "770". Almost every Sunday thousands of people would line up to meet briefly with Schneerson and receive a dollar, which was to be donated to charity. People filing past Schneerson would often take this opportunity to ask him for advice or to request a blessing. This event is usually referred to as "Sunday Dollars."

Following the death of Schneerson's wife in 1988 he withdrew from some public functions; for example, he stopped delivering addresses during weekdays, instead holding gatherings every Shabbat. He later edited these addresses and they have since been released in the Sefer HaSichos set.

In 1991 he declared to his followers: "I have done everything I can (to bring Moshiach (the Jewish Messiah)), now I am handing over to you (the mission); do everything you can to bring Moshiach!" A campaign was then started to bring the messianic age through "acts of goodness and kindness," and some of his followers placed advertising in the mass media, including many full-page ads in the New York Times, urging everyone to prepare for and hasten the messiah's imminent arrival by increasing their good deeds.

In 1991 Schneerson faced a riot in his neighborhood of Crown Heights which became known as the Crown Heights Riot of 1991. The riot began when a car accompanying his motorcade returning from one of his regular cemetery visits to his father-in-law's grave accidentally struck two African American seven-year-old children, killing one boy. In the rioting, Australian Jewish graduate student Yankel Rosenbaum was murdered, many Lubavitchers were badly beaten, and much property was destroyed; also, rioters hurled rocks and bottles at the Jews over police lines.

Last years

In 1992 Schneerson suffered a serious stroke while praying at the Ohel, the grave of his father-in-law. The stroke left him unable to speak and paralyzed on the right side of his body. Nonetheless, he continued to respond daily to thousands of queries and requests for blessings from around the world. His secretaries would read the letters to him and he would indicate his response with head and hand motions.

Despite his deteriorating health, Schneerson once again refused to leave 770. Several months into his illness, a small room with tinted glass windows with an attached balcony was built overlooking the main synagogue. This allowed him to pray with his followers, beginning with the Rosh Hashana services and after services, to appear before them by either having the window opened or by being carried onto the balcony.

Final Illness

His final illness led to a split between two groups of aides who differed in their recommendations as to how Schneerson should be treated, with the two camps led by Leib Groner and Yehuda Krinsky. Aides argued over whether Schneerson had the same physical makeup as other humans, and if the illness should be allowed to run its course without interference. Krinsky argued that the latest and most suitable medical treatment available should be used in treating Schneerson, while Groner thought that "outside interference in the Rebbe’s medical situation might be just as dangerous as inaction. They saw his illness as an element in the messianic revelation; interference with Schneerson’s physical state might therefore affect the redemptive process, which should instead be permitted to run its natural course."

Death

Schneerson was buried on the 3rd of Tammuz 5754 (June 12 1994) next to his father-in-law, the sixth Rebbe, at Montefiore Cemetery in Queens, NY. The Ohel is built over their graves. When entering the Ohel, the sixth Rebbe is buried to the right, and the seventh Rebbe is buried to the left. Established by philanthropist Rabbi Joseph Gutnick of Melbourne (Australia), the Ohel Chabad-Lubavitch Center on Francis Lewis Boulevard, Queens, NY is located adjacent to the Rebbe's Ohel.

The United States Congress and President issue annual proclamations declaring that Schneerson's birthday, usually a day in March or April that coincides with his Hebrew calendar birth-date of 11 Nissan (a Hebrew month), be observed as Education and Sharing Day in the United States.

Congressional Gold Medal

After his death a bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives sponsored by Congressmen Chuck Schumer, and co-sponsored by John Lewis, Newt Gingrich, and Jerry Lewis, as well as 220 other Congressmen, to bestow on Rabbi Schneerson the Congressional Gold Medal. On November 2 1994 the bill passed both Houses by unanimous consent, honoring Rabbi Schneerson for his "outstanding and enduring contributions toward world education, morality, and acts of charity". Bill Clinton spoke these words at the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony

The late Rebbe's eminence as a moral leader for our country was recognized by every president since Richard Nixon. For over two decades the Rabbi's movement now has some 2000 institutions; educational, social, medical, all across the globe. We, (The United States Government) recognize the profound role that Rabbi Schneerson had in the expansion of those institutions.

Succession

Chabad Hasidim believe that there is no successor to Schneerson and all the suggested successors declined the mantle of leadership in the days after his death. Chabad Hasidim believe that he is still their leader, guiding them from beyond the grave through prayer and signs.

Political activities

Generally, he was in favour of school prayer, he was pro-life, pro-Israel, and was generally supportive of Bible values, about which he was publicly vocal.

Israel

Schneerson never visited the State of Israel, where he had many admirers. He held a view that according to Jewish law, it was uncertain if a Jewish person who was in the land of Israel was allowed to leave. One of Israel's presidents, Zalman Shazar, who was of Chabad ancestry, would visit Rabbi Schneerson and corresponded extensively with him. Menachem Begin, Ariel Sharon, Moshe Katzav, and later Benjamin Netanyahu also paid visits and sought advice, along with numerous other less famous politicians, diplomats, military officials, and media producers. In the elections that brought Yitzhak Shamir to power, Schneerson publicly lobbied his followers and the Orthodox members in the Knesset to vote against the Labor alignment. It attracted the media's attention and led to articles in Time, Newsweek, and many newspapers and TV programs, and led to considerable controversy within Israeli politics.

During the Six Day War in 1967 and the Yom Kippur War of 1973, Schneerson publicly called for Israel Defence Forces (IDF) to capture Damascus, Syria and Cairo, Egypt. He was vehemently opposed to any IDF withdrawals from captured territories and opposed any concessions to Arabs. He lobbied Israeli politicians to pass legislation in accordance with Jewish religious law on the question "Who is a Jew" and declare that "only one who is born of a Jewish mother or converted according to Halakha is Jewish." This caused a furor in the United States. Some American Jewish philanthropies stopped financially supporting Chabad-Lubavitch since most of their members were connected to Reform and Conservative Judaism. These unpopular ideas were toned down by his aides according to Avrum Erlich. "The issue was eventually quietened so as to protect Habad fundraising interests. Controversial issues such as territorial compromise in Israel that might have estranged benefactors from giving much-needed funds to Habad, were often moderated, particularly by... Krinsky." Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits argued that Habad moderated its presentation of anti-Zionist ideology and right-wing politics in England and downplayed its messianic fervor so as not to antagonize large parts of the English Jewish community.

Scholarship

In biblical scholarship Schneerson is known mainly for his scholarly analysis and hasidic thoughts on Rashi Torah commentary, which were annotated by his aides. In halachic matters he normally deferred to members of the Crown Heights Beit Din headed by Rabbi Zalman Shimon Dvorkin, and advised the movement to do likewise in the event of his death.

Schneerson was known for delivering regular lengthy addresses to his followers at public gatherings, without using any notes. These talks usually centered around the weekly Torah portion, and were then transcribed by followers known as choizerim, and distributed widely. Many of them were later edited by him and distributed worldwide in small booklets later to be compiled in the Likkutei Sichot set. He also penned tens of thousands of replies to requests and questions. The majority of his correspondence is printed in Igrot Kodesh partly translated as "Letters from the Rebbe". His correspondence fills more than two hundred published volumes.

See also

Citations

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