COLlive.com and Nissan Mindel Publications present “Archive Gems”, a periodical column sharing guidance from the Rebbe and unknown details of Chabad’s history in the United States.
The material is from the archives of Rabbi Dr. Nissan Mindel, the trusted personal secretary of the Frierdiker Rebbe and the Rebbe, and a renowned Chabad author of literature for young and old for close to 60 years.
Rabbi Shalom Ber Schapiro, Director of Nissan Mindel Publications, was entrusted with these treasured archives by his father-in-law, Rabbi Mindel and it is to his lasting credit that the dissemination of chassidus is thereby being strengthened.
Much of this material will be published in the forthcoming book “Chabad in America Through the Folders of Nissan Mindel,” covering Chabad’s activities in America from 1940 until 1994, as preserved by Rabbi Mindel in his folders.
The following are 6 essential questions about the role of a Rebbe that the Rebbe himself took the time to answer. As far as we know, these answers were never published to date:
Question #1: What is a Rebbe?
Answer: A Rebbe is the one whose soul consists of the souls of his chassidim. When a chossid comes to the Rebbe with a problem, he tries to find in the Rebbe the part of his soul which is included in the Rebbe’s soul and connect it with his soul and thus be connected with the Rebbe’s soul.
It is through this connection that the chossid receives his material and spiritual life and needs. For example, let us take the electric bulb which produces light. The bulb itself is incapable of producing light. However, there are electrical power plants stationed in some distant part of the city which generate the necessary power to produce light.
There must be a channel through which the power can pass and reach each individual bulb. The bulb itself must contain some device which enables it to receive the power. That is the wire which is connected to the power plant and is also connected to the bulb. When this connection is opened by turning on the switch, the bulb receives the power and will function.
The same applies to a Rebbe and chassidim. The Rebbe is the power plant which produces the needed strength and power to fulfill the Commandments and obligations and also to convey the necessary material needs. The channel through which the chossid can receive the strength and material necessities is his soul which is connected to the soul of the Rebbe.
The sole duty of a Rebbe is to convey the above mentioned spiritual and material necessities to chassidim. Although the Rebbe is also required to fulfill his bodily functions (eating, sleeping etc.), that is not his purpose or true function. The necessity to fulfill them is solely because his soul is bound to an earthly body which cannot exist without these necessities.
An example for this would be when one approaches a rabbi complaining of a headache and the rabbi offered him an aspirin as a remedy. It is useless to say that this is the function of a rabbi. The same is with a Rebbe in his bodily functions.
Question #2: What is the difference between a Rebbe and a Rabbi?
Answer: a rabbi is one who teaches his pupils when they approach him and will answer questions when brought before him. A Rebbe does not wait for anyone to approach him, he reaches forth among the people and tries to awaken then and inspire them and tries to find ways and methods to bring them closer to their religion.
Question #3: Is the function of a Rebbe like that of a psychologist? Can the Rebbe take the place of a psychiatrist?
Answer: If necessary a Rebbe would use psychology to help solve the problem of a chossid, but that is only a small part of his work. And even then, there is a difference between a Rebbe and a psychiatrist. When a psychiatrist speaks to his patient he regards him as an object of study. Though he is interested in curing his patient and in helping him to adjust to life, his approach is to derive not only a healthy patient but an accumulation of information about the human being for his further study. A Rebbe gives himself over completely to the person. When one is seeking a solution, the Rebbe does not study him but is more emotionally involved with the person who comes to see him.
Question #4: Can everyone become a Rebbe?
Answer: Being this is a special power presented from above, not everyone is capable of receiving this power and help.
Question #5: Can everyone elevate himself to the standard of “ruach ha’kodesh”?
Answer: Every Jew has the potential for it, but it requires special preparations in learning and mainly by limiting one’s desires and temptations. Only then can he rise to that standard. But every Jew, being he is a Jew, gives him the potential to acquire it.
Question #6: What is the meaning of a blessing which a Rebbe gives?
Answer: The giving and receiving of a blessing can be traced back to the times of our forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Since that time, it has always been a custom. In the words of my father-in-law, the meaning of a blessing is like rain (gishmei brocho). Rain can accomplish its function and be useful only when preceded by the plowing and tilling of the soil, planting the seeds and preparing the soil for growing.
However, should rain fall on unplowed and untilled soil, not only won’t it accomplish its function but furthermore, it may cause damage. The same applies to a blessing: The body (actions and desires of the body) must be tilled and plowed (properly executing them according to the Torah). Only then will the blessing be useful and help the blessed elevate himself to a higher standard.