Hi there. You might know me. If you don’t know me, chances are you know someone like me. I am a typical Lubavitcher bochur, making my way through the system. By all external appearances, I am doing just fine. I show up to seder, I sit by farbrengens, and I try to stay on hanhala’s good side. You might even say I’m doing very well, relative to many of my peers. I’m confident in my chassidishkeit, and I view it as the most important part of my life.
But there’s another side of the story that you don’t see. While my external life has been mostly full of blessings and free of serious challenges or difficulties, internally I have been struggling for a long time. And even so, I am one of the lucky ones.
I remember vividly the day I started Mesivta. I was excited, nervous, and somewhat naive, ready to start a new phase of my life. At the beginning, it was going great. I showed up, I made great friends, and I was happy. But soon enough, teenage hood caught up to me. I began to question, challenge, and to be honest I didn’t get satisfying answers. I fell into the trap of phone addiction, and nobody was there to help me. I began to explore new sources of excitement from the tempting secular culture.
With time, I stopped seeing Yiddishkeit as something that was very relevant to my life. I kept up a lot of the rituals out of habit, but I didn’t feel much meaning in it. I don’t think anyone suspected this, because I was good at keeping up the external facade.
When quarantine hit, I was destined for failure. It was the worst possible thing that could happen to me at that time. Everything that I had been struggling with was suddenly amplified by the intense loneliness and boredom. But at the same time, it pushed me to make a decision I never thought I would make. I needed something new, so I switched to a new yeshiva.
In the second yeshiva, I was suddenly presented with a new way of looking at the world. I was taught, and shown by example, that Chassidus and the Rebbe are relevant to every single part of my life. This isn’t to say that I had never heard that before, or that my teachers in the first yeshiva never said that. They did. But I never actually believed it. I was told about the Rebbe, about Chassidus, and I thought it was all great, but it wasn’t for me.
Nobody put in the effort to show me that no matter what I’m dealing with, Chassidus can show me the way out. Nobody told me that I have a Rebbe who doesn’t just exist when I go to the Ohel, but exists in my everyday life. And nobody showed me the unconditional love that I needed to actually believe any of it. When I did begin to believe that truth, I started to make positive changes that I had never anticipated. And after so many years of being “frum”, I finally did teshuva.
How is it possible for a Bochur to come out of a Chabad yeshiva not believing that Chassidus is relevant to him? I know that I’m mainly speaking from personal experience, but I also know I’m not the only one who went through this. Why is it that Chabad Shluchim are known across the world for speaking about Judaism in terms that regular, secular people can relate to, but many Mashpiim in the best Chabad yeshivos are out of touch with their bochurim?
I don’t want to accuse any specific Yeshivos or Mashpiim, because many of them are very aware of this, and put in great effort to make Chassidus and the Rebbe relevant to modern-day struggles. And I congratulate all of the great people who put in that effort, including the ones that made a difference for me. But if there’s even a single Lubavitcher Bochur who doesn’t believe this, we have not done our job properly.
As we approach Gimmel Tammuz, it’s important for us to realize that what may have worked then doesn’t work now. Chassidus and the Rebbe need to be alive now, today. We can’t live perpetually in the trauma of losing the physical presence of the Rebbe. Today’s bochurim want to know a Rebbe that is alive in 2022. They want to know a Rebbe that speaks in the age of the internet, of smartphones, of social anxiety and emotional trauma.
I know this because I was born well after Gimmel Tammuz. I don’t have memories of the Rebbe. I have memories of the life that I’ve lived, and experiences that I have daily, all in the 21st century. And through it all, I have a Rebbe who is very much alive, showing me in the language of Chassidus what it all means. This Rebbe talks to me every day. I hear his voice by farbrengens, when a bochur or mashpia speaks from the heart. I hear it from the seforim, the sichos and maamarim that speak in the most true and timeless way. But most often, I hear it from myself. I hear and see the Rebbe most vividly when I’m alone, when I’m choosing between right and wrong, when I’m trying to somehow transcend my own limited existence.
The Rebbe is here. He is present in the world far more than before, and he guides us every day. If a bochur doesn’t see that, it’s the responsibility of you, me and everyone else to show him. All we have to do is lead by example. Speeches won’t do it, articles won’t do it, only unconditional love will do it. If every frum person would only realize that they have a Rebbe, maybe Moshiach would already be here.
May we be zoche to the Hisgalus immediately, and to march out of Galus as one with the Rebbe at our head, speedily in our days!