By COLlive reporter
Photos: Baruch Ezagui
“Writing the book about the Rebbe was one of the most difficult books I’ve ever written,” said Rabbi Adin Even-Israel (Steinsaltz), the brilliant commentator and translator of the Talmud and a scholar of rare proportions.
He said, “it took me more than 20 years” to write the recently published “My Rebbe,” his long-awaited part biography, part memoir and part manual for great leadership.
“It’s very hard to write about something so personal. It was very hard,” he told the “Soul Encounters” seminar at Queens College, adding that “the title I wanted for the book was ‘What is a Rebbe? A teacher, a leader and a king.'”
What the Rebbe wasn’t, was a thing from the past, he told a crowd of 600 people at the general session of the day-long learning retreat in New York organized by the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute (JLI) on Sunday.
1,000 Chabad Shluchim and members of their communities attended the seminar throughout the day, coordinated by Boruch Cohen, as a preparation for the 20th anniversary of the Rebbe’s yartzeit on Gimmel Tammuz.
“The Rebbe was not full of energy, but the energy itself, and he remains the life and heart of the movement; the motor of the machine. 20 years have passed and the movement did not stop. It is not only alive, but actually growing,” he said in a conversation on stage with Mrs. Baila Olidort, Director of Communications at Lubavitch Headquarters.
“We have work to do,” he added. “We were walking along the line. Now it’s too late to walk, now we have to begin running. Like an army walking through a forest and their light is suddenly extinguished. If the commander says run, you run. The orders are now, do more, run, it’s never enough.”
Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, who served on the Rebbe’s secretariat and is Chairman of Merkos L’inyonei Chinuch, quoted in his remarks the Kabbalistic statement that a tzadik is more present in this world after his passing, since there are no physical restraints.
“How many hundreds of thousands of people have visited the Ohel?” he said, referring to the Rebbe’s resting place nearby, in Cambria Heights. “Everyone is welcome; not all are even Jewish. Why do they visit? Because they all find solace. Books could be written about the numerous results that have happened after people have visited.”
“The Rebbe’s story continues today in the hundreds of thousands of people affected by the Rebbe and continues in the over 4,200 shluchim around the world,” said Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, Vice Chairman of Merkos.
“Back then, if you wanted to go to the Rebbe, you had to go through the secretary, wait sometimes until 1-2 O’clock in the morning,” he noted. “And once you were in the room, if you were there too long they would usher you out. Today, we have open access.”
Speaking about the Rebbe’s unique personality, Israel’s Chief Rabbi Dovid Lau mentioned the leadership of the brothers Moshe Rabeinu and Aharon haKohen, as discussed recently in the weekly Torah portions.
“Moshe taught Torah and Aharon gave his heart,” he said. “It was a combined leadership for the Jewish people. The Rebbe was a mix of both. The Rebbe took responsibility for the entire world.”
Mrs. Rivkah Slonim, co-director of the Chabad House at Binghamton University, reminded participants of the great responsibility we all have going forward after the day’s inspiration. “The Rebbe saw each person as a stakeholder in the Rebbe’s project. And we have a responsibility to continue,” she said.
As the moving video ended the program, the message was clear: From strength to strength, we must always strive higher, never be satisfied.