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Rabbis Without Borders

Friday, 22 January, 2021 - 8:12 am

Exactly seventy years ago a 49-year-old man stood in a small synagogue in Brooklyn and embarked on a journey to change the world. In future decades his name would reverberate in Jewish homes throughout the globe. Eventually, his followers would take up posts in over 100 countries.

But, the world he was facing was nothing like the renown and ubiquity that his name now carries.

I am, of course, speaking of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson of righteous memory. The Rebbe, as he is affectionately known, accepted the leadership of Chabad-Lubavitch on the Tenth of Shevat 1951. Decimated by the Holocaust and Soviet oppression, it was a small, battered group that he addressed in his inaugural speech.

But, he set out a plan to bring holiness to the world. Undaunted and fresh with energy, the Rebbe was unmoved by the brick walls imposed by recent events and the shattered Jewish imagination of the day. Nor was he fearful of the massive assimilation occurring to Jews in the world’s most free country.

Where did the Rebbe get this idea from? How did the Rebbe peek into the future to see what was indeed imaginable for Judaism?


I’m not a Rebbe, so I can’t properly answer that question. I can, however, point to this week’s parsha as a starting point.

In Parshat Bo we read about the Jewish people’s final night in Egypt. They had been slaves for many decades and were about to gain their liberation.

G-d commanded them to offer a lamb as a sacrifice and to put the blood of the lamb on the lintel of their doorposts. This would be a sign of a Jewish home. Thus, they would be spared the impending destruction that would befall the firstborns of Egypt during the final of the ten plagues.

In fact, this is where the name Passover comes from. G-d passed over the Jewish homes and spared the Jewish firstborns.

But, what if a Jew was in an Egyptian home on that fateful night? Would a Jewish firstborn lose his protection and meet his demise?

The Torah tells us that, “And there will be no destructive plague in you.” This, Rashi teaches us, means that even if a Jew was in an Egyptian home – a house that received the destructive force of the tenth plague – he would still be spared.

Let’s consider what type of Jew would dare find himself in an Egyptian home that evening. Obviously, it wasn’t a Jew that cared much for his Jewish identity. To ‘hang out with the enemy’ meant that he was certainly not the most pious or proud Jew.

Yet, G-d’s insatiable love for his people, drove Him (so to say) to enter into the most corrupt of places in order to rescue the least deserving of Jews!


Our sages teach us that the righteous emulate their Creator.

In a similar vein, the Rebbe taught his followers to ignore the naysayers, the tumult, and even the assimilated surroundings. Politics, social status and affiliation were immaterial. Reaching the soul of a Jew was all that mattered.

If G-d was willing to sneak across enemy lines to rescue a child, certainly we should be ready to cross borders and connect with our fellows. It’s no surprise then, that the Rebbe inspired a generation of “Rabbis Without Borders.”

And, it isn’t just for rabbis. You, too, can find ways to connect with your fellow Jew and bring them closer to their heritage – regardless of whether they seem disconnected from their faith or from you.

Egyptian influence could not separate Jews from Judaism. And, neither can any challenge we face today.

By following in the Rebbe’s footsteps, we will ultimately achieve the goal he truly aspired to – making this world the holy garden of G-d it was designed to be.

Comments on: Rabbis Without Borders

Yehuda wrote...

“ You, too, can find ways to connect with your fellow Jew and bring them closer to their heritage – regardless of whether they seem disconnected from their faith or from you.”

Nice Dvar Torah. For those of us who are not Shluchim, some examples of those ways might help.