The need for a Rebbe

By Rabbi Dovid Markel


Once, a couple got married and the husband professed his love to his spouse. Yet, 23 years went by and he never again told her he loved her, when she asked the reason why she never hears of his deep love for her, her husband responded: ““I told you I loved you when we got married; if I ever change my mind, I’ll let you know.”

HaYom Yom, 22 Iyyar writes:

“Several of the early chassidim had a farbrengen sometime between 5544-47 (1784-87) and the core of the discussion was this: The Rebbe (the Alter Rebbe) had accomplished something novel – that we are not alone. At one time, the Master – Rosh Yeshiva or Talmudic sage – was “alone” and his disciples were “alone.” The chassidic way instituted by the Rebbe is a tremendous Divine achievement, that the Rebbe is not alone, nor are the chassidim alone.”

The novelty of chassidism is not merely its revolutionary philosophy, but perhaps more importantly to remove our existential loneliness; “the Rebbe is not alone, nor are the chassidim alone.”

When people came to the Rebbe in moments of crisis, and the Rebbe advised them, it was not merely the brilliance of the advice that transformed them, but that although they bared their soul and inadequacies to the Rebbe, the Rebbe not only *continued* to believe in them but believed in them more deeply than they ever believed in themselves.

It was this all embracing faith, trust and belief that empowered a generation to embrace his mission and reach heights that they never imagined were in the realm of possibility.

When a bochur wrote to the Rebbe of his sins, and the Rebbe told him to be “mesiach da’at,” it is not only the advice that helped, it’s that the Rebbe continued to believe that he can achieve spiritual heights.

When a shliach lost his way and came to the Rebbe losing all will to continue his spiritual journey and the Rebbe continued to believe in him, it is the strength of this belief that gives him the ability to get up, build and transform him makom hashlichut, notwithstanding his personal failings or his previous lack of success.

This is akin to a child that fails and his father telling him not only do I still love you, but I believe that you can succeed. The Rebbe was like the ultimate father that said it not merely as lip service, but because he truly believed it.

Without a Rebbe, chassidus is a beautiful, deep, and revolutionary philosophy, but it is only half the picture. In order to extinguish the loneliness, we need a leader with clarity and love who truly believes in us.

Korach was wrong, the Jewish people need a leader. The messianic era is not merely a utopia where the world reaches a state of perfection, it is done by an individual, a moshiach. A body needs a head, and the Jewish corpus needs it’s Rosh Bnei Yisroel to guide it, give it clarity, make it know that it is needed, loved and able to succeed.

It is this love that we have been missing for the past 23 years – akin to the spouse who heard the love at the time of the marriage but has not heard about it since.

Sure, we know that “מה להלן עומד ומשמש — אף כאן עומד ומשמש,” but this is not close to enough. It is not enough to know of the love, we need to hear it and feel it. A body needs an actual head, the Jewish People need a leader, and chassidim need an actual Rebbe that they can turn to and hear his strength, love, clarity, and belief in them….

A child who loses his father – no matter how many years have passed is still an orphan – all the more so when their are so many children that never saw, heard or felt the love of their fatherly Rebbe.

It is this pain that no matter how many years have passed the angst and lack is still fresh and real. A chassid needs to hear and see his Rebbe. Period, end of story….It is this cry of “עבר קציר כלה קיץ ואנחנו לא נושענו,” that a chassid cries year after year….

“The chassidic way instituted by the Rebbe is a tremendous Divine achievement, that the Rebbe is not alone, nor are the chassidim alone.” Yet for the past 23 years we feel very alone and lonely…

On the other hand, I read in a letter yesterday from R. JJ Hecht to an individual that complained that he had written to the Rebbe and received no reply. R. JJ responded:

“there is a saying by Chassidim, ‘a qvittel in veg, helft auch.” By this we mean that as long as your letter has gone to the Rebbe and it certainly is on his desk, that itself should do the trick.”

A modern chassid must have a certain dichotomous and paradoxical attitude. On one hand, he should not be apathetic and comfortable with the situation – a chassidus without a physical Rebbe that you can hear and see his advice is not a normal situation at all – and is antithetical to the original modality of chassidism. On the other hand he must realize that his writing to the Rebbe is not only cathartic, but that מה להלן עומד ומשמש — אף כאן עומד ומשמש.

We see this attitude in the Rebbe himself who lived in a post Gimmel Tammuz reality throughout his own leadership. For him, he was without his Rebbe and could not tolerate the situation, constantly crying עבר קציר כלה קיץ ואנחנו לא נושענו.

On the other, he had the utmost faith that מה להלן עומד ומשמש אף כאן עומד ומשמש. For him, אזכיר על הציון was not a slogan it was a way of life. He was sure the Rebbe would intercede and help Klal Yisroel whatever their needs.

He remained the quintessential chassid completely reliant and given over to his Rebbe. We should take his lesson and remain the same. Not accept this unnatural situation, but not surrender and succumb to it either.

For in truth, to be a chassid always was, and always will be about living a life of paradox.

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