Rabbi's Blog: Thoughts and Conversations With Rabbi Levi Shemtov

A Legacy of Love

Today marks the 19th anniversary since the passing of the Rebbe. Two and a half months after the Rebbe's passing, I wrote the following article (below) for Chai Today, published in September 1994. Although written nineteen years ago, the emotions are still fresh and raw, and the message just as poignant and relevant.  We see what our Sages say about Joseph; that he withstood temptation because of the vision of his father before his eyes. The vision of the Rebbe, even in his absence, keeps us strong and offers encouragement. 


We can derive comfort by helping and encouraging each other. In the Rebbe's blessed memory, may we continue to harness our love and devotion for our leader, teacher, and father, and strengthen our acts of kindness and love both personally and universally.

Dear Friend,

Two and a half months have passed since the darkest day of my life. The agony and the pain refuse to subside. The tremendous loss leaves an irreplaceable and indescribable void. I miss my teacher... my father. I still cannot grasp the extent of the tragedy we suffered on the 3rd of Tammuz, June 12th, at 1:50 a.m. when the Rebbe passed on from this world.

I know that the Rebbe was not exclusively my Rebbe; neither was he the Rebbe just for Lubavitcher Chassidics or religious Jews in general. In fact, I have vivid memories of numerous times when I used to go to the Rebbe to receive a dollar and good wishes in honor of my birthday or some other occasion. While awaiting my turn, I would notice that the multitudes of people who made up the seemingly endless line were a conglomeration of every type of Jew imaginable. There I stood, a Lubavitcher Chassid in a Lubavitcher Shul waiting to see the Lubavitcher Rebbe and yet I was totally outnumbered by non-Lubavitchers. But I wasn't surprised.

I had come to realize and understand that the Rebbe was the Rebbe for the entire Jewish people.

The Jew in line who asked me, "Where can I find a Kipa?" knew that the Rebbe was his Rebbe. When a Jew any place in the world was in urgent need of advice or a blessing for a loved one who was ill, he knew to turn to the Rebbe. 

Still, it would be a grave error to think that our relationship with the Rebbe is relegated to history. The Zohar states that "when the tzaddik (righteous) departs, he is to be found in all worlds more than in his lifetime." That is, he is to be found more even in this physical world. 

In a letter that Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Chabad Rebbe, wrote to comfort the Chassidic community in Israel upon the passing of Rabbi Mendel of Horodok, he explained the Zohar as follows:

The presence of a tzaddik is felt more after his passing. Before, his soul was limited in a physical body but after his passing, his soul is not limited at all, and everyone can reach out to him. Our ability to see is limited because we are living in a physical world. But just because we don't see it doesn't mean his supernal light is not here with us.

At the same time, we the Jewish nation, the Rebbe's children, must carry on the Rebbe's legacy here in this world. 

When Jacob passed away, our Sages tell us that "Jacob never died." And the question asked in the Talmud is how can you say so when the Torah attests to the fact that he was even embalmed and buried. The answer given is "if his children carry on his deeds and kindness, and are amongst the living, so too is he alive." When children carry on the legacy of the deceased, he is considered alive.

The Rebbe's leadership is tangible. It is manifest in the thousand of institutions he created. The millions of lives he touched. And in the call to us all to intensify our positive actions in preparation for the coming of Moshiach and the imminent Redemption of all of mankind.

The Rebbe taught us that we can do better. That we can bring redemption and rid the world of war, of hate, of jealousy, and of ignorance; heal the wounds that sunder race from race, rich from poor, strong from weak... a world redeemed and perfected.

That time is now, as we stand poised on the threshold of a new beginning and heightened awareness of the Divine presence. It is in our power to harness mankind's unprecedented technological, economic and social achievement to a global effort toward unity and perfection. Together we can do it.

Let us join in marking this period with increased acts of goodness and kindness. This will help further the Rebbe's heroic efforts to bring goodness and sanctity to a troubled world.

We are confident that the merit of the Rebbe's statement that "the time of your redemption has arrived" will be realized and actualized speedily in our days with the revelation of the righteous Moshiach, NOW!

Wishing you and your loved ones a sweet, happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.


Rabbi Levi Y. Shemtov



Seeing the Forest for the Trees: Rabbi Shais Taub Teaches Soul Maps This Shabbat

I was in eighth grade when I started to learn Tanya. The Tanya is the seminal work of Chabad Chassidic thought, authored by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745–1812), the founder of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. 

As a student, I learned the Tanya from various different Rebbes, and now study Tanya every day. 

The major theme of Tanya is  identity crisis. There are days when one feels inspired by Judaism and spirituality, and there are days when they are tedious. There are times when nothing seems more crucial and meaningful than studying Torah or praying, and there are times when we are itching to be somewhere else. There are moments when one is disgusted by the world’s immorality, and there are moments when it holds an allure.

It is Tanya that guides us through our conflicted emotions. It gives us the insight to understand and overcome the struggles we deal with on a day-to-day basis.

A few years ago, Rabbi Shais Taub, renowned expert on Tanya, authored the JLI course, Soul Maps, a six-week overview of the Tanya. I was blown away when I learned about this course. Six weeks? How was it humanly possible to grasp or internalize the profound and life-altering lessons of Tanya in just six weeks?

As I read Rabbi Taub's letter to instructors, my doubts vanished. Rabbi Taub eloquently and artfully described how in six weeks, he focuses on the big picture rather than the details. 

He writes:

When you walk inside a forest, you can look at the beauty of one tree at a time, noticing the many details that make one tree exquisitely different from the next... yet there is no sense of the larger grandeur that is conveyed by the whole forest and it is hard to see where you are going... but if you go up into an airplane, you are able to see the entire forest at once... 

In this course, I invite you to come up with me into my little two-seater plane so that you and I can fly high above the forest and see the entire lay of the land... When you focus on the details... you are in danger of losing sight of the progression and flow from one concept to the next... So for six weeks, we will fly up together in order to try to map out the basic contours of Tanya for ninety minutes at a time.


Upon learning about Soul Maps, I started to teach this course here at Chabad of Riverdale. I was simply amazed. I had been studying Tanya under the tutelage of my rebbes and independently for so many years, but Soul Maps had such a powerful impact on me and my 20+ students. This new refreshing perspective offered a clear path to map your own soul, leading the way to spiritual happiness.

This week, we have the incredible honor of having the author himself, Rabbi Taub, join us for a Shabbaton in honor of the Rebbe's 19th anniversary of passing. 

In addition to the lectures he will be delivering over the weekend, Rabbi Taub will be teaching Soul Maps this Shabbat, June 8, at Chabad at 8:30 am. I urge you all to join Rabbi Taub on his journey as he provides an aerial view that will allow you to appreciate the forest as a unified entity in all its majesty. This is a unique opportunity that you don't want to miss.




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