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Chabad – Thirty Years On

Dear Rabbi

This year marks 30 years since the passing of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. As you are Chabad can you sum up the secret of Chabad which seems to grow in leaps and bounds even in the absence of a Rebbe?



Dear Devorah

When assuming his mantle of leadership in 1950, the Rebbe, who escaped war torn Europe, confronted the inevitable problem the Jewish world in a post Holocaust-era was facing. Many despaired, believing the world was a dangerous place to live. The Rebbe maintained that the world we desire is inherently good. The ability to see beauty in the world, insisted the Rebbe, is the beginning of our moral sensibility.

The Rebbe also believed in the intrinsic value of every human being who is “formed in the image of their Creator.” Thus, what one might typically perceive as character shortcomings, the Rebbe saw as opportunities to maximise potential.

It was precisely because of this deep-rooted belief in both the micro and macro dimensions of the world that the Rebbe broke radically with protocol. Unlike many Jewish sects that assembled within their own enclave, the Rebbe dispersed his community sending out emissaries, a dozen or so at first, and then over the course of time, several thousand to literally every corner of the world. The transformation throughout his lifetime and beyond is nothing short of miraculous.

When the Brandenburg Gate, upon which Nazi flags were hanging, now has a public Menorah erected in front of it, is that not a miracle? When Uganda, home of Eddie Amin, who famously held 106 Israeli hostages, now has a Chabad House, is that not a miracle? When the former Soviet Union persecuted millions of Jews, and today boasts hundreds of Chabad Houses, schools and other suchlike institutions, is that not a miracle?

Ask yourself, where would the world be today without the Rebbe’s vision? Who would provide a Pesach Seder for twenty-five hundred Israeli backpackers in Kathmandu? Where would Jewish women have access to a mikvah in Saigon? How would Israeli war orphans celebrate their Bar Mitzvah each year in Israel? What would have become of the near three thousand children, victimized by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster? Is all that not a miracle?

Every individual, the Rebbe believed, is uniquely endowed with vast potential in order to make their own impact in their slice of the world. Everyone shares in the mutual responsibility of transforming this world into the beautiful place it was always intended to be.

Demographers were predicting the demise of Chabad, but it has gone from strength to strength because the legacy of true leaders is eternal as their life continues to inspire everlastingly. A leader is great not because of his power, but because of his ability to empower others. True leaders don’t enforce, they inspire. That continues to be the Rebbe’s legacy and enduring impact on our world today.

Parenting in the 21st Century

Dear Rabbi

I am a father of 4 children, ranging from ages 16 to 23. I look around me today and all I see are parents struggling with disciplining their children. My wife thinks I am too hard on our kids and that I should be more sensitive to their needs and requirements. What is the Jewish position on education? Who’s in charge the parents or the kids?


Dear Sammy

Let me begin by saying that parenting is complicated. There’s only one real way to bring up children right – only no one knows what it is! I would add to that however the not too insignificant fact that, previous generations probably had it a fair bit easier. And there is a reason for that – a reason that speaks volumes. They lived in a world that had standards. They lived in a world where there was moral and immoral, and these were clearly defined. Today we have lots of grey area – hence a lot of amoral – subjective standards.

Our primary concerns today are: Will my kids be able to earn a living with which to support themselves and will I be able to earn enough money for him to inherit? So much time goes into worrying about the material aspects and so little time goes into worrying about the morals and values.

I was born in the 1960’s so I was too young to appreciate the era of the Flower Child. In the 1970’s these Flower Children were having children of their own. And a whole new mode of parenting emerged. When I was a kid, when you did something wrong you got a smack – an educational smack. The family didn’t sit around having a philosophical discussion about the pros and cons of smacking. I never thought of calling the Childline Hotline to report my father for smacking me. Our modern era has introduced a new mode of parenting, where a child becomes a full partner in its own rearing and developing.

Here’s a newsflash I own some shares in Amazon. This might come as a surprise to you, but believe it or not, Amazon did not call me, their shareholder when they look to make strategic decisions. Had I been a 40% shareholder they might have called me. Mom & Dad are 100% shareholders of their child. And when that child is born into the world, it does not become a shareholder yet. Even as it grows and develops it gains some shares in the process, but he never has a “controlling stake in the corporation.”

We need to get back to the basics. I don’t mean the basics of the 1950’s when Dad never said he loved you and hit you with a belt. But back to the day when parents believed that “because I said so,” is a legitimate answer to any question a child may have. Just back to the day when parents would never say anything as stupid as, “my kid is my hero.” Or “one more story and then we really need to start thinking about going to bed, OK?”

Parents aren’t meant to negotiate. They ought to say, “You will apologise to your mother.” “Don’t make me turn this car around!” “Some things just happen because life is unfair!” “Clean your room!” “Be quiet the adults are talking!” and, “it’s not all about you!”

More than anything, it’s about balance. Not every child is the same and it is all about the special attention we pay to children. It’s about recognising the value of each child and looking to nurture their uniqueness, enabling them to grow and develop in accordance with their particular standard, where the strengths of each child are sought and nurtured and developed so that they have the right sort of confidence whereby, even as they get older they’ll be able to go out there and confront the world head on, rising to the challenges as they present themselves.