The Rebbe & Zionism

The following is a transcript of the Rebbe’s remarks given in a private meeting on Av 5, 5727 (August 12, 1967), shortly after the Six-Day War, as recalled by Rabbi Chaim Gutnick of Melbourne, Australia, and published (in Hebrew) in Kfar Chabad Magazine, issue no. 806:

…Three times in our generation, G-d has granted us an opportunity for the beginning of the Redemption. But these opportunities were missed, and it is the Jewish leadership which is to blame.

The first opportunity was in 1948. You know that I have a particular enthusiasm for Rashi’s commentary on the Torah. Well, Rashi says regarding the waters of the Flood that, at first, G-d brought down “rains of blessing” upon them and waited to see if they would repent; only after they failed to do so did this turn into the very opposite of “rains of blessing,” G-d forbid.

In 1948, G-d sent “rains of blessing.” This was a time when even the Russians supported the Jewish people against the British, who had attempted to annihilate the nation of Israel. This was a time of opportunity. But the Jewish leaders stood by and debated whether or not to make mention of G-d’s name in the “Declaration of Establishment.” Thus the Redemption was put off by fifty years.

The second opportunity was the Sinai Champaign [of 1956]. If the Jewish people would have believed that their salvation would come from G-d rather than from French MIGs and British warplanes, all would have been different.

But never has there been an opportunity such as this one. This was a war won by Torah and mitzvot. There can be no doubt of this. A Jew in Moscow recited Psalms, and a Jew in Buffalo, New York, put on tefillin, and this helped the Jews defeat their enemies in the Land of Israel.

If the Jewish leaders would have utilized the opportunity to rouse the people to the observance of Torah and mitzvot, our situation today would be entirely different. Think about it: a young man in Israel was summoned, handed an Uzi, and told: “Leave your wife and children at home and go to El-Arish to fight.” In every war there are draft-dodgers; here, no Jew, not even one for whom the word “Jew” is nothing more than an appellation, refused to fight. It was a time when the entire people of Israel were in a state of “We shall do and we shall hear.” When this young man fought at El-Arish, his Torah and mitzvot fought for him. The Shechinah (Divine Presence) came down into the trenches to assist the soldier fighting on the borders of the Land of Israel.

If the Jewish leaders would have told that soldier to utilize the reserves of faith and courage that were revealed in him during the war toward a commitment to Torah and mitzvot, with the same “We shall do and we shall hear,” he, and the entire Jewish nation, would have responded, and everything would have been different. But again the leaders were silent, and the great opportunity was lost. They were too timid to tell the Jew the truth: that this is the time for a return to Torah.

The very first chapter of the first section of the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) begins not with Maimonides’ “Thirteen Principles of Faith,” but with the Rama’s ruling that “One should not be intimidated by mockers.” Why? Because when one does not fulfill this rule, one is prevented from fulfilling the entire Shulchan Aruch. Perhaps I speak too sharply, but the Jewish leadership is bankrupt. They avoid me because they know that I will demand of them to speak the truth. Their timidness to speak the truth, contrary to the rule, “One should not be intimidated by mockers,” is holding back the Redemption.

Jews must be told to keep Torah and mitzvot. I initiated the tefillin campaign—this is only the beginning. My hope is that through the mitzvah of tefillin, the Jewish people will be brought closer to other mitzvot—to keep kosher and Shabbat, and ultimately the entire Torah. My aim is that millions of additional hands should become tefillin-wearing hands.

The Jewish people will respond when spoken to about Torah and mitzvot. Not only teenagers—also forty-year-olds, people advanced and established in their lives, are ready to hear the truth, if only their leaders will speak it to them.

We still have not lost the opportunity. It’s still not too late. Now it is August. If we will do our job, if the sheluchim will do their job and tell the world the truth, we can bring the Redemption…

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The media recently marked the date when the nations of the world approved the “Partition of Palestine,” which gave the Jewish people a state. This created a haven for Jews, particularly after the horrors of the Holocaust, when Jews were not welcome in most countries of the world. Yet many saw this step as part of the Geula process, something the Rebbe absolutely negated. * We present two stories which the author heard firsthand, and which shed light on the Rebbe’s perspective.

by Rabbi Yehoshua Dubrawsky

This happened many decades ago. I was working then for the “Shulsinger Brothers” famous printing and publishing establishment. They had acquired a reputation for the number of sefarim they had printed as well as the quality of the printing and binding, “good ink on good paper,” which had become the standard in the Jewish world.

The two owners of the printing company, Michel and Shmuel Shulsinger, had a great share in the dissemination of Toras Chassidus Chabad – of the Rebbe Rayatz and the Rebbe nasi doreinu – after the war. At that time, Shulsinger Brothers invested over $30,000 a year, an enormous amount at that time, to print various sefarim (Chassidus, sifrei chinuch, pamphlets etc.).

The truth is that on more than one occasion they really went “all out” in order to do what the Rebbe wanted (for example, printing a book or pamphlet as quickly as possible, and sometimes impossible … and remember, this was when printing was done with molten lead, not with high speed computerized machinery). Thanks to their efforts, they had the privilege of enjoying an especially warm relationship with the Rebbe Rayatz, and then as a natural extension of that, with the Rebbe.

However, they were “farbrente tziyonim” (ardent Zionists), and as such, they did not manage to absorb the pnimiyus of the closeness they enjoyed with the Rebbeim, which led to the following incident.

One day when I arrived at the printers, the brothers attacked me with complaints and a hue and cry (as though I was guilty for something). Mind you, by nature they were excitable fellows.

Their main point was: we never realized that the Lubavitcher Rebbe is such a kanai (fanatic), even more of a kanai than the Satmar Rebbe!

What had happened to elicit this outburst? It took some time before they calmed down and could tell me what happened.

At that time, the Shulsinger Brothers were pioneers, and for quite some time they were the only ones, who published Jewish calendars. Their satisfied customers were Jewish organizations, particularly those involved in fundraising, that used the calendars for advertising.

Lubavitch had ordered calendars. Rabbi Chodakov a’h would carefully go over every single item under the Chabad name (Kehot, Mercas L’Inyonei Chinuch, etc.). The Shulsinger Brothers always wrote “Yom Ha’Atzmaut” (Israel’s Independence Day) for the date 5 Iyar. When they brought the proofs for the Chabad calendar to R’ Chodakov, he noticed those two words near the date for 5 Iyar and he erased them so vigorously that not a trace remained of them.

When the proofs were back at the printer and they noticed this correction, they went crazy. They were simply furious and they resolved that this would not be allowed. They set off for 770, went into R’ Chodakov’s miniscule office, and began shouting: How could he?! They screamed all the reasons why noting Yom Ha’Atzmaut on the calendars was a sacred principle for them.

R’ Chodakov, in his usual unflappable manner, heard them out and when they were done, he responded calmly though resolutely, saying that it was out of the question for those words to appear on a Chabad calendar. Without getting into a debate with them, he let them know that if they would stand on their principle, Chabad’s order was cancelled.

The brothers realized they had wasted their efforts in the wrong place, because he wouldn’t change his mind (one of them said dismissively, “speaking to a Yekke like him is like talking to the wall”), and they decided to go over his head.

In those years it was still relatively easy to get an appointment with the Rebbe, especially for those who had enjoyed such a close relationship. Within a short time they had an appointment with the Rebbe. This is what the Shulsinger brothers told me that day:

First of all, how could Yom Ha’Atzmaut be erased from the calendar? The day the state was established was in the way of “ischalta d’Geula” (the beginning of Geula)! How could it be ignored?!

The Rebbe responded sharply: “Ischalta dGeula”? Chas V’Shalom! It was not the ischalta d’Geula!

The brothers began arguing: Nu, fine, it wasn’t the beginning of the complete Geula, but it was still a day of salvation and redemption for the Jewish people! Why should it be erased?

Again, the Rebbe responded sharply: No! It was not a day of salvation and redemption for the Jewish people! (there were some other phrases which I don’t remember now).

The brothers remained dissatisfied and even raised their voices (as they themselves told me), and tried to plead with the Rebbe that even if it wasn’t an actual yeshua for the Jewish people, it was at least a festive day, and it represented salvation for many Jews.

I think the Rebbe also raised his voice – the talmidim in the yeshiva who sat in the small zal, not far from the yechidus room, said that they could hear the voices of the brothers the entire time, but then suddenly they could hear the Rebbe speaking loudly. This is what the Rebbe said which the brothers repeated to me:

“Not only is it not the ischalta d’Geula; not only is it not a Yom Tov and a day of salvation for the Jewish people etc. – but this delayed the Geula for such and such a number of tens of years!”

One of the brothers remembered a certain number the Rebbe had said, though he said it with reservations, “I think ..” while the other brother remembered a different number, and was also doubtful. It’s interesting that they didn’t remember the number precisely (maybe due to their emotional state at the time).

(and for me too, so many years later, it’s hard to pinpoint what they said, but I think that the number was forty-five years).

That was when the brothers finally understood how the Rebbe regarded Zionism, with a “fanaticism that was greater than Satmar’s” – while at the same time, how precious every Jew is to the Rebbe, even those who still believe in Zionism.

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Regarding the claim that there is “independence” — that this is freedom to do as they want, we see now that there was never a situation like this where Jews were so dependent on the goyim like now; this situation has brought those who claim that they are independent — because their conduct is to chase after goyim — that, Heaven help us, they are totally dependent on goyim, and they can’t do anything other than what the goy wants. (Lubavitcher Rebbe, Emor 19 Iyar 5734)

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This condition they call “independence” — at a time when this is an exile even greater than the exile of an impoverished Jew, r”l, in a shtetl in Russia or Poland: that Jew trembled from a goy, how much moreso from a goy with “buttons” (as they called it then) — but there was a reason for this fear, because if the will arose in the goy to give the Jew a smack, there was no one to prevent it. But now, they invite the goy to come to the Jews and be the boss there, and there they “negotiate” with him, and tell him: “yes, you are ‘our brother’, you are a righteous and upright person and your claims are credible, but there is no choice you are obligated to promise something, etc. — at least give a smile…and more: express in words that you are satisfied. And they demand from you more than this: give weapons to the states around and to the Jews give at the most a third of this! (Lubavitcher Rebbe, L’ag B’Omer 5738)

 

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“When they wanted to put the name of the Holy One, blessed be He (into the declaration of Independence) — they refused and put in the words ‘tsur Yisrael’ which has two meanings: one can think that this is the Holy One, blessed be He, and one can also think about something else, and this itself is shituf!” (Lubavitcher Rebbe, Shelach 5730)

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