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Rebbes: Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohnmain postsSpiritual Masters

The Lubavitcher Rebbe: Honor Your Mother

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson of Lubavitch was born on the 11th of Nisan 5662 to his father Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, the fifth generation from the ADMOR (Grand Rabbi) Tzemach Tzedek, the third ADMOR of Chabad. His mother was Rebbetzin Chana, daughter of Rabbi Meir Shlomo Yanovsky. At the age of seven, the family moved to Yekaterinoslav, where his father was appointed as a rabbi. In Yekaterinoslav, he was privately tutored by Rabbi Shneur Zalman Vilenkin. Alongside his diligence and depth in both the revealed and the mystical aspects of Torah, the Rebbe also excelled in mathematics and geometry. In 1923, he met his future father-in-law and mentor, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Rebbe Rayatz, and on the 14th of Kislev 1928, he married the Rebbe' Rayatz’s daughter, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka.

After his marriage, the Rebbe moved to Berlin, where he studied mathematics, physics, and philosophy at the university and received rabbinical ordination from the author of "Seridei Eish". In 1933, he moved to Paris and studied electrical engineering at the Sorbonne. In 1941, the Rebbe and Rebbetzin fled burning Europe. The Rebbe joined his father-in-law in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn and began to lead the Chabad institutions.

On the 10th of Shevat 1950, the Rebbe Rayatz, passed away, and a year later, on the 10th of Shevat 1951, Rabbi Menachem Mendel was crowned as the ADMOR. On the 22nd of Shevat 1988, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka passed away, and the Rebbe referred to her passing as the end of an era – and the preparation for a new era towards the coming of Mashiach. On the 27th of Adar I 1992, while praying at his father-in-law's grave, the Rebbe suffered a stroke and ceased speaking. This condition continued until Saturday night, the eve of the 3rd of Tammuz 1994, the day when "the sun stopped in Giv’on and the moon in the Valley of Ayalon."

About forty years ago, a young woman who grew up in California was aroused to return to her faith. Although she was Jewish, her parents were not connected to Judaism at all. Her father respected the step she took, but it struck her mother's soul to the core (even though she didn't know what a soul was…) that her daughter would choose a different path. Her mother vehemently opposed her daughter’s new-found faith and made her life bitter. When the young woman reached the age of eighteen and was legally independent, she was determined to find a place where she could live as a religious Jew. Eventually, an incident occurred where her mother lashed out at her terribly, and in anger, the daughter retorted: "You're not my mother!" and left home.

From there, the young woman went to New York and enrolled in a school for the newly observant. After several years, she reached marriageable age but no match worked out. Someone advised her to go to Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, consult with him, and ask for his blessing.

The Yechidut (private audience) was scheduled for late Saturday night, at four in the morning. The young woman came to the Chabad Headquarters for the entire Shabbat. It was the first time she was at 770, and she witnessed the happenings there and the respect and nullification of the chasidim towards the Rebbe. When the time for the Yechidut arrived, the young woman handed in her note, and the Rebbe read it. The Rebbe turned to her and said: "Were you here on Shabbat? Did you see the royal honor they give me?" It was strange for the Rebbe to speak like this. "Yes," she answered. (Apparently, she had been very impressed, and the Rebbe sensed this). The Rebbe began to elaborate on the great honor given to him. He then turned to her and said: "I would give all of this up entirely – for half an hour with my mother" (The story occurred after the passing of the Rebbetzin Chana, the Rebbe's mother).

With that, the Yechidut was over, and the young woman understood the message. Immediately on Sunday morning, she caught a flight to California and returned home after several years away. She asked her mother for forgiveness, her mother asked for forgiveness from her, and shortly after, in Divine providence, she found an excellent match, got married, and established a chasidic home.

The Rebbe, as is well known, was very meticulous about honoring his mother. When he visited his mother, he made sure to leave by walking backward, not turning his back to her. He tried to conceal this, finding various "excuses" for his way of walking: adjusting the tablecloth, moving a chair, or placing something on the table while progressing towards the door. Once someone saw this, and when he realized what motivated the Rebbe's unusual walking, he mentioned it in awe to the Rebbetzin. The Rebbetzin responded with a smile: "Why are you amazed? Since his Bar Mitzvah, I haven't seen his back!"

What inner movement does facing forward express, especially while distancing and walking backward?

The Alter Rebbe answers this very question in a discourse that begins with the verse: "I will walk (ethalech) before God in the land of the living." Contrary to 'walking,' (elech)  says the Alter Rebbe, ' ethalech ' means 'running and returning,' approaching and distancing. Every person has times of expanded consciousness, in which he draws closer and ascends in the service of God. But everyone also has times when they fall, distance themselves, and are in a state of contracted consciousness.

King David says that in every state of “ethalech," whether approaching or distancing, a person is "before God." Obviously, when approaching, his face is turned towards God. But even when he falls, he continues to think incessantly about the place from which he has distanced. The same is true regarding parents: every person, even the most respectful and loving, leaves his parents' home and goes his own way. Yet, as the Rebbe conveyed to the young woman in the story – this distancing doesn't have to include severing ties… It is possible and necessary, says the Rebbe, to distance and approach simultaneously, keeping the heart and face always connected to the place from where we came.

“With the Crown with which his Mother Crowned him”

Certainly, the Rebbe was meticulous in honoring both his parents. However, if, by Divine providence, this story is specifically about his mother, there must surely be significance to it. It is told that before his marriage to Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, Rebbetzin Chana hinted that the match was on the condition that the Rebbe would be the successor of his father-in-law. To this, the Rebbe Rayatz replied: “Chasidim have intellect, and they will know to choose who is suitable…” Rebbetzin Chana took this as an agreement to her request, and the match was made. Therefore, to a great extent, it was Rebbetzin Chana who ensured the Rebbe was crowned with the crown of leadership (as she surely recognized his virtue and connection to leadership).

From this, we can learn that it is specifically a mother who cares for her child’s ‘crown.’ She is even more sensitive than his father to his great potential and ensures that he can fully realize his life’s mission. This is also evident from a specific verse in Song of Songs: “With the crown with which his mother crowned him on his wedding day” (as occurred at the Rebbe’s wedding). From the moment that he was aware, the Rebbe acknowledged his mother for this, always making sure to maintain a face-to-face relationship with her and receiving inspiration from her in fulfilling his royal role. In light of this explanation, the Rebbe’s statement at the beginning of the story is even more meaningful: All the status, the crown, and the honor – mean nothing to me. The intrinsic connection with my mother outweighs everything.

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