Rebbe Shalom Dov Ber Schneersohn (the Rashab), the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, was born to his parents, Rabbi Shmuel Schneersohn (the Rebbe Maharash) and Rebbetzin Rivkah on the 20th of Cheshevan 5621 (November 1860). At his circumcision ceremony, his grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek, gave him the acronym for his name, Rashab. Following his father’s passing, the Rashab took on the mantle of leadership in a partial capacity. It was only 11 years later that he took upon himself the full scope of his father’s responsibilities, first in Lubavitch and in his final days, in Rostov. The Rashab founded the Lubavitch yeshivah network, Tomchei Temimim and Yeshivat Torat Emet, first in Hebron and later, in Jerusalem. He is known as “the Rambam of Chasidut.” He passed away on the 2nd day of Nissan, 5680 (1920). He was laid to rest in Rostov in Russia and was succeeded by his only son, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, the Rebbe Rayatz.
Rebbe Shalom Dov Ber’s son, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn related the following story about his childhood with his pious father:
When I was four years old, I asked my father (the Rebbe Rashab): “Why did God create man with two eyes? It is enough for him to have one eye, just as God created one mouth and one nose.”
“Do you know the alef beit?” my father asked.
“Yes,” I answered.
“Do you know,” my father asked, “that there is a right-sided (letter) shin and a left-sided shin? What is the difference between them?”
“The right-sided shin has a dot on the right, and the left-sided shin has a dot on the left,” I answered.
Then my father said to me: “There are things that must be viewed with the right eye, with love and closeness. And there are things that must be viewed with the left eye, with apathy and distance. The prayer book and Jews should be viewed with the right eye. Candy and toys should be viewed with the left eye.”
When Chasidim celebrate the day of passing of a Rebbe, the day on which all the lofty lights that he drew down during his life are revealed, they also celebrate the start of the leadership of the next Rebbe. The story above connects the father with the son: The Rebbe Rashab passed away on the 2nd day of Nissan and his son, the Rebbe Rayatz, became the new leader on the very same day.
The Rebbe Rayatz told this story and related that sometimes, people object and ask him “Why do you love all the Jews, without distinguishing between those that are observant and those that are less so? He answered with the story above, adding “Since that episode, the love of Israel has been engraved on my heart and in my brain. Every Jew, no matter who and what he might be, must be viewed with a favorable eye.”
Another Perspective on the Two Eyes
Before analyzing the Rebbe Rayatz’s take-away from the story, it is interesting to compare this to another, more famous aphorism, which is also quoted in the name of the Rebbe Rashab. This saying is very similar to the saying above, but if we contemplate, we will see that the difference is significant:
The Rebbe Rashab once said: A person has two eyes so that with his right eye he will see the good in others and with his left eye he will see his own shortcomings.
In the first story, the eyes were used to either draw us nearer to some things or push us away from others. But according to this last aphorism, the purpose of the two eyes is to analyze the object of perception: by seeing the good in others and the shortcomings in ourselves. Becoming aware of my own shortcomings should bring about constant improvement (at the same time, it is certainly not meant to ruin the joy I have from the good things that I have merited to have and to do, which are all a gift from Heaven). Discovering and contemplating the good in others allows me to learn from them and to adopt their positive traits.
In the Tanya, the Alter Rebbe writes that “every person becomes more rectified through others.” I can learn about a positive quality that I lack from every person. “More rectified through others” means that not only should I notice that the other is more rectified than me, but that I can also become more rectified from him, through his influence.
From Perception to Leadership
Returning to our story and the moral the Rebbe Rashab taught his son, the Rebbe Rayatz, let us first note that the latter said that this event was so memorable that it continued to illuminate his leadership. As noted, the notion that the eyes perceive with a view to drawing nearer to good and positive things (and push away from those that are negative) leads to the conclusion that the eyes are meant to bring about unconditional love (אַהֲבָה עַצְמִית) for that which one should be attracted to.
Whenever the adjective “unconditional” (עַצְמִי) is used in Chassidut, it refers to the essential and unchanging personality of the person. What the Rebbe Rayatz was saying is that it is clear to him that the siddur, the chumash, and a Jew are Godly—so much so that he does not have to search for something especially good in them. In his eyes, they are a reflection of God, and God is completely good. In a relationship that is ”unconditional,” the person who loves feels that he cannot live without his beloved.
What about the left eye? According to the aphorism about the good and shortcomings, the left eye is turned inward. In the aphorism that the Rebbe Rashab said to his son, he is referring to an external reality that one views from a distance and without an unconditional connection. I have a candy? That’s nice. I don’t have a candy? That’s also fine. This guides us not to be so bound to the material. Material possessions can be good and useful in specific situations, but we can definitely live without them.
From this, we can also learn about the second aphorism, according to which the left eye is meant to show a person his own shortcomings. Just as we should not be too attached to candy or toys, so we should be objective about our shortcomings: we should not exaggerate them, nor should we minimize them. This is also part of loving others. We should existentially experience others and their being, while taking far less interest in ourselves and in our shortcomings.
. Sefer Hatoladot p.8
. Iggeret HaKodesh 22.