By Rabbi Levi Greenberg
For the first time in recent history, the entire world experienced a common crisis for an extended period of time. Even as we gradually resume pre-COVID routines, it will never be the same.
I’ve seen first-hand the deep toll this year of COVID has taken on individuals, young and old. No one came away unaffected. Looking back at this deeply scarring year, we may ask ourselves a simple question: Do we, as human beings, have what it takes to confront this kind of adversity? Or for that matter, any kind of difficulty that challenges us to our core?
The answer, I believe, is yes. Simply put, there is something embedded in the human psyche that, if tapped into properly, can serve as an anchor for every human being to overcome adversity large or small and confront the unexpected changes we experience all the time.
The late Yehuda Avner served on the personal staff of five Israeli prime ministers. In 1977 he had a private meeting with the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, the leader of the global Chabad-Lubavitch movement. During the lengthy conversation, Avner asked the Rebbe what exactly the role of a rebbe is.
“I will tell you what I’m trying to do,” the Rebbe replied. “Imagine you are looking at a cupboard, and you see a candle there, but I tell you that it is not a candle — it is a lump of wax with a piece of string inside. When does the wax and the wick become a candle? When one brings a flame to the wick. That is when the wax and the wick fulfill the purpose for which they were created.”
“And that is what I try to do — to help everyone fulfill the purpose for which they were created.”
At the end of the meeting, Avner asked, “Has the Rebbe lit my candle?” He answered, “No. I have given you the match. Only you can light your own candle.”
There is a fundamental premise in Judaism that everyone has a spark of goodness and justice within them. A unique energy that empowers them to impact the world for the good; the purpose of their creation. Unfortunately, this spirit of goodness can sometimes be dimmed and difficult to reach or even recognize, but the potential always remains.
It was this spark of goodness that the Rebbe sought to empower every individual to reveal. Just as a flame will be bright and warm under all circumstances, the Rebbe believed and taught that the core essence of goodness and morality within every person can survive under all circumstances and only needs to be revealed.
Eighty years ago, in the summer of 1941, the Rebbe and his wife arrived in the United States after escaping the horrors of the Holocaust. Upon his arrival he set up a revolutionary outreach program that set the stage for the timeless traditions of Judaism to thrive and flourish in a society dominated by assimilation. When others felt that old-school ideas needed to be refreshed and updated to fit with modern times, the Rebbe illustrated that the core values of Judaism, morality and ethics were as timeless and resilient as the flame of a candle.
Our world is changing rapidly in so many ways. By focusing on the principles of decent human conduct, predicated on the awareness that every thought, speech and action is important to G-d and impacts the world around us, we remain anchored to an unchangeable truth. This gives us the strength to flame the spark of goodness within us and others into an inferno of positivity, good will and inspiration.
On Sunday, June 13, we observe the 27th anniversary of the Rebbe’s passing in 1994. It’s an auspicious time for us all to reflect on how we can increase in acts of goodness and kindness, and encourage others to do so as well. To set aside time daily for prayer or quiet contemplation on the higher purpose and meaning of life. Ensuring that our own candles shine brightly and help others light their own, thereby preparing our little corner of the world for an era of true world peace and tranquility for all.
Cover photo: The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem S. Schneerson (Photo courtesy of Chabad-Lubavitch)