My marriage, my choice? What’s the difference between a rebbe and a rabbi? Why ‘celebrate’ a yahrzeit?

Rabbi Schochet

Rabbi Schochet

Rabbi Schochet answers your dilemmas

Read Rabbi Schochet’s blog at shul.co.uk/rabbi or follow him on Twitter at @RabbiYYS

  • My marriage, my choice… right?

Dear Rabbi

I often read your comments on intermarriage and assimilation. I agree with some of it but question whether my family, my rabbi or anyone else for that matter has the right to interfere. It’s my life and the choices I make are mine alone.

Jeremy

Dear Jeremy

A young Brazilian student was once in private audience with the Lubavitcher Rebbe. During his meeting, the student asked:  ”Rebbe, my girlfriend, who is not Jewish, and I are thinking of getting married. What would the Rebbe say about that?”.

“There are,” the Rebbe replied, “many aspects of our lives over which we have no control.
Many physical conditions, as it has been scientifically shown, cannot be altered since they are a consequence of our genetic make-up, which has been inherited from past generations.
There is not much, generally, which can be done by others to help these conditions.

”However, our daily functioning is primarily influenced by decisions we make throughout our lives. When people make dangerous decisions, we expect those around them to work to prevent the danger. If, for example, we would hear someone planning to commit suicide, even if they say that they clearly know what they are doing and have made a conscious decision to proceed with the suicide, it is universally assumed that we will do all we can to stop that from happening.
“Our spiritual lives are shaped by the choices we make. A dangerous decision about one’s spiritual life will affect a person for many years. So, we must do all we can to dissuade a fellow Jew from marrying a non-Jew.
“May God bless both you and your girlfriend to find the right person for yourselves, and then, with your respective spouses, you will both live happily.”

  • Why a Rebbe is a ‘true friend’

Dear Rabbi

What is the difference between a rebbe and a rabbi? What is the function of a rebbe and can anyone become one?

Yikutiel

Dear Yikutiel

A rabbi is one who teaches his pupils when they come to him and answers a question when it is brought to him. A rebbe does not wait for you to come to him. He reaches forth among the people and tries to awaken them, inspire them and find ways to bring them closer into their religion.

Someone once approached the Lubavitcher Rebbe and asked simply: “What exactly do you do? And why are you admired by so many?” The Rebbe replied: “I try to be a good friend.” Incredulous, the man blurted out: “A friend? That’s all you do?!”

Unfazed, the Rebbe responded with a question of his own: “How many friends do you have?”
“I have many.”
“Let me define a friend for you, and then tell me how many friends you have. A friend
is someone in whose presence you can think aloud without worrying about being taken advantage of.
“A friend is someone who suffers with you when you are in pain and rejoices in your joy. A friend is someone who looks out for you, and always has your best interests in mind. In fact, a true friend is like an extension of yourself.”
The Rebbe then asked with a smile: “Now tell me, how many friends like that do you have?”

Not everyone can become a rebbe. One needs something from above to fulfil this mission. It is easier when a rebbe has inherited his position, just as it is easier for one who has inherited
a skill to perform and develop his talents than one who has to
develop them without immediate inherited abilities.
But we can all strive to be better friends.

  • Why ‘celebrate’ a yahrzeit?

Dear Rabbi

What is the significance of celebrating a yahrzeit? Surely it is not a time for celebration rather more reflection

Hadassah

Dear Hadassah

The answer is two-fold. On a simple level a yahrzeit (anniversary of passing) is a time when we pause to reflect on the loved one, on their life’s mission and purpose, on the impact they made and determine where we could add to that.

On a deeper, more spiritual level, mysticism explains that nothing spiritual is ever in the past. It essentially repeats itself each year onto loftier levels. As per the words of the Book of Esther, “and these days were commemorated and re-enacted”. The re-enacting is key. The physical exodus on Passover occurred years ago, but whatever transpired spiritually at that time, repeats itself when we celebrate Passover. So the festival is thus “commemorated” and spiritually “re-enacted”.

strong>The same applies in regards to a yahrzeit. Just as the first time the individual passed away their soul ascends heavenward, so each year, on the anniversary of the passing, the soul continues to
ascend higher still. Hence, people have a little l’chaim on the day and extend the greeting, “the soul should have an elevation”.

In this context, the individual’s positive actions and impact on this world are infused with an added spiritual jolt as well and that gives those closest to the loved one the impetus to pursue those same goals with added vigour. When it is the yahrzeit of a special individual who impacted the world in their lifetime, that has direct bearing not just on those closest but, ultimately, on the entire world.