Dear Rabbi,

I attended a Chabad event during the week the organisation commemorated the anniversary of the passing of its leader, the late Lubavitcher Rebbe. I understand that one has to keep the yahrtzeit of parents or other family. But I’ve always been troubled about the widespread glorification of a rabbi.

Manny

Ask the Rabbi

Ask the Rabbi with Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet, Mill Hill United Synagogue

 

Dear Manny,

Why do we commemorate the anniversary of an individual’s passing? The answer is two-fold.

On a simple level, it 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.” It is the re-enacting that is key. The physical exodus experienced on Passover occurred many years ago. But whatever transpired spiritually at that time, repeats itself each year when we celebrate Passover. So the festival is thus “commemorated” and spiritually “re-enacted”.

The same applies to a yahrtzeit. Just as the first time the individual passed away and their soul ascended heavenward, so each year, on the anniversary of the passing, the soul continues to ascend higher still.

Hence, people actually have a little l’chaim on the day and extend the greeting: “The soul should have an elevation.”

In this context, an individual’s positive actions and impact are infused with an added spiritual jolt as well and that gives those closest to the loved one the impetus to pursue these same goals with added vigour.

People may not typically glorify rabbis, but there is a difference between a rabbi and a rebbe. A rabbi is one who teaches his pupils when they come to him and will answer 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 and inspire them and bring them closer to their faith.

Moreover, a rabbi may have congregants (even ardent ones at that), but a rebbe has Chassidim whose souls are bound up as one with their rebbe. Think of this in the context of modern electricity. A light bulb gives off light. But the bulb cannot really give any light without the electrical power plants stationed in some distant part of the city which generate the necessary power to infuse the bulb. Of course, there must be something at the core of the bulb which enables it to receive the power from the plant. Therefore, a wire which is connected to the power station is also connected to the bulb, and when this connection is opened by turning the switch the bulb receives the power and will then function.

The same applies to a rebbe and Chassidim. The rebbe is the power plant which gives the necessary power and inspiration to infuse his Chassidim with the required commitment to their life’s model and their impact on their outside world. This is channelled through the soul connection between the two.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe made it his primary purpose to rebuild the Jewish world in the post-Holocaust era. No one, from then until now, has put more emphasis on the love for one’s fellow Jew and the value of each individual Jew. He initiated outreach when it was a foreign word in the Jewish world and has foot-soldiers virtually everywhere that Jews wander.

Those representatives, as well as other Chassidim, take time, in particular on the yahrtzeit each year, to inspire and strengthen one another and to recall what the purpose and mission statement of the Lubavitcher Rebbe was – and continues to be: to make this world the better, more peaceful and spiritual place it was intended to be.[divider]

 

Dear Rabbi,

I’m a religious man in a happy marriage. There are, however, parts of our relationship that could be improved.

A few weeks ago my wife asked if I would consider getting a tattoo. She said it would be “our little secret”. I know tattoos are halachically forbidden and that, according to some, you cannot have a Jewish burial. Yet, in this case, would a tattoo be allowed for the sake of sholom bayit – enhancing my relationship with my wife?

Boaz

 

Dear Boaz,

The good news is that getting a tattoo will not deny you a Jewish burial. That’s pure folklore which, I suspect, takes its origins from a Jewish mother once yelling at her son for getting a tattoo. Her son probably passed it on to his son and so the myth was born.

The bad news is that, notwithstanding what you think this will do for your relationship, it doesn’t then become permissible. What if your wife says: “How about once a month we drive to Brent Cross on a Saturday instead of going to shul?” Would you want to consider that?

The big issue here is not the halachic dimension. It is your relationship, which you describe as “needing improvement”.
Every relationship needs constant attention and nurturing. But if a tattoo is where you or your wife think you can spice things up, there is something deeper at the core that needs to be addressed.

A guy with a needle will, at best, stitch over the cracks, but it sounds to me that you could use going for some professional help. I think you and the Missus should take an honest look at yourselves and consider that.

Good luck!

 

 Read Rabbi Schochet’s blog at shul.co.uk/rabbi.