What is a Rebbe?
Editor’s note: The following is a free translation of a letter written by the Rebbe several months after the passing of his father-in-law and predecessor, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn of Lubavitch. The letter was printed as an introduction to a booklet of maamarim (discourses of Chassidic teaching) by Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak.1
By the Grace of G‑d 3 Tammuz, 5710 [June 18, 1950] Brooklyn, N.Y.
Greeting and Blessing:
Many seek and propose to explain the qualities and greatness of Chabad Rebbes in general, and, in particular, the Rebbe of our generation, my father-in-law, hareini kaparat mishkavo,2 in various areas: as a man of self-sacrifice, Torah genius, lofty character, prophetic ability, miracle-worker, etc., etc.
These qualities are further magnified when viewed in the light of Chassidic teaching, which explains what is true self-sacrifice, true Torah genius, and so on.
And yet, none of this addresses the primary quality of the Rebbe–a quality which is not only primary in essence, but which is most important to us, his chassidim and followers, namely: the fact that he is a nassi, and particularly a Chabad nassi.
A nassi, broadly defined, is a “head of the multitudes of Israel.”3 He is their “head” and “mind,” their source of life and vitality. Through their attachment to him, they are bound and united with their source on high.
There are several types of nesi’im: those who supply their constituents with “internalized” nurture,4 and those whose nurture is of a more “encompassing” nature.5 This is further divisible into the particulars of whether they impart the teaching of the “revealed” part of Torah, its mystical secrets, or both; whether they offer guidance in the service of G‑d and the ways of Chassidism; whether they draw down material provision; and so on.
There are also nesi’im who are channels in several of these areas, or even in all of them.
Such was the nature of the leadership of the nesi’im of Chabad, from the Alter Rebbe6 to, and including, my father-in-law, who embraced all these categories and areas: they nurtured their chassidim in both the “internal” and the “encompassing” qualities of their souls; in Torah, divine service and good deeds; in spirit and in body. Thus, their bond with those connected with them was in all 613 limbs and organs of their souls and bodies.
Each and every one of us must know–that is, dwell upon and implant the awareness in his or her mind–that the Rebbe is our nassi and head: that he is the source and channel for all our material and spiritual needs, and that it is through our bond with him (and he has already instructed us in his letters how and by what means this is achieved) that we are bound and united with our source, and the source of our source, up to our ultimate source on high.