The Rebbe sets a living example for the entire world

Cleveland Jewish News Opinion Commentary


Special to the CJN

Published: Tuesday, June 11, 2013 8:17 AM EDT 


In 1986, I was a rabbinical student in New York, studying in the Yeshiva at “770,” the Lubavitch world headquarters. I had the privilege to see the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of blessed memory, every day, to participate in his services and attend his farbrengens (public lectures).

One sunny afternoon, there was excitement in the air. The news spread that a Chasidic philanthropist had purchased a new car for the Rebbe. The seats in the Rebbe’s old car, a 1977 model, were worn out and the time was right for a new car.

The new Cadillac was parked in front of 770, and a large crowd, mainly of Yeshiva students, gathered, excited to witness the Rebbe entering his new car for the first time.

I was standing there watching when the front door of the building opened and the Rebbe walked out, making his way to the car’s usual spot. As was his custom, the Rebbe stopped near every young child and handed each a coin to put into a charity box.

As he got closer, the Rebbe looked up and noticed the new car. The Rebbe’s secretary informed him the car was given to the Rebbe as a gift. The Rebbe asked to relay his thanks to the donor for the nice gesture, but continued with a famous quote from Proverbs, “Soneh Matanot Yichye,” or “he who spurns gifts will live.”

The Rebbe then asked for the old car to be brought back and proceeded to enter it as usual. It was obvious that the Rebbe was unhappy with the whole spectacle.

As a young man witnessing this, I felt that I learned a vital lesson: we should not be preoccupied with material possessions. There are more important things than a new car.

As years passed, I often reflected on this story and shared it with others. I came to appreciate another dimension of the Rebbe’s teachings.

There are two methods to impart values to others. One is by teaching, preaching and consistently reminding the student or child of the importance of this attribute. The second and more effective method is to simply teach by example.

No speeches, no lectures. Not one word need be uttered. Just be a living example and the lesson will be engraved in the hearts of the students or children, inspiring them for years to come.

As we commemorate the yahrzeit (anniversary of death) of the Lubavitcher Rebbe on June 11, let us adopt the Rebbe’s teaching method, which has resulted in inspiration to thousands of Jews as well as non-Jews all over the world: be a living example.

Rabbi Zushe Greenberg is the spiritual leader of Chabad Jewish Center of Solon.