The ultimate Jewish influencer

Rabbi Zushe Greenberg
Special to the CJN I  Posted Jun 18, 2023 at 6: 00 PM

Rabbi Zushe Greenberg, left, receives a blessing and a dollar to give to charity from the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, in 1991. Submitted photo.

Today, it’s all about “influencers.” Back in “ancient” times, we used to gain knowledge from teachers, books and perhaps videos. Now, all information is culled from 5-second clips on Instagram, TikTok or whatever new platform will emerge in the next five minutes.

But when I thought about it, I realized that I was lucky enough to see the ultimate Jewish “influencer” – the one that single-handedly changed the landscape of Jewish life in the last century.

This week marks the 29th yahrzeit of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, of saintly memory, the spiritual leader of Chabad. A Chabad educator once asked the Rebbe how to instill a love for Judaism in his students, and the Rebbe answered simply: “Be a living example.”

When I thought about it, I realized this was exactly how he lived his own life. I was privileged to study for six years in his yeshiva in Brooklyn, N.Y. During this time, I attended prayer services, and was present at the weekly “farbrengen” gatherings. I heard him speak for hundreds of hours, and my life was incredibly enriched by his wisdom.

But what was most impactful during those years was actually being in his presence. It wasn’t just what he said, but even more what he did. He had a profound passion for Judaism and Jewish life. Watching his silent devotion during prayer was itself an experience. Every Shabbat, to him, was meaningful. On joyous holidays like Purim or Simchas Torah, his joy was palpable; on Tisha b’Av, the day of mourning for the destruction of the Temple, he seemed genuinely sad.

Most significantly, I saw his love for every Jew. I saw how he devoted incredible energy – in his late eighties – to improving the state of Jewish life, both on a communal and individual level. I saw how he spent 12 hours a day in his office, corresponding with people from all over the world, and never once taking a vacation. I watched him teach Torah for hours each Shabbat, always enthusiastically, never seeming to tire. I saw how he received thousands of visitors, treating each person with dignity, and I saw, especially the way his face would light up with joy when interacting with children.

Being in the Rebbe’s presence taught me, above all else, that the most effective way to convey a message is by living it. When we are excited about something, our children naturally become excited too. If when our children return home from Hebrew school we display genuine interest to hear about what they’ve learned, that excitement will rub off on them. If we make Shabbat dinner a sacred and never-compromised tradition in our family schedule, our children will love it too. If Judaism is an integral and constant part of our lives, it will be for our children, too.

People naturally like to feel in control of their lives and environments, and sometimes it can be incredibly frustrating when things don’t go our way. We feel helpless when we realize that we cannot control the world, we cannot control our surroundings and we can’t even control the destiny of our own children.

But the Rebbe taught me that we do possess the ability to control ourselves – and that’s actually the key to it all.

Rabbi Zushe Greenberg is the spiritual leader of Solon Chabad.