Bari Weiss of The Wall Street Journal reports on newly released book titles and the world of publishing in "The Book Reader."
I’m Bari Weiss of the Wall Street Journal, and up next on the Book Reader: the most important rabbi of the 20th century."
A few years ago I was out for a jog in Prospect Park when two teenage boys in black hats raced to catch up with me. "Are you Jewish?” they asked, out of breath. They wanted to offer me candles to light on the Sabbath.
If you live in New York and look the part—or even if you don’t!—chances are you've had a similar experience.
Who are these enthusiastic Jews? And why are they so intent on seeking out their co-religionists?
They are members of a Hasidic sect called Chabad, a movement founded in the late 1700s in White Russia that emphasizes seeking God through concrete actions like passionate prayer and good deeds above Torah study. And the goal of these young emissaries is to expose Jews to Judaism —unconditionally.
As for why they are so passionate and tireless? Well that has a lot to do with their leader, arguably the greatest rabbi in modern history: Menachem Mendel Schneerson, known widely as the Rebbe. This year is the 20th anniversary of the Rebbe’s death, and a moving new biography by Joseph Telushkin goes a long way to explaining how he turned a religious sect decimated by the Holocaust into the most thriving Jewish organization in the world, with thousands of Chabad emissaries spreading Judaism to places as far-flung as Katmandu and the Congo.
I won’t try to sum up the Rebbe’s life in the space of a few sentences, but here are a few interesting facts about him: He almost never left Crown Heights. He spoke seven languages and could read more than ten. He barely slept, and only ate dark chocolate while he worked, and would meet with petitioners until the wee hours of the morning. He lived by the idea that anything worth doing is worth doing now.
People as diverse as Ronald Reagan and Bob Dylan sought his counsel. And just last year, on the night before his election to the Senate, New Jersey’s Cory Booker went to the Rebbe’s grave to pray.
To understand why he inspired so many, do yourself a favor and pick up this biography. You don't need to be a Jew or even be a religious person to learn from this monumental man.