The Lubavitcher Rebbe was undoubtedly one of the most influential and charismatic Jewish religious leaders of all time. He came on the scene just after the horrors of the Holocaust, inspiring and reinvigorated the Jewish world to renew its connection with God and do everything in its power to make this a world a dwelling fitting for God’s presence.
He was outspoken and vocal when it came to what he felt was right, and he didn’t let the fears of rejection or the promise of money and power stand in his way. He taught his followers both in his words and actions that the very first step in serving God is to acquire a healthy dose of chutzpah when it comes to matters of right and wrong.
The Rebbe taught that there was a time and place for this boldness, and a time for a more subtle, less outspoken approach. When it came to Jews who were far from their heritage, who had little exposure to or knowledge of the Torah, the Rebbe taught his followers that speeches and condemnations did nothing but drive people from the teachings of Judaism and God. Rather, he taught that being good examples, inviting people to one’s home, showing them love and kindness and letting them see the beauty of Jewish teachings and culture was the most effective way of bringing Jews back to their roots. The approach succeeded in bringing tens of thousands of Jews back to a religious life.
However, when it came to matters of life and death, particularly in Israel with its many wars and its politicians’ controversial and risky decisions with regard to “peace,” the Rebbe roared like a lion. He realized the extreme importance of Israel, both for the Jews who were living there and for Jews around the world, as well as its strategic importance for the Western world.
The Rebbe was all too aware of the fact that Arab leaders had been calling for the genocide of Jews since the early 20th century, and that these leaders, most particularly Haj Amin Al-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem, even attempted to help Hitler achieve his final solution.
Furthermore, prior to the 1948 War of Independence, Arab leaders made it clear that they rejected any calls for peace and proclaimed their intention to commit a second Holocaust.
The war in 1967 involved similar calls for genocide. The Palestinian Liberation Organization – founded in 1964, prior to there even being a West Bank or Gaza under Israel’s control – also made it very clear its goal was to destroy Israel utterly.
The Rebbe knew that even though Israel had wanted peace from the start and was facing genocidal enemies who were supported by the leadership of much of the Arab world, there were US leaders who were more concerned with alliances than doing the right thing. In their fear of upsetting Arab nations they many times chose to place unreasonable demands on the tiny Jewish state at the cost of Jewish security and safety, and their decisions led to the loss of thousands of Jewish lives. As defense secretary James Forrestal summed it up to president Truman, “There are 30 million Arabs on one side and about 600,000 Jews on the other. Why don’t you face up to the realities?” Of course these policies could only really be implemented by the capitulation of Israeli political leaders who sometimes felt compelled to accommodate Washington and Europe at the expense of basic security.
When it came to extremely risky arrangements of “land for peace” that endangered Jewish lives, the Rebbe pulled no punches.
“Their approach,” he said, “has been that the more concessions they will make on matters of vital interest, the more they will gain. This approach however, runs contrary to the nature of the United States. The United States arose and was founded through firm adherence to the principle that on matters of vital interest concessions cannot be made. They maintained this stance despite opposition from England, France and essentially the entire world.”
When Jews were being sent in cattle cars to their death during World War II, Jews could have demanded that president Roosevelt bomb the tracks of these trains, thus saving Jews from certain death. The Rebbe pointed out, “[C]ertain Jews intervened... and held back the pressure on Washington, citing the verse, ‘Do not incite the nations,’ and similar arguments.”
The rescue of many Jews was thus prevented.
“Those very same ‘leaders’ and their disciples,” the Rebbe continued, “are now continuing down the same path, using the same argument, that we may not incite the nations.”
The Rebbe had no qualms when it came to pointing out failed decisions of past US leaders, and the weak approach that certain Jewish leaders were taking toward Jewish lives.
Furthermore, when it came to powerful and influential US leaders making unreasonable demands for peace from Israeli leaders, and dovish Israeli politicians who lacked the backbone to stop it, the Rebbe pointed out the foolishness of it all. He stated that there were those who said, “We must make concessions, for we need the chesed le’umim, the money and weapons which the United States gives us. It doesn’t pay to anger them; we have to give in to their demands.”
The Rebbe insisted that, “If Israel makes concessions, then, heaven forefend, there will be nothing left for which to utilize the money and weapons which they will receive. As we see already now, when the enemy is given concessions they immediately ask for more. In fact, they have already stated that before the agreement is actually signed they will ask for more! And so it will continue until they ask for Jerusalem’s Old City.”
The Rebbe added, “Only if they stand strong will there be money and weapons. As we have seen up until this point, those issues on which they stood firm did not hinder the transfer of money and weapons.”
The Rebbe’s outspoken speeches about Israel in which he cried out against the loss of life caused by land-forpeace agreements that led to incessant terrorist attacks, need to be heeded today, especially in Chabad circles.
Whereas most Chabad hassidim go out of their way to live a life that emulates the Rebbe’s teachings, the fiery critiques of US and Israeli policies that endangered the lives of Israel’s citizens are not as emphasized today.
Where is Chabad activism, unabashed proclamations of truth and justice, and fearless defense of Israel in the face of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement on campus? Chabad has hundreds of outposts on campuses across the United States and the world. Chabad is in a unique position to provide an immediate and effective challenge to the spread of BDS lies, most of which demand Israel’s withdrawal from Judea and Samaria which the Rebbe strenuously opposed as an act of capitulation that would irreversibly compromise Israel’s security.
Rabbi Yehudah Krinsky, the current chairman of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement stated recently, “As a matter of policy, Chabad is apolitical. The Iran deal is not a political issue. It is a threat to life, a matter of pikuach nefesh and when life is at stake, and in this case I am convinced that it is, we have no right be silent; we are morally, ethically and halachically obligated to do everything within our power to prevent danger to our people, even if that means taking a position that is politically or socially inexpedient.”
I commend Rabbi Krinsky for speaking out and can only say that what Israel is facing today from BDS hate groups, many of whom are driven by the ultimate goal of the economic and social destruction of Israel, is in no way less a matter of life and death.
The author, whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous rabbi in America,” is the founder of The World Values Network and is the international best-selling author of 30 books, including his most recent, The Israel Warrior’s Handbook.
Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.