In honor of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's (of righteous memory) 24th Yahrtzeit (anniversary of his passing) this coming Saturday the 16th.
Excerpts from an address given by Nobel-laureate Elie Wiesel on April 7, 1992, at a congressional dinner held in Washington on the occasion of the Rebbe's 90th birthday.
Some of you are aware of my admiration, not only for the Rebbe, but also for his education and work. The fact that he knew whom to send where, to G‑d forsaken places, simply to bring a word of faith and the word of the Law to youngsters who otherwise would have been lost, is to me probably one of the elements that give hope to a generation.
As a hasid I can tell you a hasidic story tonight. It's about a very great hasidic master called Reb Naftoli of Ropshitz. He was a great speaker, endowed with a superb sense of humor. One Shabbat HaGadol, he came home from the synagogue. Customarily, the rabbi of the town must deliver a speech on that Sabbath about charity, about the need to help poor people who don't have enough money to celebrate the Seder.
When he came home, his wife asked him, "Nu, how was it?" He said it was okay. "Well did you accomplish anything?" He said, "Only half." She said, "What do you mean?" He said, "I managed to convince the poor to receive."
The Rebbe manages to convince the rich to give and the teachers to teach, and the students to study. The Rebbe manages to do things that normal human beings wouldn't even dare to dream of undertaking....
How does one measure greatness? I mean, what criteria does one use in evaluating human greatness? In the case of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the answer is easily obtained. I know of no one who has left the Rebbe, even after a moment of yehidut (one-on-one meeting), without being deeply affected, if not changed, by their encounter.
I hope I will always remember what I felt when I was first introduced into his study, some thirty years ago, and what we said to one another. Time in his presence begins running at a different pace. You feel inspired, you feel self-examined, you are made to wonder about the quest for meaning which ought to be yours. In his presence nothing is superficial, nor is it artificial. In his presence you come closer in touch with your inner center of gravity.
But what is great about the Rebbe is that not only those who have met him are affected, but even those who haven't. Somehow the presence of the man in our midst sends out an emanation of mystical quality that touches people who have never heard of him, and this, probably more than anything else, is what makes the Rebbe so unique.
It is due to his influence, to his presence, that Jewish awareness and Jewish education have reached unprecedented heights on almost every continent. Is there a place under the sun where the Chabad emissaries have not carried his word of tolerance rooted in Ahavas Yisroel, in the love for Israel, which really, by extension, means love for humanity? Wherever Jews dwell and work, they somehow become exposed to the Rebbe.
Thanks to him, a Jew, anywhere and everywhere, cannot but feel that he or she belongs to an ancient people whose tradition emphasizes the greatness of its task more than the prerogatives of its condition. Thanks to the Rebbe, a Jew becomes a better Jew, thus a better human being, thus making his fellow human beings more human, more hospitable, open to a greater sense of generosity. So this is where the Rebbe's greatness also lies.
Now some of us were lucky and we heard his lessons; we joined him in study, in song. We have seen him with his disciples, we have witnessed his accomplishments. Therefore, I feel, with a deep sense of devotion, affection and admiration, that we should lift our glasses to say 'L'Chaim' to this generation's Admor (master, teacher and rabbi), whose life and work have been a blessing to so many of us, indeed to all of Israel and the world.
So, to the Rebbe in Brooklyn, what could we say except, we are your disciples, we are your followers because like you, and with you, we believe in study, we believe in prayer. We believe in prayer as a link between one human being and the other. We believe in study as a link between one generation and the other. And we believe in an added measure of solidarity that must always be present in whatever we do for ourselves, for our people, and for each other...