Being a Chabad Rabbi has given me many opportunities to speak to varied audiences on the subject of chassidic life. One of the questions commonly asked by them all is, “What is the secret of the chassidim?”

People are intrigued by chassidim: the way they look and the way they live. Most of all, they are fascinated by the amazing energy and passion they see in the chassidic community.

Each year, thousands of people visit 770, World Headquarters of the Chabad-Lubavitch Chassidic movement, and Chabad centers around the globe. The reaction is often the same: they are awed and inspired by the incredible force and enthusiasm pulsating among the chassidim.

What exactly do they see? Although they observe driven men and women who never seem satisfied with their accomplishments, they see something deeper: faces that radiate a peace of mind and clarity of direction so rarely found in today’s society.

Yet chassidim are as human as everyone else, no stranger to the day-to-day tribulations and personal struggles of life. What helps them navigate successfully through their challenges, though, is their fiery love for Judaism, their burning desire to teach others, and their relentless determination to achieve their goals.

Especially wondrous are the young shluchim, chassidic couples who are eager to leave their comfortable home environment, family and friends, to bring Judaism to remote Jewish communities all over the world. Surprisingly, although they are young and just beginning their adult lives, they possess the insight of experienced, seasoned, communal leaders. Whether opening a Chabad house, a Jewish pre-school or yeshivah, they have the stamina and confidence it takes to be successful.

The same fervor, devotion and warmth can be observed in all other chassidic communities. Impassioned with a burning love for Jewish life and practice, the joy and vitality chassidim exude permeate every aspect of their Jewish life.

From where do all these chassidim get their unique strength? What is their secret?

The answer is, their Rebbe.

The Rebbe-Chassid Relationship

Moses, the quintessential Jewish leader, was the first leader of the Jewish people as a nation, taking us out of Egypt and leading us to Mount Sinai to receive the Torah. A clear channel for G‑d’s words, he conveyed all the words of Torah to the people and taught them its laws, established a sanctuary for G‑d in the desert (the Mishkan), and set up a system of advisors and judges to educate the people and enforce G‑d’s directives.

King David, King Solomon, Reb Yehudah haNassi and others were great spiritual leaders of the Jewish people as well. More than appointed leaders, they were also tzaddikim (purely righteous people) whose level of spirituality and G‑dly wisdom was unparalleled in their respective generations.

Thousands of years later, in 1734, this model of Jewish leadership was revived with the advent of the chassidic movement founded by the Baal Shem Tov. He taught Jews — from the simplest laborers to the greatest Torah scholars — about the soul of Judaism: love of G‑d, awe of G‑d, and awareness of G‑d. With the establishment of the Baal Shem Tov’s learning centerin Mezhibuzh and a core group of sixty of his greatest students, the basic structure of the chassidic movement coalesced and the Rebbe-chassid relationship was born.

Since great Jewish leaders and their followers existed throughout Jewish history, what was the innovation of the chassidic movement? Was anything new added to Jewish practice?

The Rebbe-chassid relationship added nothing and everything to Judaism. Adding nothing, it merely revived the practice of following a great spiritual leader, a head, of the Jewish people. Adding everything, it brought the deeper dimensions of this relationship into the equation.

So the Rebbe-chassid relationship consists of a leader, a Rebbe, and those who follow him, his chassidim. The Rebbe-chassid relationship is not solely academic, although the Rebbe teaches Torah to his chassidim and there is much study involved. Nor can it be characterized as a purely practical relationship, even though the Rebbe spends much time guiding the chassidim in how to live a Torah life. The Rebbe-chassid relationship is difficult to define because it is all-encompassing.

The chassidim and the Rebbe share a unique connection: the Rebbe has an intense love for every chassid and the chassid’s heart is filled with love and awe for his Rebbe. Although his level of spirituality is far above those he leads, the Rebbe is not detached from his chassidim, nor do his chassidim feel that the Rebbe is inaccessible or distant from them. On the contrary, their intrinsic, soul-level bond is characterized by the chassidic adage, that “a Rebbe is never alone, and the chassidim are never alone.”1

The extreme devotion and dedication that the chassidim have toward their Rebbe is legendary. But just as the relationship of chassid to Rebbe is one of deep closeness, it is even more so of the bond that the Rebbe has with his chassidim.

The Rebbe is sometimes described as a shepherd who cares tenderly for each individual sheep. Sometimes the Rebbe is compared to a father, who has unconditional love for his child. Sometimes he is compared to a king, who sees himself responsible for his nation, and sometimes to a teacher, who has a passion to share his knowledge with his beloved students. Indeed, there aren’t adequate words or enough analogies to fully describe this unique bond.

As in any close relationship, there is much more than a mere transfer of information conveyed between the two parties. Chassidim turn to their Rebbe for encouragement, blessings and guidance in all areas of life. In addition to spiritual issues, they consult the Rebbe about family matters, health issues, business, child rearing, communal issues, and matters of artistic expression. Chassidim study their Rebbe’s Torah teachings and follow his directives in how to live a fulfilling spiritual life. Indeed, a Rebbe’s area of expertise encompasses the entire spectrum of human experience.

On a more spiritual level, the Rebbe is a general or collective soul, who encompasses the soul of all those destined to become his chassidim. When chassidim say they get their energy from their Rebbe, they are not just speaking in hyperbole but are expressing a spiritual reality.

All of these topics and their sources in Torah are discussed in the pages of this book.

The Purpose of This Book

Unfortunately, there is much confusion about the concept of a Rebbe and the Rebbe-chassid relationship. Many people raise challenging questions about its validity as well as its necessity: Doesn’t it detract from our relationship with G‑d? Is it really Jewish? Isn’t it going a little overboard?

However, these questions are no different from the questions that have been raised about all aspects of Torah and mitzvos throughout the ages. The answer to all of them can be summed up in two words: knowledge and education.

The lack of knowledge or distorted information is what brings people to view Torah and mitzvos in a negative way. And poor or distorted knowledge can easily prevent one from fully appreciating the concept of a Rebbe and the Rebbe-chassid relationship.

The purpose of this book is to educate its readers about this subject, bringing sources from the Torah, Talmud, Halachah, and Kabbalah, and their commentaries to do so.

First and foremost, the information presented here will help the reader understand that a relationship with a Rebbe does not divert our focus from G‑d, but actually enhances and deepens our relationship with Him.

In addition, the book will give insight into the nature of a Rebbe. Not just a dynamic leader, brilliant Torah scholar, and person of impeccable character refinement, a Rebbe is a spiritual giant. Head and shoulders above even the most seasoned Torah scholar, his mind, heart and soul is rooted in a higher spiritual G‑dly realm. This realm, inaccessible to the ordinary person, is an absolute reality to the Rebbe.

By connecting to the Rebbe, a chassid is open to receive the flow of spiritual light radiating from him. This fills him with passion and knowledge of how to live his life and fulfill the personal mission for which G‑d has created him.

It is with this G‑dly light that the Rebbe empowers, inspires, and lifts the chassid to a higher plane. The function of the Rebbe is not to impose his ideas or feelings upon his chassidim, but to inspire and lead each individual through a personal path which enables them to nurture and develop the personal, spiritual wealth they possess within their own soul.

Of course, this subject is very deep and very broad. There is much more to explore than what is written on the limited pages of this book. Even after the book has been read and the sources in all the footnotes researched, there is infinitely more to be learned.

Nevertheless it is my hope that this book will help in a significant way to open a small window by shedding light on the nature and purpose of the Rebbe-chassid relationship. In so doing, the truth of this phenomenon in Jewish life will be unsheathed, allowing all to appreciate it and opening a door for all those who desire to enjoy this experience personally in the most fulfilling way.

Rabbi Shloma Majeski,Dean of Machon Chana,
Women’s Institute of Jewish Studies

Crown Heights, Brooklyn, NY
11 Nissan, 5768, the birthday of the Lubavitcher Rebbe