Can you point back to a singular experience or specific teaching that was a major game-changer for you?
Some people can. For most, its more about the overall cumulative effect, a spectrum of ideas or experiences over the course of years, rather than something specific they can isolate as the prime catalyst. That’s how the Rebbe’s teachings are for me.
But it is different for my father, Rabbi Yisroel/Israel Rubin, who looks back at a specific Rebbe farbrengen that he was at as a young teen, Yud-Shevat of 5725/1965, as the most significant paradigm shift in his studies and perspective. It was a game-changer for him.
That Yud-Shevat, the Rebbe completed tractate Makkos, with a long in-depth analysis of the two stories there with a difference of perspective between Rabbi Akiva and the Rabbis. The Rebbe attributes Rabbi Akiva’s unique perspective to his own personal journey, his own life transformation, something his colleagues did not experience and didn’t fully appreciate. (See the original of the Rebbe’s talk here in Hebrew)
My father never saw Torah in this lens. The Rebbe was seeing and explaining Torah from the lens of human experience, Torah as intertwined with life, personalizing it. It jumpstarted my father’s avid interest in this area and style of Torah learning and teaching, which he continued to develop from his yeshiva years throughout his decades as a communal rabbi, school dean, and author.
Indeed, my father traces back his creative “The Torah Times” newspaper, his scholarly book examining the background of the Haggadah story of the Five Sages at the all-night Passover Seder, his avid interest in and in-depth commentary on Pirkei Avot – it all goes back to this single farbrengen, where the Rebbe (after 20 questions exploring the Talmud stories) connects Rabbi Akiva’s unique perspective and details and nuances in the Talmudic retelling, to Rabbi Akiva’s personal life-story, his background and religious journey.
In fact, I remember my father telling me about this in my younger years, and I asked him if he was referring to the edited talks of the Rebbe published in Lekutei Sichos on this topic, which I was familiar with. But my father kept insisting that the edited version didn’t capture the full beauty of how he originally heard it from the Rebbe.
The year we got married (Raizy and I) “Lahak” (an organization dedicated to publishing the Rebbe’s original/raw farbrengens) finally published this talk, My wife & I studied it over a series of weekends driving up to be with her parents our first married summer. In a more recent summer. I studied it with a @ualbany student who had the time, aptitude & interest. >. Part of it we learned on a big rock alongside a creek in Thompson’s Park. More recently. a students was here for the summer, and had the time, aptitude and interest, and we went through it together as well.
So while I have personally learned so much (and continue to learn and grow) from the vast spectrum of the Rebbe’s many teachings – I find it incredibly special that my father can point to that one singular farbrengen that changed the way he learned Torah for good.
Someone who has so deeply internalized and lives with a single teaching of a Rebbe, and continues and expands it throughout his/her own life – reminds me of Previous Rebbe’s description in this this “Lift Your Eyes Heavenward” story about Pesach the freight-wagon driver. (See link for the story).
May my father (R’ Yisrael Eliezer ben Yocheved Miriam) have a complete recovery, to strengthen and continue his studies, innovation and teaching, in this unique path that he learned from the Rebbe, starting (and continuing) from that Yud Shevat farbrengen in 5725/1965,