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Rabbi Steinsaltz on the Rebbe: He Wanted to Change Human Nature


Among the many events marking the 10th yahrzeit of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, was a lecture by Rabbi Adin (Even- Israel) Steinsaltz at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, last week.

Addressing an audience of about 900, Steinsaltz ruminated on the Rebbe’s unrelenting demands of himself, and then of others, to push themselves to points of near impossibility. “He demanded more, asked more . . . The Rebbe wanted to do something that was more far-reaching than any revolution . . . he wanted to change human nature . . . to change the whole world.”

Steinsaltz, a noted author, scholar and the editor of the English language Random House Steinsaltz Talmud, began his talk with the Talmudic question—a variation of Hamlet’s, “to be or not to be.” The discussion pitted the schools of Hillel and Shammai against each other, with Shammai characteristically unforgiving of human limitations, and the former in resigned embrace of reality.

The Rebbe, said Steinsaltz, was more sanguine, and proposed a more promising alternative. “He said, let us make a new kind of existence that would result in a positive response to this question. He said, let us change human nature.”

Drawing an analogy with physics, Steinsaltz talked about the transformation that occurs in matter when a certain amount of pressure is applied. “Something happens, the molecules collapse and the very nature of the object changes . . .” This, said Steinsaltz was of a whole with the Rebbe’s lifelong drive to bring Moshiach. “Because it is said that Moshiach comes when we pass into the world of impossibilities, when we do not only what we can do, but also what we cannot do; when even though there are only 24 hours in the day, we somehow work more than that.”

Implicit in this, suggested Steinsaltz, was the Rebbe’s faith in the human being. “In all of this is embedded huge amounts of belief that this is somehow possible . . . it is a belief that all these things somehow can be done, achieved. Not just blood, sweat and tears . . . but becoming transformed into an entirely different existence. It is removing all limitations.”

Steinsaltz concluded his lecture with a call to the audience: “I think it was a part of the Rebbe’s message: ‘Run! And if you cannot run, walk! And if you cannot walk—crawl! But always advance, advance, advance!’”

“Each of us, wherever we stand, wherever we are, take at least one step forward.”


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