Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Loss becomes gain

What happens when a religious leader's spiritual guru is no longer available?

That can be a difficult road, said Rabbi Yeruchem Eilfort, director of Chabad at La Costa, who was crushed when his mentor, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, died.

Schneerson, often referred to as "the Rebbe" (a highly venerated leader in the Hasidic community), is largely heralded as leading the modern Chabad-Lubavitch movement of Hasidic Judiasm to found Chabad centers and unite Orthodox Jews nationwide.

Eilfort, 43, knew him personally: It was the Rebbe who sent Eilfort to the West Coast to open a Chabad center.

"When the Rebbe passed away, that was a very difficult day, a challenging day for all of us in the chabad movement," Eilfort said of the religious leader's death in June 1994. "The Rebbe and his wife did not have any biological children, but when they passed away they left so many orphans."

Eilfort said it was hard to fathom a world without the Rebbe.

"I was saddened that I would not be able to, in a physical sense, go to him when I had a question," he said. "I wouldn't be able to go and sit at one of his Hasidic gatherings and feel the inspiration when I went, and the way he would be able to take a Torah passage and make it vibrantly relevant in today's age. A little of the shine came off the world for me."

And a burden arose.

"I would have to be the rebbe for my children," Eilfort said.

Yet since Schneerson's passing, there has been amazing growth in the Chabad movement, Eilfort said.

"When the rebbe passed away, maybe there were 1,500 Chabad centers," he said. "Everyone was saying 'Chabad was not going to grow because the rebbe's not there.'"

What his followers learned was that the rebbe's directive and approach were very much alive, he said.

"Today there are 3,500 Chabad centers around the world," he said, adding that faith in God has underscored that expansion.

"When things happen that I don't understand, it doesn't challenge my faith: It challenges my way of thinking," Eilfort said.

"I feel my relationship with God is beyond a faith relationship. It's a relationship of knowledge. Just like you know the sun is going to rise tomorrow, I feel ---- I know ---- God in my life."

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