Seeing life through the optimistic lenses of the Rebbe | Column – Tampa Bay Times

Posted By on April 11, 2022

Jewish people often wish each other on a birthday may you live till 120. One hundred and twenty is indeed a full circle of life. After the flood, God said that the life of a man would be 120 years. This week we mark the 120th birthday of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson of righteous memory.

The Rebbe was a revolutionary in the world. Not only did he turn Judaism outward, sending thousands of Chabad emissaries around the world to bring Judaism and Jewish observance to every Jew, but he introduced the world to concepts and ideas that psychologists and therapists are only awakening to today.

One of the core concepts that the Rebbe imbued in his followers and to those who sought his counsel, Jews and non-Jews alike, was the idea of not only maintaining a positive outlook but acting with positivity. This has been coined as a positivity bias. The bias was so ingrained in the Rebbe that the Rebbe did not even use the word bad unless absolutely necessary. Bad was often coined as not good. The positivity that the Rebbe exuded reached far beyond what could seem to be mere semantics.

The Rebbe demanded positivity in action. The Rebbes famous calling of adding in deeds of goodness and kindness to prepare the world for the messianic era echo to this day around the world. The Rebbe was profound in his view that the benefit of goodness and kindness is not only for the recipient but even more so for the giver.

In 1969, Shirley Chisholm was serving as the first Black woman ever elected to Congress. She hailed from the same neighborhood as the Rebbe, Crown Heights, Brooklyn, New York.

Chisholm fostered hopes and dreams of being appointed to the House Education and Labor Committee. It was where she felt that she would have the most influence and benefit to her constituents.

Powerful politicians sought to blunt Chisholms effect and instead placed her on the Agricultural Committee. The purpose of this was to render Chisholm meaningless to the many big metro inner city people that she served.

Chisholm was frustrated and even angered by this. Chisholm sought the counsel of a member of her neighborhood, the Rebbe.

The Rebbe urged Chisholm to view her situation with positivity. Chisholm related how the Rebbe instructed her to note how much surplus food goes to waste in America, while children in the inner cities and elsewhere starved. The Rebbe urged Chisholm to use her position on the Agricultural Committee to do something about this problem, which seemed to have an obvious solution.

Inspired by the positive outlook of the Rebbe, Chisholm went back to Washington where she met with a first time senator from Kansas named Bob Dole. Dole bemoaned the plight of midwestern farmers who had surplus produce that was going to waste and hurting the farmers bottom line.

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Sen. Dole and Rep. Chisholm led the way in ensuring that those most in need would have access to sustenance and avoid starvation playing a critical role in the creation of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).

When Chisholm retired from Congress in 1983, she credited the Rebbe: A rabbi who is an optimist taught me that what you may think is a challenge is a gift from God. And if poor babies have milk, and poor children have food, its because this rabbi in Crown Heights had vision.

As he counseled Chisholm, the Rebbe counseled every one through his teachings that a positive outlook is of paramount importance. The Rebbe stressed that a persons existence in this world is indicative of the fact that God is certain that the world cannot exist without them. And if God insists that the world cannot exist without you, then by the grace of God, the Rebbe encouraged all of us to make this world a better and more positive place.

Rabbi Levi Hodakov directs Chabad of Clearwater with his wife, Miriam.

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Seeing life through the optimistic lenses of the Rebbe | Column - Tampa Bay Times

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