“Okay folks, it looks like we’re delayed here…”
Zev and I rolled our eyes as the captain detailed the rainy conditions on the ground. It was a last minute decision for us to go from Pittsburgh to Ft. Lauderdale; our son Mendy had just received smicha, rabbinic ordination, and all the parents were invited to celebrate at Chabad of Boca Raton. When Mendy first told us the date, he understood that we had Shavuos and a new baby in California on our calendar for months, and that we didn’t want to travel the day after we got home.
But our attendance became somehow mandatory when “almost all the other parents” were coming. Of course we want to be there, Zev and I reassured each other. It’s not every day your son becomes a rabbi. Our only concession to travel fatigue was that we wanted to take the non-stop flight later in the day. Before booking the tickets, Zev spoke to Rabbi Ruvy New, head of the smicha program, who assured us that eight o’clock would not be too late to arrive.
But storms happen, and all I could do was say a quiet prayer as our plane glided above the glacier-like clouds. (By the way, please wish me luck internalizing the spiritually corollary of what I saw: if you go high enough, the sun is shining.) Meanwhile, it was dark below.
“Look, we made the effort,” I sighed as Zev calculated the minutes ticking away. The pilot first said we’d be twenty minutes behind schedule, then forty. And if G-d didn’t make the rain go away (the pilot didn’t say that, I did), a lack of fuel could mean diverting the plane to Fort Myers. I envisioned a quiet dinner with my husband: homemade trail mix and the two pieces of cheese still in my purse from California.
I don’t want to presume that G-d let up on the rain just for us, but we arrived at Chabad of Boca Raton as the boys were receiving their final charge. As with most charges, the graduates were told to go out and make a difference in the world. The difference, of course, is that these boys have been taught the Torah’s basic guidelines of how G-d wants them to do this. I must emphasize that “basic” is the operative word here. The learning is just beginning and the subject matter is infinite. Being a rabbi is what you make of it, but I can only imagine G-d is especially proud of this year’s graduates, since they are pretty much guaranteed to have been born after Gimmel Tammuz, the Hebrew date in 1994 when the Lubavitcher Rebbe passed away.
It is not a new phenomenon that Chabad schools are full of children who have never seen the Rebbe. Today, almost twenty-two years since the Rebbe’s passing, there are challenges, yet the Chabad movement is thriving. Its followers remain committed to fulfilling the Rebbe’s vision for a true and lasting world peace that only the Messianic era will deliver.
It can only be a good thing for the Rebbe’s global goodness campaign that so many boys have been named after him. (Six out of eleven in Mendy’s class alone were named Menachem Mendel.) Although a name may seem to be only superficially connected to a person, it is, in fact, the outermost manifestation of that person’s deepest essence. This was a huge advantage for me as the mother of a Menachem Mendel. I was relentless about saying things like, your name is Menachem Mendel, why aren’t you getting up? Oh yes, and if Mendy still wasn’t able to access his inner holiness, I just had to say “Number Seven.” This reminded him that he was our seventh child, just as Rabbi Menachem Mendel was the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, and all “sevenths” are beloved.
Did all my mystical exhortations help? I can only tell you that yesterday Mendy became a rabbi.
It’s worth pondering how the idea of “seventh” can strengthen each of us, especially when we recognize that we are all part of this seventh generation, beloved to G-d for reasons only He knows. It can arouse a sense of optimism when we see Mendys and non-Mendys choosing to become rabbis even though they never saw the Rebbe, just as we continue to trust that light will finally prevail over darkness, today in our very own time.