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Some 30 years ago, when Judy and I were living in Montreal, we had the ‘zchut’-merit to host Reb Shlomo zt’l about four or five times a year. Judy used to organize these visits. On some occasions, he would do a concert in a shul, or play for students on campus, and once he also came to the high school I was teaching at. And sometimes he would come just for an evening of learning at our home.
Believe it or not, Judy would spend about a month calling people to personally invite them to his gatherings. Reb Shlomo was not a young man at the time, and travelling was not so easy for him. But he would always make the effort to come at least four or five times a year.
Judy would try very hard to get him bookings that would help cover his expenses and provide him with a little parnassah (income). Once Reb Shlomo even played in a kosher restaurant at dinner time. I was there with him and remember the mixed feelings I had seeing people eating as Reb Shlomo poured his heart out to them in songs and stories. I was astounded that some of the guests were simply treating Reb Shlomo as nice background music. But I was even more astonished by Reb Shlomo’s devotion to Am Yisrael, every single yid, wherever they may be – to be willing to share his highest songs as mere background music.
On another occasion, he arrived in Montreal at 8 PM one night. We rushed back from the airport, quickly checked into the hotel, and got to our home at around 8:45 – hardly late. I couldn’t believe it. Though Judy had spent a month on the phone inviting people, all together, including Reb Shlomo, Judy and I, there were only ten people there. Reb Shlomo had schlepped all the way from New York, paid for his own ticket and hotel, and we barely came up with a quarter or a third of his expenses. It was embarrassing.
But Reb Shlomo sang and taught the nine of us with just as much love and energy as he would’ve given to a packed shul. What was most, most amazing was that Reb Shlomo never uttered the slightest complaint. We were obviously full of apologies, but he kept saying that there was no need to apologize and it was a gevalt! The next time that Judy invited him back to Montreal, he was as ready and willing as ever to make the journey.
Those of us who had the privilege to know Reb Shlomo, zt’l, were aware that they were in the presence of a royal, treasured, brilliant and loving Rebbe who made them feel as if they were in the presence of Hashem. We owed him so much more honor than what we gave him. But he never complained. HE would go to the end of the world to do one yid a favor, with love and joy. He wanted to meet every single Yid; he wanted to meet and share Hashem’s love with everyone in the world.
Once he came to us for Shabbos. Friday afternoon, he told me that he had received a message that a certain lonely and single man, had passed away in NY. Reb Sholom was thinking to fly to New York early Sunday morning to do the funeral and come back to Montreal Sunday afternoon, to be back for his scheduled concert at the restaurant Sunday night. He asked me what I thought of his plan.
I was concerned about Reb Shlomo’s health and was afraid he’d be overworking himself. After all, Reb Shlomo was already doing a Shabbaton at our home and was scheduled to give a concert on Motzei Shabbos. I asked Reb Shlomo if the person who was niftar had been particularly close to him. Reb Shlomo admitted that they had not been very close; they would meet in the street from time to time and exchange a few words. I then asked if someone else could do the funeral in place of Reb Shlomo, and Reb Shlomo admitted that surely someone else could do the funeral. But he wanted to honor this Yid who really didn’t have any loved ones, and had lived a really lonely life. Still, as I felt that it was important to make sure Reb Sholom got some much-needed rest during his trip, I encouraged Reb Shlomo to find someone else to do the funeral. And it seemed like Reb Shlomo was agreeing.
After Shabbos, I took Reb Shlomo to his hotel, to refresh after the Shabbaton. Not long after, he performed at a concert. Late at night, I took him back to the hotel, and we arranged that I would come back at 10 AM the next morning.
To my surprise, when I got to the lobby the next morning, there was a note from Reb Shlomo telling me he’d gone to New York and that I should pick him up at the airport at 3 PM. After not getting to sleep before 2 AM, he had already left for the airport before 10 AM. Just to do a simple, lonely Jew one last favor, one last honor. And all at Reb Shlomo’s personal expense. How awesome!
So the big question is, was Reb Shlomo a zealot? Was the Lubavitcher Rebbe a zealot? What inspired them to keep going stronger and stronger, without taking vacations, year after year?
Once the Rebbe became Rebbe he didn’t take a single day off for over forty years until he was physically unable to continue! What drove him to care about every single Jew and human being, and to do any favor for them, no matter how much cost and effort it took? What inspired Reb Shlomo to travel to far-flung communities, both small and large? What inspired him to travel to the end of the world to do someone a favor?
There are three levels to the mitzvah of loving your fellow. There is one level of love someone performs acts of loving kindness when presented with the opportunity and/or inspired by others. For example, a person is approached for charity and they give. Then there is the higher level where a person seeks to give charity every day. Finally, there is a level whereby a person can’t rest knowing that there is even a single person going to sleep on a hungry stomach. This is the level of love that in Herbew is called קנאה - (jealous love). You love so much that you cannot tolerate any suffering, any disharmony, any disunity.
The Rebbe and Reb Shlomo loved every Jew and all people so much that they could not rest knowing that there was one community – or even just one Jew who felt alone – who didn’t feel connected –who didn’t know that we have a G-d, the Ribono Shel Olam, that loves us and gave us His most precious gift, the holy Torah.
That is “jealous love”. The Rebbe and Reb Shlomo were true zealots!