Do the Hard Work Yourself!
Rabbi Y. Oliver
By delivering his first ma’amar [Chassidic discourse], the Rebbe became a Rebbe. Then he declared the importance of the Chabad approach that every chossid should strive constantly for inner change, and not rely on the Rebbe:
Now, listen up, Jews! In general, the Chabad movement demanded that every individual must invest his own effort, and not rely upon the Rebbeim. This is the difference between the philosophy of the Polish school of Chassidus, and that of Chabad. The latter teaches that the verse, “The Tzaddik will live by his faith” [Chavakuk 2:4] should be rendered, “The Tzaddik will give life [i.e., inspire one to serve Hashem] by his faith.” However, we, who belong to the group of Chabad, need to work together on our own, with the 248 limbs and 365 sinews of our body and of our soul.How significant that this was the very first public statement that the Rebbe chose to make after he assumed the role of successor of the Previous Rebbe!
The Talmud states that “Everything is in the hands of Heaven but the fear of Heaven” [Berachos 33b]. I am not, G–d forbid, refusing to help, and to help according to my ability. However, since everything is in the hands of Heaven but the fear of Heaven, if you will not exert effort on your own, it will not help that we release manuscripts of Chassidus, sing songs, and toast L’Chaim.
The [Previous] Rebbe would sometimes say, “Don’t fool yourselves.” Your task is to take the “foolishness of the other side” and the boiling intensity of the Bestial Soul, and transform it to holiness—and this you must do yourself.
To sum up in my own words: In Chabad, the Rebbe’s role is to assist, guide, and inspire the chossid to reach a true understanding of Hashem’s greatness and unity, and a true love and fear of Him—but not to do the work himself. Rather, a Chabad chossid is a Jew deeply committed to engaging in the tough, rigorous effort required to attain this self-transformation: in-depth study of Chassidus, hisbonenus on the Chassidus that one has learned, inspired Tefillah, personal application of the lofty concepts of Chassidus in order to correct his flaws and maximize his good qualities, and good deeds.
This is indeed the work of a lifetime. Without this, all the Rebbe’s teachings, blessings, and advice are pointless, for the person is not acting on them.