The more research I see the more I am convinced that the Lubavitcher Rebbe probably thought that he was Moshiach. I do not say this lightly. But as an article in the Forward shows - it is difficult not to come to this conclusion. In a review of a book on the Lubavitcher Rebbe by Samuel Heilman and Menachem Friedman - Professor Alan Nadler says the same thing. There is ‘no question about the Rebbe’s complete conviction that he was the Messiah’.
Here is the excerpt from the article which quotes from the book and nudges me yet another step in that direction:
Heilman and Friedman extensively document the messianic obsession that became the leitmotif of his teachings, beginning in the early 1980s and culminating in the Rebbe’s announcement at the beginning of the Hebrew year 5752 that this would be the year of the Messiah’s revelation:
This would be the year, the Rebbe promised, that “the world would become united under the flag of the Messiah, and all would be repaired.” His Hasidim had prepared just such a flag on which a black crown on a yellow background hovered over the Hebrew word ‘Moshiach.’
The Rebbe had often told his followers, “There can be no King without a nation that will crown him.” His “nation,” the Hasidim therefore now crowned him in what would become a series of such events. On Saturday night, January 4th 1992, a panel of Lubavitcher Rabbis at 770 [Eastern Parkway, Chabad-Lubavitch World Headquarters] thrashed out the matter of the Messiah’s arrival and concluded with public cries of “Long Live the King Moshiach.” They beamed their meeting by satellite around the world.
This explains a contention that I and many others have had since the Rebbe’s passing. The majority of Lubavitchers believe in some way that the Lubavitcher Rebbe will be resurrected and become Moshiach. Those beliefs span the spectrum of belief from that of believing that he is god incarnate to believing that it is un-likely that he will be resurrected to become Moshiach.
Here is my impression of the breakdown. Lubavitchers can be divided into six groups.
1) Those who believe that the Rebbe was the perfect human being and therefore ‘god clothed in a body’. He will be resurrected in a second coming as the Messiah. This group is negligible but it does exist as the above poster shows.
2) The Rebbe is not God. He is human - but he never died. He is still alive much like Elijah who also never died. They are both laying in wait to be revealed at the right moment – which will occur very soon. These I believe are a small minority but whose numbers are not that negligible.
The next two groups probably comprise what I believe to be the vast majority of Lubavitch. They believe that Rebbe died but will be resurrected to become the Moshiach.
3) One group screams it at the ‘top of their lungs’ with signs and flags, Yarmulkees and posters all proclaiming Yechi… long live the Rebbe king Messiah forever – or similar slogans. They put ads in Jewish publications to that effect and have shuls they call “Beis Moshiach (The House of the Messiah) located both here and in Israel. They feel the Rebbe believed it and preached it and it should therefore be an advertised truth.
4) The other group –which I believe is by far the vastly larger of the two - are those who down-play or hide their beliefs but privately believe that he will in fact return as Moshiach. This group is actually upset with the first group and ironically refers to them pejoratively as Meshichists! They realize that proclaiming these beliefs out loud harms their image and hurts their outreach efforts. They hold that these belief should be kept quiet and in one’s heart.
5) The fifth group believes that it is unlikely that the Rebbe will be resurrected to become Moshiach but that it is certainly possible. They consider this a legitimate and even mainstream Jewish belief. They leave it open to possibility and cite ‘proofs’ of its legitimacy as a Jewish belief from religious literature going all the way back to the Talmud. But they concede it is unlikely.
6) This group believes that the Rebbe died and that Moshiach will be someone else – who will arise from among the living. This is the mainstream Orthodox view. I know a few Lubavitchers like that. I honor their courage in going against the grain on this. They value Emes above loyalty. At least that’s the way I see them. Unfortunately I believe it is very small segment of Lubavitchers who hold these views.
This is the breakdown as I see it. I do not know the percentages of each but I believe the proportions are somewhere along the lines I have drawn.
Most Lubavitchers are sincere Jews who are among the most religious Jews in Orthodoxy. As a group they are perhaps the more dedicated to outreach than any other Orthodox group. Their sincerity and devotion to their Charismatic Rebbe both in life and after his death - is what I believe is the cause of the problem. How can they not believe their leader will be Moshaich when he gave every indication that he indeed will be?
There are those who claim that the Rebbe never said he was Moshiach and discouraged his Chasidim from saying it. There are published statements that the Rebbe did indeed deny it and discouraged people from saying it. But there is also ample video evidence that he stood by and listened to his Chasidim chant the proclamation ‘ Yechi’ and not only did he abstain from objecting - he seemed to actually be encouraging it. Perhaps his public denials reflect only the fact he believed that since God did not yet appoint him his Chasidim should not yet be proclaiming it. I don’t know.
In any case the excerpt from the book seems to corroborate the view that he believed himself to be Moshiach. It may not be conclusive proof. But it is at least strong evidence of it.
Did the Rebbe believe he was Moshiach? I don’t think we can ever really know that for sure. But if it’s true – it explains a lot!