The Lubavitcher Rebbe officially assumed leadership of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement in the year 5711 (1951), a year after the passing of his father-in-law, the Rebbe Rayatz, known among Chassidim as the Frierdiker (previous) Rebbe.
In non-Lubavitch circles, the Rebbe was often referred to as “Peleh Hadorot – The Wonder of the Generations.”
In every field that Jewish leaders excel in, the Rebbe stood on a plateau of his own. If we talk about the Rebbe’s geonus, scholarship, it is chronicled in 250 volumes – an unprecedented scholarly output. The Rebbe’s teachings cover every facet and subject matter in Torah: Tanach, Talmud, Halacha, Agada (homiletics), minhag (Jewish customs), Chassidus, Kaballah, Chakirah (Jewish philosophy), Jewish History, Hebrew grammar, and more.
People sought the Rebbe’s advice on every conceivable question, and the Rebbe’s responses are printed in his numerous volumes of letters, titled Igros Kodesh. Any topic that one can imagine is covered there.
This prolific scholarship is in itself worthy of the title Peleh Hadorot. But in reality, it’s much more than that.
What is the greatest quality of the Rebbe, or better yet, what is a Rebbe? The definition of a Rebbe is one who cares for every single Jew. He may be referred to as the Lubavitcher Rebbe, but he cared for all Jews. This is evident from the countless people who came to see him, and all the people he corresponded with. You see it now more than ever – people from all walks of life come to the Ohel (the resting place of the Rebbe and of the Previous Rebbe) because the Rebbe was always there for them and continues to be there for them and help them in everything they need.
The Rebbe took the Chabad movement, which was small in numbers after World War II, and transformed it into a worldwide movement. After the Holocaust, the Jewish community was left broken, licking their wounds, mourning their dead. The Rebbe set out to strengthen and rebuild. He sent shluchim, emissaries, all over the world to encourage the international Jewish community and to build bridges for all segments of the Jewish community.
The Jewish community in 1950 was by and large divided into two categories: There was the Jew who was observant and the Jew who was not observant. Lubavitcher chassidim always like to add one word to that statement: “The Jew who is not yet observant.” The Rebbe, seeking to remedy that situation and change the way the world looked, sent shluchim throughout America and to the furthest reaches of the globe.
Thus, the Rebbe and his network of shluchim began drawing in and inviting all Jews in what’s now known as kiruv. It’s important to note that the Rebbe never liked the term “kiruv rechokim,” which means bringing close those who are far. A Jew is never far, the Rebbe always said. Every Jew has a Jewish soul and he’s part of us. We are only talking about bringing Jews closer than they are already.
When the Rebbe began his campaign of bringing Jews closer, there were the critics who said, “What are you doing? You’re bringing them to our table – with their Nehru jackets and ponytails? They are going to ruin our children! How can you do that?”
But it didn’t take long before everything changed.
First, they criticized. Then, they imitated.
Kiruv, they realized, is something the Jewish community needs. (It was also good for them as well.) The Rebbe was happy with this as long as the work was getting done.
On the tenth of Shevat, the yahrzeit of the Previous Rebbe as well as the date the Rebbe officially took on the mantle of leadership, chassidim and others throughout the world held farbrengens, gave extra tzedaka, and studied the seminal Chassidic discourse known as Basi L’Gani.