On Sunday, Yud Alef Nissan, we will celebrate 121 years since the birth of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
As we know, the Rebbe was an all-around scholar. The Rebbe’s teachings spread over 250 volumes, covering every area of the Torah – Talmud Bavli and Yerushalmi, Rishonim, Achronim, halacha, Agadah (homiletics), Chassidus, Kabbalah, chakira (philosophy), dikduk (Hebrew grammar), history and more.
Included are also 33 volumes of Igros Kodesh. This is a treasury of more than 9,000 letters in which we find the Rebbe’s scholarship, wisdom, and understanding in personal responses to communications from people from all walks of life. The profound lessons of his advice transcend the spheres of the individual recipients. Intense and inspiring, these letters also provide a fascinating glimpse of the Rebbe-chasid relationship.
The letters written by the Rebbe are a unique source of inspiration and guidance to Jews in every corner of the globe.
The Rebbe’s prolific correspondence spans every aspect of community and family life including relationships between husband and wife as well as parents and children; community activism; education; keeping kosher; medicine; science; communal leadership, and nearly all matters of life are covered in this series.
The Rebbe’s teachings and writings throughout these 250 volumes are a truly unprecedented phenomenon.
Nevertheless, this does not constitute the greatness of the Rebbe.
The Rebbe cared for each and every person of the generation, regardless of their background or upbringing. The Rebbe didn’t label any Jew. To the Rebbe, a Jew is a Jew; there is nothing more and nothing less.
I remember when Gabriel Cohen, then the editor of The Jewish Post & Opinion, went to see the Rebbe. “Why was there no column on the weekly parsha?” wondered the Rebbe. Gabe was surprised because his newspaper catered to Jews who were not openly interested in such a column. But the Rebbe explained, “There may be a reader whose only connection to Judaism is your newspaper.” The Rebbe wanted that when a person reads about all the politics and news stories, he will also read something from our holy Torah.
The Rebbe’s vision of the world is breathtaking, and proved to be most prophetic. The Rebbe’s leadership started in an official capacity in 1951. It was only six years after the Holocaust, and the Jewish world was left broken. At that time, the Jewish community at large consisted of two segments – the Jew who was Torah observant and the Jew who was not (yet) observant. The gap between these two categories was very, very considerable. On everyone’s mind was one thing: “survival.” Most Jews were preoccupied with what they could do for themselves and their families in order to “survive.”
There was one person who was not focused on himself and his own close-knit community. He was thinking about the entire world. How do we bridge the gap between the two Jewish communities, the one that is already observant and the one not yet there?
The Rebbe began in a very subtle manner. He started by sending shluchim, representatives or “emissaries,” to all parts of the world, especially to places where it was needed most, including to Morocco and far-away Australia, where many Jews settled after the Holocaust. Little by little, the Rebbe started conclaves of tradition and outreach.
Nobody ever heard of “outreach” until then. Most were concerned with “in-reach” – what can I do for myself and my family. The Rebbe was thinking of the Jew who won’t come to you, for whatever reason, it so it is, therefore, your obligation to go to reach out to him. Ask him if he put on tefillin! Offer your Shabbos candles to your neighbor to light!
Reach out and build bridges – little by little, one person at a time. This is not something you can do as mass production. You reach one Jew, and another, and another, on a very personal basis.
Today, there are Chabad centers all over the world. There’s hardly a city that doesn’t have Chabad shluchim working in many capacities. In the United States, Lubavitch institutions count for 30 percent of all shuls. The common denominator among all of them is their selfless dedication to “outreach” that includes reaching out to any and every Jew.
The Rebbe gave a clear message to this generation. When a correspondent asked the Rebbe in 1991 what his message to the world was, the Rebbe responded that Moshiach is coming, and we could bring him closer by doing more deeds of goodness and kindness.
Chassidim noted the Rebbe’s words “goodness and kindness.” The Rebbe could have mentioned “Torah and mitzvos,” but he didn’t. The Rebbe was talking to the world with a universal message that transcends race and religion, something everyone can do. Shabbos and kashrus would be a message for Jews. Goodness and kindness apply to all the people in the world. And that is what the Rebbe chose to speak about.
The Rambam writes that the Jew has an obligation “l’chol bo’ei olam,” to all the members of society. Previously, Jewish leaders throughout the generations did not occupy themselves with this due to various reasons related to oppression, safety and security. The Rebbe in our generation implemented the words of the Rambam to reach out to everyone, not only to Jews but to non-Jews as well. The Rebbe campaigned to spread awareness of Sheva Mitzvos Bnei Noach – the Seven Noahide Laws – and to institute a moment of silence in public schools, and other initiatives.
The Rebbe reached everyone, regardless of race and religion, for one purpose: to make this world a better place and to prepare this world for the coming of Moshiach. Speedily, friends, in our days.