Photo Credit: Jewish Press

This Sunday, the 11th of Nissan, marks the anniversary of the descent of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s holy soul into this world in 1902. It’s the date his soul began its unique divine mission to elevate the entire world. This mission is still pursued by his followers and by Jews inspired by his teachings and unprecedented accomplishments.

What makes a true Jewish leader? Obviously he must have great Torah scholarship. But far more than book knowledge is needed. Genuine Jewish leadership requires loving all Jews and utter devotion to advancing their welfare – both material and religious.

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Poskim possess wide Torah erudition and intellectual depth, but despite their honored place among Jews, they are not always considered our people’s leaders. Why? Because scholarship, by its very nature, demands a concentrated focus that tends to preclude interest and awareness of ordinary affairs of Jewish life.

A true Jewish leader, however, must be aware of and interested in the lives and problems of individuals and communities. And that’s what all seven Chabad leaders – from the Alter Rebbe to this Rebbe – did. All of them were brilliant Torah scholars, but they also all devoted themselves to benefiting every Jew – materially and religiously.

In previous generations, their scope was necessarily limited. The Alter Rebbe’s reach extended from White Russia into Lithuania, Ukraine, Bessarabia, Romania, and even the Holy Land. But due to rigid borders, his connection with Jews in Poland, Hungary, and Germany was not so strong. Even obtaining his path-setting Torah works was difficult there.

The 20th century’s communications revolution, however, shrank the world, and the Rebbe Rayatz (1880-1950) took advantage of this change. Perhaps the greatest letter writer in Jewish history, he wrote over 100,000 letters in his own handwriting! Some of these reached as far as North and South America, Australia, Africa, and beyond.

His son-in-law – whose birthday we celebrate on Sunday – followed in this tradition. He corresponded with communal leaders around the world, Israeli politicians, thinkers, writers, artists, scientists, and the widest range of ordinary Jews at every level of observance and every walk of life.

Over 30 volumes of his Hebrew and Yiddish letters have been published, and many more are in preparation. The advise these letters contain continue to help people today.

The Rebbe acted as a true Jewish leader – one whose entire being is invested in elevating as many Jews as possible. And since all Jews have benefited, directly or indirectly, from his life’s work, the date of his birth should be cause for celebration among the entire Jewish people.

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Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman is director of the Lubavitch Youth Organization. He can be reached at Lubavitchyouth@gmail.com.