The Rebbe

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For over 50 years RABBI MENACHEM MENDEL SCHNEERSOHN, affectionately known by Jews throughout the world simply as “the Rebbe” (literally my teacher my spiritual inspiration), successfully inspired our generation to be excited for and work together towards the long awaited arrival of Moshiach. We present you below a glimpse into the Rebbes life and his teachings. Discover a life of empathy leadership and a touch of the miraculous.

The Chassidic Approach

To begin telling the story of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, we must go back to the origins of contemporary Chassidism and the life of its founder, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (also known by the acronym “Besht,” 1698-1760).

The Besht was an extraordinary tzaddik who pos­sessed miraculous powers. Tales about him and his teach­ings spread through Eastern Europe during the fifth and sixth decades of the eighteenth century. Hundreds, and later thousands of people in cities, towns, and remote villages be­came his enthusiastic followers. Many of the rabbinical au­thorities were suspicious of the new movement, and fol­lowed its progress with considerable alarm. They were puz­zled and frightened by the movement’s unorthodox ap­proach to a number of traditional Jewish issues. In addition, the Besht challenged the arrogant attitude of some rabbis and Torah experts, who tended to treat the simple, unin­formed Jewish masses with disdain and ridicule.

At that time the Jews, dispersed throughout the vast­ness of Eastern Europe, were mired in bottomless despair and confusion. The tragic repercussions of the dismal epi­sode of Shabbtai Tzvi, the false messiah, coupled with the horrible massacres of Khmielnitsky’s Cossacks, resulting in nearly half a million Jewish victims, were still fresh in peo­ple’s memories. A vast number of Jewish families lived in unspeakable poverty; burdened by constant hunger, people began to neglect the most basic age-old traditions such as the duty to teach their children the Torah. Many felt that they had lost their guiding light and the timeless Jewish sense of a sacred duty in this world. For them, the Besht came as a wellspring of vital energy, which would relieve the unbearable pain of their souls. He taught that the Al­mighty is best served through joy and cheer, helping people regain their lost faith, encouraging them to put their uncon­ditional trust in the Creator. He exalted the pure and unso­phisticated faith of the simple Jew, rekindling a sense of self-respect. According to the Baal Shem Tov, the Lord does not draw a distinction between a simple, uneducated Jew who believes and observes the commandments whole­heartedly, and the greatest of sages versed in the intricacies of the Torah. According to the Baal Shem Tov, in the eyes of G*d, pure intentions, simple faith and a kind heart are fully as important as learning.

These ideas disturbed and frightened the rabbis who were concerned about losing their status. However, the new movement continued to grow and expand, drawing Jews in ever-increasing numbers. Most of them were simple, penni­less folk who found in the new teaching their own way of serving G*d, but an impressive number of prominent schol­ars and great Torah experts joined the Besht as well.

The rapid spread of Chassidism among countless thousands of Jews from every walk of life was due to a large extent to the unique personality of the Besht himself. He had an exemplary way of serving the Almighty with heart­felt joy and selfless love for his Jewish brethren. Even in his teens, when the Besht was a teacher’s assistant at a chil­dren’s Talmud Torah, he impressed everyone not only with his piety and modesty, but also with the strength of his love for each and every Jew.

The Chassidic teaching expounded by the Besht at­tached supreme value to every word of prayer, but more than that, to the thoughts and feelings fuelled by these words. The singing and dancing associated with Chassidic gatherings serve not only as a means of bonding and unify­ing, but are also used as a special way of serving G*d. Sing­ing and dancing as a means of achieving communion with the Almighty was not invented by the Chassidim. Rabbi Yitzchak (Isaac) Luria (known as The Holy Ari, 1534-1572) lived in Tzfat in the Land of Israel two hundred years before the Besht, and entered the annals of Jewish history as one of the greatest scholars and teachers of Kabbalah (the “hid­den,” mystical aspect of Torah). He was known to pray with his followers in nature, where prayer was combined with dancing and singing. However, it was the Besht who ele­vated dancing and singing to the level of worship and higher spirituality. Moreover, Chassidim believe that a Chassidic melody, more than any other mode of worship, is capable of raising us above our dismal worldly reality, allowing us to reach the highest spiritual realms.

Chassidic composers (many of whom were rabbis themselves) not only wrote new music but also adapted songs, military marches, and shepherd’s tunes of the people in whose midst they lived. Chassidism views singing not as a mere source of esthetic pleasure or entertainment, but rather as a means of attaining a higher spiritual state, a re­fined mode of feeling that helps reveal the presence of the invisible Creator.

The intense emotions inspired by Chassidism are de­picted in the following tale. An illiterate shepherd boy somehow found himself at the Besht’s synagogue on the holy day of Yom Kippur. Suddenly, his soul overflowed with sublime exaltation. He felt an intense desire to com­mune with the Almighty, but he did not know how to pray! After his lonely years in the pastures, he was more accus­tomed to the voice of animals and birds than to human speech. Overcome by spiritual turmoil, he ran to the Holy Ark containing the Torah scrolls, and burst out in a long, heart-rending “cock-a-doodle-do.” The indignant worship­pers rushed at the boy, but the Besht embraced and kissed him, saying that his simple-heartedness had opened the hitherto impregnable heavenly gates, and his peculiar prayer had overtaken those of the other congregants and reached the Almighty.

The text of Chassidic prayers deviated slightly from mainstream traditions. The differences stemmed mainly from the teachings of the Holy Ari. Slight changes were also introduced in some of the customs. However, all of these changes concerned nuances only, and definitely did not im­pinge on the letter and spirit of the Torah – both Written and Oral – or the commandments. The Besht would tell his fol­lowers that a single verse from the psalms of David, if it is read with zeal and sincere devotion, is capable of changing the course of the entire universe.

During his wanderings, the Baal Shem Tov would greet every Jew he met with, “How are you?” or “How is everything?” Hearing the reply, “Fine, thank G*d!” made him rejoice in the knowledge that he had enabled another Jew to praise the Almighty. “Our Heavenly Father hates sadness and rejoices when His children are happy,” the Besht would say.

Stories about the wondrous deeds and miracles per­formed by the Besht passed by word of mouth, telling about his fatherly concern for all Jews. An increasing number of Jews became convinced that the Besht was the greatest tzaddik, whose prayers and pleas were received by the Al­mighty with particular favor. Before long, these stories ap­peared in print, spreading rapidly through towns and vil­lages. They told about the Besht’s ability to heal body and soul, about his amazing advice. Those who followed his counsel achieved prosperity, avoided dangers, and found good husbands for their daughters. Oppressed by enmity and hatred, destitute, dispirited by hard work and hand-to mouth existence, people found consolation and hope in these stories. Thousands of people flocked to the Besht in search of counsel, guidance and blessings.

As the Besht’s popularity increased, as the people’s love for him grew, and as his influence continued to expand, the fury of his adversaries grew more intense. They hurled the most absurd accusations against him, but the Besht had nothing to hide and nothing to apologize for. He traveled, surrounded by his Chassidim, through towns and villages, appearing in synagogues, on the streets, in market squares. He drew inspiration from nature, in which he saw the ever­-present hand of the Creator. Sometimes he would withdraw into nature, finding spiritual sustenance in solitude. On fre­quent occasions, however, he went walking through fields and forests together with his numerous students. They joined in fervent prayers, submerging their minds in the clear refreshing waters of Torah, listening to their mentor without fear of their enemies’ suspicious glances. The Besht did not intimidate his audience with threats of punishment for their sins, unlike the numerous self-styled “preachers” of that time, who would occasionally work their listeners into fainting spells. On the contrary, like a loving father, the Besht strove to bring Jews closer to the Almighty through the power of love and care. He did not deliver lengthy ser­mons filled with casuistic sophistries; he would present the most profound and complex religious concepts in the form of allegories, stories and real life situations – a method that characterizes Chassidism to this day.

Most of the Baal Shem Tov’s teachings were trans­mitted orally. Very few written records have reached us. One surviving letter, dated 1752, addressed to his brother in-law, describes a dream or a vision in which the Besht en­counters Mashiach. The episode described in the letter took place five years earlier, in 1747. The Besht asked Mashiach, “When, Master, will you come?” The reply was, “When your wellsprings spread to the outside,” meaning, when the Besht’s teachings spread to those who have not yet been touched by them. Therefore, these teachings were intended from the very start to hasten the coming of Mashiach, to bring about the kingdom of goodness and light. As we have already pointed out, in no way did his ideas alter the content and essence of Torah; all they did was to shift the emphasis, particularly regarding the ways a Jew may serve G*d. Ac­cording to an eloquent Chassidic saying, it is far more effec­tive to spread the light than to waste energy fighting the darkness. One tiny candle will banish darkness from a huge room.

The Besht strenuously opposed self-torture, mortifica­tion of the flesh, or any other practice designed to suppress the natural life of the body. He cautioned the Chassidim against the numerous fasts popular at the time as a means of earning G*d’s favor. As the Baal Shem Tov taught, “A Jew must have not only a strong spirit but a strong body as well, so that he may serve G*d with his entire being.”

The Besht left this world in 1760. By that time, the Chassidic movement had reached immense proportions, and the number of its followers continued to increase. The nu­merous disciples of the Besht carried his teachings to the Jewish masses in Eastern Europe. These teachings were pre­sented both as colorful, heart-warming tales about the mi­raculous deeds performed by the Besht, and in the form of writings that systematically expounded his views. As a re­sult, the Besht’s teachings continued to spread in ever-expanding circles with each passing year and with every generation.

The stories told about the Baal Shem Tov are perme­ated with boundless love for the simple, the pure of heart, and for every Jew. These stories have not only become firmly entrenched in the daily lives of Chassidim; they are part of the heritage of all Eastern European Jews. With their message of hope and confidence, they help people bear the burdens of everyday life, and allay the endless fears facing Jews in their alien environment. Melaveh Malkah, the fes­tive meal held after Shabbat to usher out the Sabbath Queen, was a particularly propitious time for sharing stories about the Besht and other righteous men.

The stories about the Besht reveal a fairy tale-like world of virtue, generosity and spirituality, their warmth thawing the hearts of contemporary Jews, which have been frozen by the chilling brutality of today’s world. Some of these stories are extremely short. Here is one example.

A Chassid came to the Besht and burst into bitter tears. “Rebbe, Rebbe, what am I to do? My own son has strayed from the path of true righteousness!” The Besht blessed the Chassid and said, “Love him, my son … ” With a heavy sigh, the Chassid insisted, “Oh Rebbe, he has already fallen so low!” To which the Besht replied, “Then love him even more!”

The following is a typical longer story about the Baal Shem Tov. Once there was a prosperous, urban Jew named Reb Chaim. He had heard a great deal about the Baal Shem Tov and the incredible miracles he had performed, but Reb Chaim saw no reason to take a long journey just for the sake of meeting the great sage in person. After all, he was a very busy man, and moreover, his affairs were going so well that there was no need to ask the tzaddik for help or advice. Yet the first-hand accounts of the Besht’s miraculous powers eventually had their effect, and the man decided to go, if only to satisfy his curiosity.

After Reb Chaim told the Besht about himself, his family and his business, the tzaddik asked him whether he was in need of any help or advice. The man replied that he was doing just fine, praise G*d, and that he needed neither help nor advice, but naturally, like any other Jew, he would like to have the tzaddik’s blessing. The Besht blessed Chaim, and then asked him for a small favor: to deliver a letter from the Besht to Reb Tzaddok, the treasurer of one of the synagogues in Chaim’s city. Upon his return, Chaim plunged back into the hustle and bustle of his affairs, and totally forgot about the Besht’s request. He continued to prosper as before. However, a few years later his business floundered, and his profits began to dwindle. After several more years, he declared bankruptcy and sank into abject poverty. Once, while rummaging through a pile of old cloth­ing in the hope of finding a mislaid coin, he came across the letter addressed by the Besht to the synagogue treasurer, Reb Tzaddok. Chaim was aghast at his oversight. Sixteen years had passed since the Baal Shem Tov had entrusted him with the letter, and during that time the Besht had left this world. Naturally, Chaim rushed off to look for Reb Tzaddok, and in one of the city’s synagogues he found a treasurer by that name. Together they opened the letter. In it, Reb Tzaddok was told that the bearer of the letter was a formerly wealthy businessman who had gone bankrupt, and the Besht asked Reb Tzaddok to lend the man a large sum of money to help him restore his fortune, payoff his debts, and make generous donations to worthy causes as he had done in the past. To substantiate his message, the Besht informed Reb Tzaddok that precisely at the time of Chaim’ s visit, Reb Tzaddok’s wife, who had been childless for many years, would bear him a son. Chaim and Tzaddok had barely fin­ished reading the Besht’s letter when Tzaddok’s neighbors burst into the synagogue with happy news: his wife had just given birth to a boy.

Hundreds of stories recount the way the Baal Shem Tov taught his Chassidim to value true compassion, gener­osity and good deeds. According to these stories, the Besht was gifted with the ability to explain his lessons not only verbally but visually as well, revealing the repulsive nature of arrogant and conceited people and the beauty and nobility of those who are kind hearted and devoted to their fellow human beings. He contrasted the virtues of kindness and self-abnegation with indifference and vanity. Afterwards he asked each person present to place his hands on the shoul­ders of those sitting next to him on either side. The Besht himself would do the same, closing the human circle. Next, the Baal Shem Tov would tell the people to close their eyes. A mysterious force would then begin to flow through the human ring, and people would cry out in surprise at the vivid visual impact of what they had just heard. The people he had admonished looked loathsome and pitiful in this amazing vision, while those he had praised appeared in the fullness of their radiant nobility.

There were murmurs of discontent among some of the Besht’s more educated Chassidim because the Besht treated simple pious people with enormous love, and many inn­keepers, craftsmen, and small merchants became his de­voted followers. The Baal Shem Tov was in the habit of sending his educated Chassidim to just such simple, unpretentious people to learn genuine, unwavering faith in G*d and love for their fellow Jews.

One Shabbat, these simple guests were given special attention by the Besht during the first Shabbat meal on Fri­day evening. For one, he would pour wine from his own cup over which he had pronounced the blessing; to another, he would hand a piece of the challah; with the third, he would share a piece of fish from his own plate. The Besht’s closest disciples, people well versed in the Torah, were amazed by their teacher’s behavior.

The Baal Shem Tov had a custom to invite his Shab­bat guests to the tish (the ceremonial Friday night meal which the Besht conducted in the company of his Chassi­dim), as well as to the third Shabbat meal held in the late af­ternoon.

At the second meal, however, only his closest disci­ples would gather at the table. Other guests were not even allowed to watch from afar what took place in the house. They were to have their second Shabbat meal wherever they lodged for the night, and afterwards to come to the Besht’s synagogue. There these simple, largely uneducated people worshipped the Almighty the only way they knew how: by purifying and sanctifying their hearts as they chanted verses from Psalms.

Taking his usual place at the head of the table during the second Shabbat meal, the Baal Shem Tov bid his pupils to sit in their regular places, as was his practice. He began to speak, revealing mysteries of Torah that filled their hearts with indescribable joy. The Besht also experienced mo­ments of spiritual rapture, and the disciples thanked the Creator for granting them the privilege of being close to this great man. Yet some of the students could not help having critical thoughts. Why is their mentor showing such respect to common, ignorant folk incapable of understanding his words?

Suddenly the Besht’s face grew solemn. In a strained voice, his eyes shut, he said, “Even the most righteous men are unworthy of standing in the place occupied by repentant sinners. Our sages say there are two ways of serving the Creator: one is the way of the righteous, the second, the way of ba’alei teshuvah. The devotion of the common people be­longs to this second level, the highest level of repentant sin­ners, for they experience feelings of abasement, of regret for their flawed past, and they sincerely strive to do everything in their power to improve in the future.”

A quiet, entrancing melody swept through everyone gathered at the table; those of the pupils who had been skep­tical about the correctness of their teacher’s conduct realized that he knew their innermost thoughts. The melody swelled. The Baal Shem Tov opened his eyes, gave a long and in­tense look at each of his disciples, and told them to place their right hand on the shoulder of their neighbor. After they had done that, the Baal Shem Tov asked them to close their eyes and not to open them until he told them to. Then he placed his right hand on the shoulder of the person sitting to his right, and his left on the shoulder of the person sitting to his left. The circle was closed.

From that moment on, they could “see” the simple Jews praying in the synagogue, and hear the moving melo­dies carrying their heartfelt prayers.

“Ribono shel olam! Lord of the Universe!” a man’s voice rang out, appealing to the Creator in words that came straight from his heart. Then the same voice pronounced the words originally spoken by King David, “Bechaneini, HaShem! Test me, 0 Lord! Cleanse my heart!”

“Zisser Foter! Beloved Father!” cried out another man, who was reciting words from Psalms, “Choneini, Elo­kim, choneini! Be merciful unto me, Oh G*d; be merciful unto me for my soul trusts in Thee; yes, I will take refuge in the shadow of Thy wings until these calamities have passed.”

“Heavenly Father!” came the beseeching moan of a soul that was being tossed from side to side by a storm, des­perately searching for the saving anchor. “Gam tzippor matz’ah bayit, for even a bird has found shelter, a sparrow a nest for itself.”

The wise and holy Chassidim felt a shiver as they lis­tened to these words from the Psalms, these heartfelt prayers. Their eyes were closed, but tears of repentance were flowing from behind their lowered lids. They envied those simple people, whose worship of the Creator consisted solely of their straightforward reading of the Psalms.

The Baal Shem Tov removed his hands from the shoulders of his disciples, and the vision and the melody faded away. The teacher told them to open their eyes, and they joined in a quiet song.

Among those present at that Shabbat meal was Rabbi Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezherich. Years later, he told his disciple, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liady, that he felt greater rapturous love for the Almighty at that moment than ever before. His entire being had been seized by a passionate de­sire not just to repent, but to do full teshuvah – to return to what a Jew is meant to be, to return to Jewish destiny.

The singing came to an end. The disciples sat silent, lost in contemplation. For a while, the Baal Shem Tov con­tinued to sit with his eyes shut. Then he looked at the Chas­sidim and said, “The music you heard is the pure sound of simple people praying in synagogues. They recite verses from the Psalms, using them to express the innermost depths of their souls. We mortal humans have a body that prevents us from approaching the truth, and a soul that embodies a particle of the truth, for the soul is part of the One Who is Truth itself. Thus, even though we are creatures in whom the truth is embodied only in part, we are nevertheless called sefat emet, ‘the edge of truth,’ beings who have touched the truth. Even though we are imperfect, we are ca­pable of recognizing and feeling the truth, and of being stunned by it. How much more strongly, then, must the Al­mighty – who is the absolute Truth – feel the truth in the psalms sung by these simple people!”

For a long time after that, the Maggid of Mezherich told Rabbi Shneur Zalman, he felt anguish over having doubted whether the Baal Shem Tov was right to embrace the common people. He subjected himself to various pun­ishments in an attempt to expiate his sin, yet nothing helped, until one night he had a vision that brought peace to his soul. In one of the palaces in the Garden of Eden, little chil­dren sat around the table studying the Torah. At the head of the table sat Moshe Rabbeinu. They were studying the pas­sage that discusses the apparent lack of faith shown by our forefather Avraham upon hearing the Almighty promise him that he and his wife would have a son even though they were old. One of the children read in a loud voice, “And Avraham prostrated himself, and laughed, and said in his heart, ‘How can a hundred-year-old beget a son?”’ Moshe explained that all the commentaries used in Midrash to elu­cidate this verse are certainly valid. At the same time, every sentence in the Torah also has a straightforward meaning. The question of how our forefather Avraham could have conceivably doubted G*d’s words may be answered as fol­lows: the doubts arose because Avraham had a body – and even a holy body is corporeal.

When the Maggid heard that by the very fact of being made of flesh and blood, people are prey to doubts and skepticism, no matter how irreproachable their conduct, he was freed of the painful memories of his doubts concerning his Rebbe’s actions. He had finally found the answer.

In stories about the Besht, he is presented as a loving father of the ordinary people, the poor and the hungry. In reality, however, the Besht was not surrounded only by common people. His circle included people from all walks of life, from every level of Jewish learning, including great Torah scholars. Nor it is accurate to say that people were driven to the Baal Shem Tov solely by despair and calamity. Many of his followers came from the top echelons of soci­ety, drawn by the wisdom of his teachings, the magic force of his personality and his good deeds. Many of those who joined the Besht happily surrendered their high social stand­ing for this privilege. A vivid example of this is Rabbi Ya’akov Yosef of Polonnoye, who recorded and published much of what he had heard from the Baal Shem Tov.

The Baal Shem Tov is commonly acknowledged to be the embodiment of the perfect tzaddik, one who is consid­ered by the Talmudic sages to be capable of attaining the highest rung in the hierarchy of spiritual realms, accompa­nied by the Shechinah (the Divine Presence). All the promi­nent Chassidic leaders of the subsequent generations were tzaddikim, serving as intermediaries between the Almighty and humans, and guiding their Chassidim both in spiritual devotion and in everyday life. Devotion to the tzaddik and absolute conviction that he possesses unique powers be­stowed by the Almighty are among the fundamental tenets of Chassidism. At a superficial glance, it would appear that these beliefs separate Chassidism from other currents in Ju­daism. In fact, the concept of the tzaddik is deeply en­trenched in Judaism and the Torah, and it is frequently en­countered both in the sayings of the Talmudic sages and in the Kabbalah, i.e., nearly two thousand years before the birth of modem Chassidism. Faith in the righteous man was a widespread phenomenon not only during the Talmudic era, but even much earlier. In our daily prayers we quote the biblical chapter that reflects this belief even during the Jew­ish Exodus from Egypt: “And the people believed the Lord and His servant Moshe.”

However, modem Chassidism formed a new social framework with the tzaddik at its nucleus. The tzaddik per­forms the functions of a large, wide-ranging organization, even though he has no “weapons of power,” either physical or economic, apart from his extraordinary spiritual energy and boundless love for every Jew, reciprocated by his fol­lowers’ devotion to him and his teachings.

The Besht had a unique capacity to reconcile the unimaginably high status of the tzaddik with the ability to descend to the level of the common people, helping them not only in their spiritual efforts, but also in material, mun­dane matters. In this, he represented the perfect embodiment of one of the basic precepts of Torah: “All Jews are respon­sible for one another.”

In addition to serving the Almighty with joy and gladness, the vital importance of “following one’s heart,” of openness and simplicity – qualities which we have already discussed and which are described in every book on Chassi­dism – the Besht’s teachings have other components that touch on the philosophical dimension, and are as deep as the sea. Of primary importance in this regard are the concepts of Permanent Creation and absolute, unlimited Divine Provi­dence (whereby the tiniest event or motion in the universe is determined directly by G*d).

The Besht derived the idea of Permanent Creation from the verses: “Your word, Oh Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens,” and “He, in His Goodness, every day constantly renews the act of Creation.” The Besht explains that G*d’s creation of the world was not a one-time act. It is inconceivable that having created the world, the Almighty would detach Himself, as it were, leaving His creatures to lead an independent existence. Creation is not comparable to objects fashioned by a craftsman, which, once created, have no further need of the artist’s intervention. Human hands create something from something, matter from mat­ter; only the form is changed. Divine Creation fashions something from nothing (ex nihilo), bringing the very sub­stance of the object into existence. Thus it is impossible for the work of creation to stop even for a moment, for were that to happen, the entire world would cease to exist and all created matter would revert to a state of “nothingness.” This purely rational conclusion is based on logical analysis of the mysteries of creation, an act perceived by the human mind as fashioning “something material” out of a spiritual, intan­gible entity. Therefore G*d’s utterance, “Let there be a fir­mament” is an ongoing, endless process of continually rec­reating the firmament anew each moment. This applies to Earth and to everything contained thereon.

From here, it is but a short step to the idea of Divine Providence. If, as we have seen, the existence of every ob­ject depends on G*d’s continual act of creation, it follows that no event – no matter how miniscule – can take place unless willed by G*d. Thus, according to the Baal Shem Tov, even “a leaf cannot fall from a tree unless it be G*d’s will.” G*d’s supervision of the world extends to even the tiniest, seemingly trivial details, so that G*d determines not only the act and the timing of a leaf s fall, but also the way it falls – whether face up or face down.

Similarly, Divine Providence applies to human beings and everything that happens to them. This does not contradict the notion of free will, which the Almighty has granted to every human being. When a Jew has to decide between observing a commandment and committing a sin, he is to­tally free to make his choice. G*d does not force him to choose one or the other. At the same time, when a Jew de­cides to move, let us say, from one place to another, there is a hidden purpose to his decision. Heaven directs his steps so as to enable him to perform good deeds and virtuous acts. A Jew, wherever he may be, must conduct himself in keeping with his divine calling, always striving to recognize his pur­pose and to act accordingly.

It should be stressed once again that the Besht did not introduce any “innovations” or changes in Torah or in Juda­ism. The concepts of caring for one’s neighbor, of loving one’s fellow Jew, as well as of serving G*d with one’s en­tire heart, are deeply rooted in Judaism since time immemo­rial. Even in his incredibly profound philosophical ideas, the Besht did not deviate an iota from the traditional Torah viewpoint. These ideas, though deeply rooted in Torah, had not been sufficiently emphasized, and thus had not been fully integrated into mainstream Jewish philosophy. All the Besht did was to shift the emphasis, highlighting the impor­tance of these concepts. In addition, he identified practical ways of making these concepts the cornerstone of everyday Jewish life.

The following story illustrates another fundamental tenet of the Besht’s teachings and actions: unwavering be­lief that the Almighty is always there to help.

For a time, the Baal Shem Tov lived in the mountains, not far from the small town of Kuty, earn­ing his livelihood by digging for clay and selling it to the locals. Once, he wished to buy a copy of a funda­mental text of Kabbalah, the Zohar, but he had no money.

While unloading his cart filled with clay next to the house of Reb Moshe, the rabbi of Kuty, the Baal Shem Tov asked to borrow his copy of the Zohar. Reb Moshe, who was known for his kind heart, did not ask any superfluous questions or inquire why this clay digger needed the Zohar. He went into the house and came out carrying the book. The Baal Shem Tov took the book, kissed it, and said that he would leave his cart there in the yard, while he went to pray at the synagogue.

Clutching the book in his arms, the Baal Shem Tov ran through the narrow streets, trying to make sure that the town people would not notice the Zohar in the hands of a simple clay-digger. Suddenly, he stumbled into a cart being driven by none other than his brother-in-law, Reb Gershon from Brody. The Baal Shem Tov gripped the book tightly under his arm.

“Israel!” called out Reb Gershon. “What is that book you are holding?”

The Baal Shem Tov was silent. Reb Gershon got down from the cart, took the book, and gave the Baal Shem Tov a look of disapproval. “Israel! Is this what you need in your life? The Zohar?

Reb Gershon kept the book that the Baal Shem Tov had dreamt of studying. The Baal Shem Tov headed to the synagogue with a heavy heart, dejected by his loss. In the synagogue, he stood next to the stove and began to pray with mournful sighs.

Some time later, Reb Moshe also entered the synagogue and heard the sighs of the same clay digger who had been so happy and excited when he had given him the Zohar. Reb Moshe approached the Baal Shem Tov and asked him why he was sighing. At first, the Besht refused to answer, but, under Reb Moshe’s persistent questioning, he finally said, “I am sighing because of two things. First, because the me­zuzah attached to the synagogue entrance contains an error. Secondly, because the Zohar has been taken away from me. However, I am absolutely sure that the Almighty will respond to my prayer, and that some­how I will get this book, which I need so much.”

Reb Moshe immediately checked the mezuzah, and discovered that it did indeed contain an error. Next he went to the bookcase, pulled out a second copy of the Zohar, and handed it to the Baal Shem Tov. “This is a present for you!” He also blessed the Baal Shem Tov, “May you be spared another meeting with Reb Gershon.”

Reb Moshe was deeply impressed by the Baal Shem Tov’s ability to detect a mistake in the mezuzahwithout opening it, and by his profound faith in the Almighty. He prayed with joy, and as he reached the words, “Blessed is he who trusts G*d, and G*d will be his pillar of strength,” he even danced. He swore never to forget this incident, which would always re­mind him of boundless faith in G*d. The Baal Shem Tov, on his part, swore never to forget Reb Moshe’s kindness, and that the latter would always remain his friend.

Several years went by. Reb Moshe was told that the Baal Shem Tov was dabbling in magic charms, strange customs and similar dubious practices. Reb Moshe was hurt; it was he, after all, who had given the Baal Shem Tov his first copy of the Zohar.

Meanwhile, the rabbi of Kuty was informed that the magnate who owned the neighboring town of Gorodenka had arrested the Jew who leased his inn for failing to pay his rent on time. Moreover, he had arrested the man’s entire family – his wife and chil­dren – and was going to baptize the children by force.

Reb Moshe sent an urgent letter to the Baal Shem Tov, for he knew that the latter had experience ransoming captive Jews. In his letter, he urged him to do what he could to free the prisoners. Upon receiving the letter, the Baal Shem Tov and his disciples set out at once for Gorodenka. On the way, he recounted to his companions the virtues of the rabbi of Kuty, and how he had given him the Zoharwhen he was too poor to buy it.

The Baal Shem Tov succeeded in persuading the magnate to free the innkeeper and his family. In return, he pledged to pay one hundred zloty, the sum owed by the innkeeper to the magnate. Upon returning to his hometown of Tlust, he gathered his disciples for a feast, during which he spoke again about how the rabbi of Kuty had once presented him with the Zohar, about the joy he had felt that day, and about the im­portance of putting all one’s trust in the Almighty. The Baal Shem Tov spent a long time expounding the various aspects of this commandment. At the end of his speech, he closed his eyes and sat in silence for close to half an hour. During that time of deep medita­tion, the Baal Shem Tov heard a voice from heaven commanding him to go to a village near Snyatyn, and there to learn from the local innkeeper how powerful and boundless faith in G*d can be. Then, as if awak­ening from deep slumber, he told his disciples that he had to go on a journey, and that anyone wishing to join him was welcome to do so.

That same day, the Baal Shem Tov set off for the village accompanied by his disciples who knew nothing about the purpose of the journey. Upon arriv­ing in the village, the Baal Shem Tov came to the inn. The innkeeper ran out to welcome them with a smile of joy, served them a plentiful meal, and prepared rooms for their lodging.

Next morning, after prayers (the Baal Shem Tov always prayed at the crack of dawn), their gra­cious host served them a breakfast of bread, butter and milk. As soon as the Baal Shem Tov and his disciples sat down to eat, a constable flung the door wide open, and came in, holding a long staff. With long strides, the man approached the table and dealt it three hard blows with his staff. His face was distorted with rage. Without uttering a word, he turned and left the inn.

The scene had frightened the Baal Shem Tov’s disciples. The innkeeper, on the other hand, had watched calmly, as if this were a perfectly ordinary event. The disciples thought the constable must have been drunk, and that the innkeeper was accustomed to his behavior, which would explain his lack of alarm.

At supper, the scene repeated itself. Once again, the same constable entered the inn, gave the table three blows with his staff, and departed in fury.

“What was that?” the Baal Shem Tov asked the innkeeper.

“That was one of the constables working for our magnate, who owns all the villages in the area,” replied the innkeeper. “The magnate has some bizarre customs. When the deadline for paying the rent ar­rives, he sends this constable to remind each tenant in this strange manner that if he does not pay up before the end of the day, the magnate will place him and his family under arrest.”

After listening carefully to the innkeeper’s words, the Baal Shem Tov asked, “Judging by the fact that you are so calm, you must have the money to pay the magnate. Why are you waiting? Go pay him now.”

“Believe me,” said the innkeeper, “I do not have a penny to pay my rent. Still, I am confident that the Almighty will come to my help as He always does. So there is no cause for concern, and you can eat your meal in peace.”

The disciples went on with their supper, debat­ing Torah issues, expecting that any minute someone – perhaps the prophet Elijah himself – would arrive with a full purse. Thus when the door was flung open, they were certain that they were about to behold the prophet Elijah handing money to the innkeeper. How­ever, it was the same constable standing at the thresh­old. Once again, he struck the table three times and left in a terrible rage.

The Chassidim were gripped by fear. The day was drawing to a close, and before long the magnate would throw the innkeeper’s entire family in prison! They were amazed to see that the innkeeper was com­pletely unperturbed.

The Baal Shem Tov gave the sign that it was time to say the blessing after the meal. Meanwhile, the innkeeper changed into his Shabbat clothes and left the house.

The Baal Shem Tov and his disciples followed him outside, to see where he was going. The inn­keeper walked along the road that led up to a small hill, on top of which stood the magnate’s palace. Sud­denly they saw a cart pulling up next to the innkeeper. A man got down from the cart and spoke to the inn­keeper; it was clear from their gestures that the inn­keeper was objecting to the man’s proposals. A few minutes later, the innkeeper continued on his way. The cart headed back toward the village, but then it turned around, overtook the innkeeper, and the driver spoke to him and handed him some money. The inn-keeper walked on to the magnate’s palace, while the cart turned back toward the village.

When the cart stopped in front of the inn and the driver got down, the Baal Shem Tov asked him, “Tell me, please, what did you talk to the innkeeper about?”

The man recognized the Baal Shem Tov and replied, “I will be honest with you, holy Rabbi. For several years now, I have been buying homemade vodka from the innkeeper. I pay him twenty kopeks a liter. A few times I tried to buy from other producers, and each time I had a stroke of bad fortune. You see, I also lease an inn in a nearby village. I was afraid that he would sell his vodka to someone else, and so I de­cided to come today and to buy up his entire stock. Just now, when I met him on the road he-demanded twice the usual price. At first I refused, but then, as I sat in my cart, I realized that even at that price the deal was worth it. I turned around and paid him the money, to make sure that he would not sell to some­one else.”

The Baal Shem Tov’s face shone with joy.

“See,” he told his disciples, “we thought that to save the innkeeper, I would have to sign a promissory note to pay his debt. Yet the Almighty is perfectly ca­pable of coming to the rescue without my help! That is precisely what I try to teach you: we must put our complete trust in the Almighty. That is why I received divine instruction to come to this village to learn the power of trusting the Almighty from a simple Jew.”

Soon the innkeeper returned holding the mag­nate’s receipt for the rent payment. The Baal Shem Tov gave the innkeeper his blessing and returned to his home in Tlust. There he found Rabbi Moshe, the Rabbi of Kuty, who had come to thank the Baal Shem Tov for his efforts to ransom the prisoners. He also wished to use the opportunity to see for himself the customs practiced by the Besht’s Chassidim.

The Baal Shem Tov was overjoyed to see his learned guest, and gave instructions to prepare a fes­tive meal in his honor. While the meal was being readied, a cart pulled up next to the house, driven by Rabbi Gershon, the brother-in-law of the Baal Shem Tov. By then, he had recognized the greatness of the Besht, and that studying the Zohar was in accord with the Baal Shem Tov’s knowledge and approach to To­rah learning.

During the meal, the Baal Shem Tov recounted to the guests how he had heard a voice from Heaven instructing him to come to a simple person in order to learn boundless faith in the Almighty. Rabbi Moshe then reminded him that, when he had presented the Baal Shem Tov with the Zohar and begun to pray, he had broken into a joyous dance after reaching the words, “Blessed is he who puts his trust in G*d, and G*d will be his pillar of strength.” These words filled the Baal Shem Tov with extraordinary joy. Clasping Rabbi Moshe’s and Rabbi Gershon’s hands, he began to dance. Reb David of Nikolayev immediately made up a beautiful, happy tune, and all the Chassidim joined in the dance. The angels gathered in Heaven to look down upon this dance of joy and faith in the Creator.

The next story also illustrates how the Baal Shem Tov taught faith.

One year the many Chassidim who had come to spend Passover with the Baal Shem Tov noticed that some­thing was amiss. Instead of the usual cheer and uplifted spir­its that accompanied holiday preparations, the Baal Shem Tov was visibly saddened and distressed by something.

As a rule, the Baal Shem Tov would be in a state of great spiritual exaltation while leading the Seder,discussing the profound mysteries of the Passover Haggadah. This time, however, he was somber and taciturn, which naturally affected the mood of the guests who had come from near and far. The Chassidim knew that the Baal Shem Tov had a good reason for being in such low spirits, and they too were gripped by an uneasy feeling.

The day before the holiday, following the search for chametz, the Baal Shem Tov gathered ten of his disciples and told them to recite tikkun chatzot with intense concen­tration. The disciples realized that their teacher was trying to prevent a disaster only he was able to foresee.

As soon as they began reciting tikkun chatzot, one of the Besht’s closest disciples, Rabbi Tzvi the scribe, rushed in to tell them that their teacher was lying on the floor in his room, seemingly unconscious.

Morning came; the disciples hoped that the new day would dispel their teacher’s gloom. Yet the Baal Shem Tov continued to look dejected and pale. He asked the Chassi­dim to recite their morning prayers as if it were Rosh Ha­shanah.

After the prayer, the Baal Shem Tov gathered his dis­ciples around him and began to speak words of Torah about faith in G*d, and his conviction that the Almighty would not abandon him in times of trouble.

“True faith in G*d,” said the Baal Shem Tov, “means that even when we see no way of escaping impending disas­ter, we remain steadfast in our certainty that the Almighty will speedily grant us deliverance.” The Baal Shem Tov added that this certainty is expressed through joy.

From that moment on, the expression on the Besht’s face underwent a dramatic change. It was obvious, however, that this change did not imply that the disaster had been averted – on the contrary, it was meant to avert the disaster.

The Chassidim spent the day before Passover in this atmosphere of mixed and contradictory feelings.

When it was time to bake the matzah that was to be eaten at the Seder, the Baal Shem Tov’s face lit up with joy. He went to the mikveh, then busied himself with baking the matzah. However, once he was finished with this task, he turned to the Chassidim and again asked them to pray min­chah with the same awe and devotion as if they were recit­ing the prayers for Rosh Hashanah.

After the festive evening prayers, which were also re­cited with intense concentration, everyone waited with both fear and hope for what was to come next.

Finally, the time for the Passover Seder arrived. The pious disciples of the Baal Shem Tov sat around their teacher, anticipating the wonderful words of Torah with which he usually accompanied the reading of the Haggadah. Yet this time the Baal Shem Tov did not raise his eyes from the book. He read the Haggadah without pausing, in a dole­ful chant. The room was sunk in silence. The Chassidim were lost in deep reflection. Suddenly the Baal Shem Tov laughed. His eyes were shut, his face was radiant; he was suffused with deep inner joy.

Presently he opened his eyes and announced, “Thank G*d! Blessed be He and His holy name! Praise the Lord, who made the people of Israel His chosen people! And Is­rael, His people, is capable of achieving much more than I, Srolik Baal Shem Tov.”

Joy filled everyone in the room. The Chassidim were eager to find out what had happened, what their teacher had seen with his holy sight. The Baal Shem Tov told them the following story:

On the eve of Passover, the Jews living in a nearby village were threatened by a terrible calamity. The villagers hated the Jews, and they decided to at­tack them on the night of the holiday. I could see what was about to happen, and I appealed to our Heavenly Father for mercy. I tried to enlist your help as well, in the form of concerted prayer. Yet our combined ef­forts were of no avail. Then I decided to simply put my trust in our Heavenly Father. I knew the nature of the impending misfortune, and I saw no way to avert it. However, as I already told you yesterday, we must always place our full trust in the Almighty, whatever the situation. This evening, as we sat at the festive meal, my soul could find no rest. The disaster was moving inexorably closer, and rescue was nowhere in sight. Suddenly, the situation changed totally.

In one of the houses in that village, a married couple· was seated at the Passover table. The husband, a Chassid, fairly unversed in the Torah, but an honest and pious man who performed many good deeds, was sitting next to his wife, reading the Haggadah and telling her about the suffering of the children of Israel in Egypt, as described in the midrash.

When he reached Pharaoh’s words, “You must throw every boy that is born into the Nile,” his wife burst into tears.

“Why are you crying?” the husband asked her. “After all, the sons of Israel were eventually saved and delivered from Egypt!”

“If the Lord were to give me a son,” replied his wife, “I would not let anyone touch him! I would not treat him the way the Almighty treats us.”

The husband disagreed, pointing out that the Almighty knows best what we deserve, and that eve­rything He does is rooted in justice.

“But where is His mercy?” the wife continued to complain. “How can He do this to his own sons, the people of Israel? Even if we transgress against Him, we are still His children!”

They continued to argue, the husband defending the actions of the Almighty, and the wife still insisting that He must have mercy on the people of Israel. Meanwhile, an identical debate was being held in the celestial spheres. Each time the woman defended the children of Israel and enumerated their virtues, the angels of good did the same. The angels of evil coun­tered their arguments. I did not know which side would win.

After the fourth cup of Passover wine, the hus­band ran out of arguments. “You are right,” he con­ceded. “The Almighty should indeed show more mercy toward His people.” This ended the argument, and under the influence of the wine they had drunk, the two got up from the table and broke into a dance.

“At the same time,” the Baal Shem Tov concluded his story, “the woman’s arguments were accepted in Heaven, and as soon the couple started dancing, great joy spread through all the worlds. I too was filled with great joy. Natu­rally, the disaster had been averted.”

The disciples listened spellbound to the story told by the Baal Shem Tov. Meanwhile, he took a handkerchief out of his pocket and said, “Hold on to this handkerchief and close your eyes!”

The Chassidim did as they were told, and suddenly they saw the husband and wife dancing their dance of joy at the delivery of the children of Israel.

According to Kabbalah, sparks of holiness are scat­tered throughout the world. When these sparks are in mate­rial objects, by performing a commandment related to such an object, or even reciting holy words of Torah, a Jew fans the fire concealed within these sparks, as it were, thereby elevating these objects and the places in which they are lo­cated, bringing them closer to G*d. Every Jew who per­forms a commandment or utters holy words is instrumental in refining these objects and gathering the divine sparks. He thereby elevates the entire world to a higher level of spiritu­ality. A tzaddik, a Rebbe, serves as a guide, helping the Jew in the performance of this sacred task. The Besht himself, as we have already mentioned, was in the habit of asking each Jew he came across in his wanderings, “How are you?” in order to hear him say, “Thank G*d!” The very mention of G*d’s name frees the sparks of holiness trapped in that place.

After the Besht departed from this world, his follow­ers founded numerous Chassidic centers throughout Eastern Europe. Young leaders, righteous people who symbolized and exemplified a Torah-based way of life, headed these centers. To this day, the Chassidic rabbis who succeeded them continue walking the same path. Some of them de­scend from the families of tzaddikim and are Rebbes with their own Chassidim; others have been destined to serve as teachers and mentors. (In Hebrew, both are called Admor ­an acronym of the words adoneinu, moreinu v’rabbeinu, “our master, teacher and Rebbe.”) All of them enjoy special respect and trust, in accordance with the precept of emunat tzaddikim – faith in the powers of the righteous – which is deeply rooted in the Torah. Chassidism has elevated the role of the righteous Rebbe to the highest level, giving tangible form to the Torah idea that the righteous man is the everlast­ing foundation of the world.

The most famous and respected student of the Baal Shem Tov was Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezherich, known as the Maggid (“preacher”) of Mezherich. A great Torah scholar, Rabbi Dov Ber, before he became a follower of the Besht, had led a secluded life, with little care for material concerns. When he fell gravely ill, he sought advice and help from the Besht, famous for working miracles. The Besht told him that though unable to cure him completely, he could halt the advance of his debilitating leg disease. Thus Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezherich became a prominent disciple of the Besht and a herald of the Chassidic movement.

The Besht’s son, Reb Tzvi, felt incapable of assuming the leadership of the Chassidic movement, so, following the instructions of his father, who appeared to him in a dream, he willingly yielded this role to Rabbi Dov Ber, who had won the respect and love of the Jewish masses. People flocked to the Maggid for counsel and blessings. Many were attracted by the new leader’s charismatic personality. Rich and poor, Torah scholars and simple folk alike, they came in swelling numbers. Unlike his teacher, the Besht, Rabbi Dov Ber could not travel due to poor health. In order to perfect their knowledge and perform good deeds, thousands of Chassidim came to the new Rebbe; Mezherich became the center of Chassidism, the heart of inspired devotion to the Almighty. The Chassidim preferred to settle next to their Rebbe, and in this fashion the center of the Chassidic movement shifted from Podolia to Yolyn.

At that time – the mid-eighteenth century – Vilna was the major center of Jewish learning, called by the Jews “the Jerusalem of Lithuania.” The Gaon of Vilna, Elijah ben Shlomo, enjoyed absolute authority there. He was famous worldwide not only for his phenomenal knowledge, but also for his profound piety. It so happened that Vilna became the stronghold of the opponents of the Chassidic movement, with the Gaon’s disciples at their head. At first, the rabbis of Lithuania were content with dissociating themselves from the new “sect,” in the hope that Chassidism would not with­stand the test of time. However, the passing of the Besht was followed by a surprising development: the popularity of the new movement not only did not wane, but, on the con­trary, continued to grow, evolving into a truly popular phe­nomenon.

The Maggid of Mezherich trained an entire galaxy of brilliant disciples, many of whom became Rebbes, founding various dynasties within Chassidism. Among the most noteworthy disciples, followers, and successors of the Mag­gid are Rabbi Shmelke of Nikolsburg, Rabbi Ya’akov Yitz­chak of Lublin, Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk, Rabbi Men­achem Mendel of Vitebsk, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdi­chev, Rabbi Aharon of Karlin, Rabbi Shlomo of Karlin, and the Maggid of Koznitz. Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liady, the founder of Chabad Chassidism and author of the Tanya was a particularly prominent Rebbe.

The followers’ admiration for the Maggid knew no bounds. Thus, for example, the “hidden tzaddik,” Reb Leib Sarah’s, would say that the reason he went to the Maggid was not so much to learn Torah, but simply to be in his presence and watch him performing the commandments.

The Maggid of Koznitz recounted that before he came to Mezherich for the first time, he had already studied eight hundred books on Kabbalah. Once in Mezherich, however, he realized that he had not even begun to understand Kab­balah.

In 1772, Rabbi Dov Ber departed from this world. Shortly before that, the heads of the Vilna and Brody com­munities came out with a categorical condemnation of the Chassidic movement. They issued bans against all followers of Chassidism, declaring that the members of the new movement did not believe in G*d, and placing strict prohibi­tions against eating bread or drinking wine made by them, and certainly against intermarriage with descendants of Chassidic families. Similar proclamations were issued on several other occasions in 1781, 1784, and 1796.

However, even these measures did not seem suffi­ciently radical to the opponents of Chassidism (called mitnagdim). As early as 1772, a month after the publication of the first ban, a letter was posted from Vilna to all Jewish communities of Eastern Europe. According to that letter, the Chassidim distorted the traditional sacred prayers, and thereby severed themselves from Judaism. “These nonbe­lievers,” the letter continued, “insert alien words in the prayers, words that are bizarre and false; moreover, they shout these words in such a loud voice that the walls shake. They make strange body movements, and their entire man­ner is abnormal. And they call all this the flight of the spirit! For these people, every day is a holiday! They neglect To­rah studies, ignore learning and erudition, and deny the im­portance of repentance. Inthe light of the above,” concluded the letter, “we call upon all our brethren, the sons of Israel, wherever they are, be it far or near, to act as befits the keep­ers of the faith, and to repudiate these heretics. Anyone who fears G*d should distance himself them from!”

Amazingly, the greater the persecutions against the new movement, the more it grew and expanded. All the ter­rible threats, strict prohibitions, and bans proved powerless against the overwhelming, all-embracing vitality of the Chassidic movement. Chassidism spread like wildfire. Smaller groups of Chassidim merged into larger ones, and regional centers emerged, each headed by the local Rebbe. With time, certain distinctions began to arise between the groups that followed different Rebbes. Some emphasized the importance of reason and understanding (an approach adopted primarily by the Chabad dynasty); others focused on the miraculous powers of the Rebbe (the Belz Chassidim, for example); still others stressed the importance of inspira­tion during prayer, or the powerful effects of joy and singing.

As a rule, the Rebbe’s title and status were inherited. However, there were many cases in which the Rebbe was succeeded by a prominent and devoted disciple. Sometimes it was the son-in-law of the previous Rebbe, or a more dis­tant relative; occasionally, the successor was a member of the older generation of Chassidim. Usually it was the Rebbe himself who appointed his successor.

Chabad differed from the other Chassidic movements from its very inception. Although the teachings of Chabad are based on the rational concepts of Chochmah (reason), Binah (understanding), and Da’af(knowledge), the biogra­phy of Chabad’s founder, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, is cloaked in mystery; his very birth was accompanied by supernatural portents. According to Chassidism, most of the souls that descend to our material world are sent from heaven to cor­rect sins they committed during their past incarnations. Only in rare cases does the Almighty send down a new soul – ex­alted, pure, unblemished – entrusted with a special mission for the benefit of the Jewish people. Such was the soul of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, and the Baal Shem Tov knew of its impending arrival, as well as its appointed task: to pave the way for the coming of Mashiach. For reasons known to the Besht alone, he played almost no direct role in raising and educating the boy. Moreover, he forbid Shneur Zalman’s father, Rabbi Baruch, to take the boy along on his annual pilgrimage to the Besht in Medzhibozh. The Baal Shem Tov mentioned Shneur Zalman on only one occasion. “He is not destined to be my pupil. His teacher will be the one who comes after me.”

Rabbi Shneur Zalman was born in 1745 in Liozna (situated in the Vitebsk area of Byelorussia). He married at fifteen, and following his marriage, Shneur Zalman joined his father-in-law in Vitebsk. Before long, however, he de­cided to leave his home in search of a deeper understanding of Torah. He had already learned everything that Vitebsk could offer him. At that time, a young man eager to devote himself to Torah study would usually go to the great city of Vilna, to the Gaon’s academy. It is thus not surprising that when Rabbi Shneur Zalman decided to go to Mezherich in­stead, his father-in-law, a “Litvak” (a common name for residents of historical Lithuania, what is now Lithuania and Byelorussia, most of whom were mitnagdim), was deeply disappointed and frustrated. In his anger, he withdrew all financial support from the young couple. This, however, did not stop Rabbi Shneur Zalman and his young wife. They were firmly convinced that they were on the right path, and that the Almighty would not abandon them. Promising to return in a year and a half, Rabbi Shneur Zalman set out on his journey.

Eventually he reached Mezherich and Rabbi Dov Ber, the Maggid. His initial impression was not very encourag­ing. The Maggid and his circle failed to meet his expecta­tions. The prayers, and the rituals that preceded them, seemed excessively long, taking up the time he had intended to devote to study. Increasingly, he believed that he had made a wrong decision. Eventually, he resolved to go back to Vitebsk.

However, heaven had a different plan. Shortly after leaving Mezherich, Rabbi Shneur Zalman remembered that he had forgotten something at the synagogue. As he re­turned to the synagogue, he saw Rabbi Dov Ber surrounded by his disciples. He listened, realized that they were discuss­ing a highly complex halachic issue, came closer, and found himself unable to leave. The profound, elegant and insight­ful analysis provided by the teacher literally entranced him, and all his earlier misgivings vanished without a trace.

In Mezherich, Rabbi Shneur Zalman developed the central tenets of his philosophy. He was particularly drawn to three fundamental principles: that the human mind, no matter how exalted and pure, is incapable of fully compre­hending the Almighty; that man, the crown of Creation, represents a unity of body and soul; and that the ultimate purpose of human existence is to perform G*d’s command­ments. These basic principles were the cornerstone on which he subsequently founded the entire system of Chabad philosophy, as described in his great book, Tanya.

When Rabbi Shneur Zalman returned to Vitebsk one and a half years later, as promised, his companions asked him what he had found in Mezherich that was not to be found in Vilna. His answer was, “In Vilna you study the To­rah; in Mezherich, the Torah teaches you.” What he meant was that in Vilna, a Torah scholar feels proud and self-important about his achievements. In Mezherich, on the other hand, the scholar’s “self’ is relegated to the back­ground, eclipsed by the dazzling greatness of Torah.

For a number of years, the married couple lived in dire poverty. Finally, in 1767, Rabbi Shneur Zalman was offered the position of preacher in Liozna. From that time on, the authority of Rabbi Shneur Zalman (otherwise known as the Alter or “Old” Rebbe) steadily increased. Three years later, the Maggid of Mezherich entrusted Rabbi Shneur Zal­man with the task of re-editing the Shulchan Aruch – the Code of Jewish Law. The main innovation in the resulting work was that it provided a brief outline of the underlying reasons and significance of each law, as well as a selection of practical guidelines gleaned from among the numerous and at times contradictory interpretations offered by the great law-givers, among them the Rambam, the Rosh, and the Beit Yosef. Inaddition, Rabbi Shneur Zalman cited an extensive list of sources and references for every law. This was an enormous task, requiring extraordinary knowledge of the Talmud and practical Halachah. Furthermore, a great deal of decisiveness and self-assurance were needed in order to resolve the thorny issues over which the aforementioned authorities held dissenting opinions.

This new edition of the Shulchan Aruch, except for the first part, was published after Rabbi Shneur Zalman de­parted from this world. This book has been accepted and ac­claimed by the entire Jewish people, not by Chabad Chassi­dim alone. It is known as the Shulchan Aruch HaRav (the Rabbi’s Code of Law).

After Rabbi Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezherich, left this world, his son Rabbi Avraham (known as the Malach, the “angel”) declined the role of Rebbe. Three of the Mag­gid’s most prominent disciples – Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk, Rabbi Avraham of Kaliska, and Rabbi Shneur Zalman – separated, each going to a different location with the pledge to spread the Chassidic philosophy wherever possible. Rabbi Shneur Zalman inherited the formidable undertaking of introducing Chassidism to Lithuania, the stronghold of the mitnagdim. Despite all the obstacles, he succeeded in this task. Among other things, he established religious schools for young men with outstanding ability.

His path was fraught with difficulties. During his travels, he was often forced to go into hiding to evade per­secution. Once Rabbi Shneur Zalman was invited to a hala­chic debate against a select group of mitnagdim. To the great disappointment of his adversaries, he astonished eve­ryone present with his extraordinary mastery of the Talmud. In a letter preserved from that time, one of the people pre­sent at the debate wrote that after the talk given by Rabbi Shneur Zalman, over four hundred of the most illustrious Torah scholars joined the Chassidic movement, many of them following him to Liozna.

The Rabbi’s popularity and admiration for his right­eousness and knowledge were so great that the number of people flocking to Liozna grew with each day, until he was compelled to issue “the Liozna rule,” limiting the number of visits the Chassidim could pay to their Rebbe.

The Tanya – the Alter Rebbe’s major work – was first printed in 1797. Hundreds of handwritten copies had circu­lated throughout the cities and towns of the Russian empire. However, repeated copying of the book had led to an unac­ceptable number of errors, so the Alter Rebbe saw the need to print it. At its core, the book is a revised version of the answers given by the Alter Rebbe to the questions asked by Chassidim during personal counseling sessions.

The Tanya fuses together the nigleh (“revealed”) as­pect of Torah, based primarily on the Talmud, and its sod (“hidden”) part, drawing on the Kabbalah: the Zohar, the teachings of the Holy Ari, Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, and other Kabbalists – but it is primarily based on the teachings of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid of Mez­herich. The Tanya was written for those seeking and thirst­ing for knowledge, but not for confused individuals, entan­gled in the web of philosophy and skepticism, for whom the Rambam had written his famous Moreh Nevuchim (Guide for the Perplexed) six centuries earlier. The Tanya was in­tended to reach, and did reach, simple and sincere people of unshakeable faith, who were searching for new, better ways to serve the Almighty.

The Tanya (named after the first word of the book), also known as Likutei Amarim (Collected Discourses), pre­sents the substance of Chabad philosophy. As implied by the word “Chabad” (an acronym of the Hebrew words Chochmah – Binah – Da’at (reason – understanding ­knowledge), this philosophy emphasizes that it is incumbent upon us to use the rational power of the intellect to strive for knowledge of G*d and His entire creation. At the same time, Chabad constantly reminds us of the limitations of human reason, which can never achieve complete under­standing of the Creator or fully grasp how the material world was created out of pure spirit. Devotion to the Al­mighty, based on awe and love, must be preceded by ra­tional awareness of the principle of Permanent Creation (based on the Baal Shem Tov’s teaching that the Almighty constantly recreates and sustains the existence of every ob­ject and every living creature), as well as the idea of om­nipotent Divine Providence. This awareness can and does lead Jews to experience fear and love of G*d, at least at the lowest level of fear and love. All of this does not in any way contradict the concept of the ultimately unknowable nature of G*d.

The Tanya explains in detail the concept, which is of paramount importance, that each Jew possesses two souls: the nefesh elokit (godly soul), which partakes of G*d’s es­sence, and the nefesh bahamit(animal soul). Naturally, the former strives toward virtue, light, holiness. The latter also has the faculties of reason and emotion, and is as capable of striving for positive goals as the godly soul, yet it is equally capable of exercising its base instincts by striving for earthly rewards and pleasures. These two souls wage a con­stant battle with each other. G*d, true to the principle of free choice, does not intervene in this battle, although He natu­rally wishes to see the godly soul be victorious, for by con­quering the animal soul and raising it to virtue, light and ho­liness, the nefesh elokit accomplishes the purpose for which it descended into this corporeal world.

People are divided into the righteous, who have to­tally subdued the animal soul, or even converted its brute power into virtue, and the wrongdoers who are ruled by the animal soul. Inbetween these extremes is the beinoni (“in­termediate”) person, the actual subject of the entire Tanya, who, though he has never actively violated a commandment, has never succeeded in fully taming his base instincts. An ordinary person is not expected to become a saint, but he is able and required to reach the beinonilevel, hence the ap­peal to do teshuvah – to return to one’s source and to re­member one’s purpose. Universal teshuvah will bring about the coming of Mashiach and the attainment of the ultimate goal of Creation – the establishment of the kingdom of light, goodness, and truth, in which G*d will be a tangible, visible presence.

As mentioned above, the Alter Rebbe’s Tanya is a remarkable synthesis of Talmudic knowledge and Kabbalis­tic teachings. Those who succeed in studying Tanya in depth become permeated with the understanding that there is nothing but the Almighty. The minds of the Rebbe’s Chassidim were occupied with the new teachings even while they were engaged in the most mundane chores of daily life. The story is told that Rabbi Binyamin Kletzker, one of the Alter Rebbe’ s most devoted Chassidim, was so preoccupied with thoughts about the Creator that while fill­ing out a report on his financial affairs, he wrote in the “to­tal” column: Ein ad milvada (“There is nothing but the Lord!”).

The extraordinary popularity of the Alter Rebbe added fuel to the fires of jealousy and enmity. Two years after the publication of the Tanya, he was arrested on charges of treason against the Russian empire. The pretext for the denunciation was the fact that the Rebbe collected funds to support the needy in the Holy Land, which was part of the Turkish Empire at the time. Since Turkey had been at war with Russia for many years, he was accused of abetting an enemy of the czar. The Alter Rebbe was arrested and im­prisoned in the Peter-Paul fortress in Petersburg.

Chassidim recount that the Rebbe was arrested in Liozna on a Thursday, put in a horse-drawn carriage, and sent to Petersburg under close guard. The next day, with only a few hours left until the start of Shabbat, the Rebbe asked the officer in charge of the guards to delay the trip un­til after Shabbat. The officer categorically refused. They continued on their way, but a short time later one of the car­riage’s axles broke. There was no choice but to stop and send for a blacksmith from the nearest village. Soon the axle was fixed, and the journey resumed. Suddenly, one of the horses collapsed and expired. The guards were gripped by fear and confusion; still, anew, fresh horse was brought in­stead. However, no matter how hard the horses strained to move the carriage, it would not budge an inch. By then, the officer himself was terrified. He told the Rebbe that they would stop for the night in the nearby village, but the Rebbe refused his offer, worried that they would not reach the vil­lage before sunset. Eventually, they pitched camp in the woods by the side of the road. As soon as Shabbat ended, the journey continued without any further mishaps.

At the fortress, despite hours of relentless question­ing, the investigators found nothing to substantiate the charges against the Rebbe. As the investigation wore on, the interrogators became increasingly impressed by the Rebbe’s extraordinary personality, his brilliance, and his boundless erudition in every area of knowledge. His cell became the site of frequent visits by top government officials. By some accounts, the czar himself paid a visit to the Rebbe. He came incognito, wearing plain clothing, and tried not to do anything that would betray his true identity. Even though the Rebbe had never seen the czar, and photographs did not exist at the time, he recognized him at once and treated him with every honor that the Torah instructs one to exhibit toward a monarch. The royal visitor was fully as impressed as his subjects by this unusual prisoner.

On several occasions, the Rebbe was interrogated at the Senate, situated on the other bank of the Neva River. He was transported by boat, usually at night. During one trip, the Rebbe asked the officer of the guards to stop the boat so that he could recite the blessing for the new moon. The offi­cer flatly refused. “If I wanted to,” said the Rebbe, “I could have stopped the boat by myself.” True enough, the boat slowed to a stop. The officer was gripped by spine-chilling fear, yet he persisted in his refusal to allow the Rebbe to re­cite the prayer. Once again, the boat started to move. After momentary reflection, the Rebbe repeated his request. This time the officer agreed, on the condition that the Rebbe gave a written blessing to him and his descendants. The sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, wrote that when he was a child being told this story about the Alter Rebbe, he wondered why the Rebbe had sought the permission of the guards in order to recite the blessing, rather than do so as soon as he had stopped the boat through his supernatural powers. Only later, after Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak had plumbed the depths of Chassidic philosophy, did he realize that the Alter Rebbe needed the guards’ assent because the commandments must be observed as part of the natural course of events rather than through the agency of miracles.

Fifty-three days after his arrest, the Rebbe was com­pletely exonerated and released. The joy of his followers was so intense that it affected many Jews who had not been exposed to Chassidim and the Rebbe until then. Many of them saw the hand of G*d in his liberation. Thus the slanderers’ intrigues not only failed to bear fruit; they actually backfired, increasing the popularity of the Rebbe and the Chassidic movement tenfold. The 19th of Kislev, the day of the Rebbe’ s release, was declared a holiday by Chabad Chassidim, and became known as the “New Year of Chassi­dism,” or the “Holiday of Deliverance.”

Nevertheless, the Rebbe’s ordeal was far from over. He was arrested again two years later on new fabricated charges, and was forced to defend himself before the czarist court. This time he was allowed to debate one of his accus­ers, a rabbi from Pinsk. Their polemic was held in Yiddish, and went on for many hours. Naturally, the judges could not understand a single word. When the debate ended, the court told the Rebbe and his opponent to sum up their arguments in written Russian. Meanwhile, Czar Paul was assassinated and succeeded by Alexander I. Shortly after the coronation, the new czar, eager to win the loyalty of his subjects, in­cluding the Jews, dismissed all charges against the Rebbe.

The Rebbe did not return to Liozna. He moved to the neighboring town of Liady, intending to establish a new center of Chassidism. He spent the next ten years of his life in Liady. During that period, he invested great effort in im­proving the living conditions of Jews throughout Russia. One of the primary purposes of his special fund for the needy was to provide aid to Jewish refugees left destitute by the persecutions of 1804, when Jews were expelled from their homes after being accused of selling vodka to the peasants and causing them to stop working.

In 1812, when Napoleon’s army invaded Russia, many Jewish leaders, attracted by Napoleon’s promises of equality and freedom, and particularly his stated intention to grant the Jews all the rights and freedoms they had yearned for, prayed for the victory of the French. However, the Rebbe could foresee the consequences of this freedom. He saw that if the French won, the economic position of the Jews might improve, but their spiritual condition would suf­fer. If, on the other hand, the Russians won, the Jews would suffer economically – in fact, they would be persecuted ­but the Jewish spirit would flourish. The Rebbe therefore supported the czar, doing everything in his power to bring about Napoleon’s defeat, for he feared that if Napoleon were victorious, the consequent emancipation of the Jews would lead to mass assimilation.

The Alter Rebbe emphasized that in ethics and in politics, and in everything pertaining to the performance of commandments, reason must rule the heart. Rabbi Shneur Zalman’s followers strove to nurture this rational faculty, fostering the power of reason over the emotions, yearnings, and impulses of the heart. One of the youngest disciples of the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Moshe Maizels, was a person of phenomenal erudition. His accomplishments included flu­ency in half a dozen languages. During the war between Napoleon and Russia, the French General Staff invited Rabbi Maizels to serve as a translator. The Alter Rebbe en­thusiastically supported Rabbi Maizels’ decision to accept the offer. By being present at the secret meetings of the French General Staff, Rabbi Maizels would obtain invalu­able intelligence for the Russian army.

Eventually, Rabbi Maizels was suspected of espio­nage. The matter reached the attention of Napoleon himself. The furious emperor burst into a meeting of the General Staff, and rushed at Rabbi Maizels, shouting, “You are a Russian spy!” He then placed his hand on Rabbi Maizels’ chest; the Chassid’s heart was beating evenly and slowly, and he showed no signs of panic. Napoleon was forced to apologize. Rabbi Maizels later told Rabbi Eizel of Gomel, “Reason’s ability to rule the heart saved me from certain death.”

The Chassidim say that Napoleon was aware of the Alter Rebbe’s spiritual battle against him, which caused him great concern. He was tom between fear of the Rebbe’s spiritual power, and an inexplicable fascination with the Rebbe. When the French army reached Liady in August of 1812, Napoleon showed up in person at the Rebbe’s home and gave orders to conduct a search. He was looking for the Rebbe’s manuscripts, or at least some of his personal pos­sessions. The Rebbe, as he was leaving the house before the arrival of the French troops, had given instructions to de­stroy everything inside, especially his papers. Infuriated and disappointed, Napoleon left the house empty-handed and had it burnt to the ground. The Rebbe later told his family that in the Musaf prayer read on Rosh Hashanah he saw clear signs of the eventual downfall of Napoleon.

The Rebbe and his family spent five months on the run, escaping the French army as it advanced into Russia. Thus they found themselves in the village of Peny (in the Kursk district). The battlefields were left behind. The jour­ney had been exhausting, and the winter was particularly harsh. The Alter Rebbe passed from this world on Shabbat evening, the 24th of Tevet, 5573 (December 27, 1812).

After the Alter Rebbe left this world, Rabbi Dov Ber (1773-1827), known as the Mitteler Rebbe (Yiddish for “the Middle Rebbe”), became the leader of the Chabad move­ment. Since he was the son of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, he was occasionally called Rabbi Dov Ber Shneuri, however the family name of the Chabad dynasty only became Schneer­son in the time of his son-in-law, the Tzemach Tzedek.

Like his father, the Mitteler Rebbe not only devel­oped and disseminated Chassidic philosophy; he also made extensive efforts to provide material and spiritual help to needy Jews.

In 1814, he founded a Chabad center in Lubavitch (now in the Smolensk district). This town provided the Cha­bad movement with its second name, serving as its head­quarters for close to 102 years, until 1915.

The life of the Mitteler Rebbe was similar to his fa­ther’s. He too was arrested on false charges, in 1826. As in the case of the Alter Rebbe, he was accused of channeling funds to the Turkish sultan, the czar’s enemy. Eventually, like his father before him, he was completely exonerated and released. The Mitteler Rebbe left this world soon after his release, in 1827.

The third Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel (1789-1866), was the son-in-law of the Mitteler Rebbe and the grandson of the Alter Rebbe. His erudition was extraordinary even for a Rebbe, and he introduced a number of new and particularly sublime ideas into Chabad philosophy. He is known as the “Tzemach Tzedek” after the opening words of his magnum opus. Significantly, Tzemach is one of the traditional Jewish names for Mashiach.

The Tzemach Tzedek was incredibly knowledgeable in Chassidism, Talmud, Kabbalah, and halachah.His book Derech Mitzvotecha is an analysis, from the Chassidic viewpoint, of all the various approaches to and interpreta­tions of the fundamental ideas of the Torah. However his fame, like that of his predecessors, was based not only on his erudition, but also on his practical efforts on the behalf of the Jewish people. Inaddition to numerous educational institutions, he established agricultural settlements where impoverished and starving families could find a steady and honorable livelihood.

During the time of the Tzemach Tzedek, the so-called maskilim, the adherents of the Haskalah(Enlightenment movement), whose goal was to introduce the Jews to “world culture,” attempted to reform the traditional system of Jew­ish education. They sought to introduce secular subjects, taught from an atheistic viewpoint, to the curricula of Jew­ish schools. The Tzemach Tzedek spearheaded the struggle against these endeavors, with their inherent danger of mass assimilation. He succeeded in rallying the support of all the opponents to the reform, including some prominent rabbis from among the mitnagdim. The efforts of the Tzemach Tzedek won him enormous popularity in every sector of To­rah-observant Jewry. As a result, even the czarist authorities were forced to recognize his special status, awarding him the title of “honorary citizen of the Russian Empire.” All the subsequent Lubavitcher Rebbes inherited this title.

Another heroic act of the Tzemach Tzedek was the rescue of thousands of Jewish children from the perils of forced conversion and even death. In 1827, Czar Nicholas I issued the infamous conscription decree, under which all Jewish boys twelve years of age and older could be drafted into the army. Responsibility for enforcing this decree was placed on Jewish communities, which were required to fill a conscription quota of ten boys for every thousand Jewish residents. Even though a similar law was issued for gentiles, the quotas were lower, and it provided for various privileges and exemptions.

When it was discovered that most of the Jewish communities were trying to evade this brutal decree, the government dispatched secret agents to towns and villages to hunt down the draft dodgers. Thousands of small boys ­some of them barely seven years old – were seized and forcibly sent to orphanages or peasant families, where they would be kept until the age of twelve. At that point, they were sent off to military barracks. At the age of eighteen, they would embark on twenty-five years of regular military duty. The majority of these boys never made it back to their families. As a rule, children’s freedom could be bought by bribing the czarist “snatchers,” but the families were so des­perately poor that this avenue of escape was out of the ques­tion. The conscription decree caused deep dismay among Russian Jewry; people vainly looked for ways to save their children. The Tzemach Tzedek founded a clandestine soci­ety known as “those who raise the dead” for the rescue of kidnapped children. They monitored all that was happening to the conscripted children, raised money, bribed czarist of­ficials to issue falsified death certificates, and when the time was right, ransomed the boys. In this way, thousands of sto­len children were saved.

The Tzemach Tzedek had seven sons. The youngest, Rabbi Shmuel (1834-1882), was designated by the Tzemach Tzedek to become the fourth Lubavitcher Rebbe. Rabbi Shmuel assumed the leadership of the Chabad movement in 1866. During that time, anti-Semitism had reached unprece­dented proportions in Russia. Pogroms, looting, and abuse of the Jews became commonplace phenomena. In most in­stances, the ruling elite instigated the persecutions. Thanks to the prestige he had won in the highest circles of Russian nobility, the Rebbe managed on more than one occasion to protect Jews in many towns and villages. Moreover, he of­ten did so at risk to his own life.

The concept of le’chatchilah ariber, a Yiddish expression meaning “to leap over obstacles from the start,” was introduced into Chassidic practice by Rabbi Shmuel. According to this approach, if a Jew comes upon an obsta­cle, he should overcome it in the most direct manner, leap over it, as it were, rather than go around or under it. The Rebbe would often demonstrate to his Chassidim the practi­cal application of this principle.

The fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe was Rabbi Shmuel’s son, Rabbi Shalom Dov Ber, known by the acronym Rashab (1860-1920). One of his major accomplishments was the es­tablishment of the famous Lubavitch yeshiva, Tomchei Temimim (“bulwark of the open-hearted,” or “the pure”), as well as a series of other yeshivot throughout Russia. These institutions raised the level of Torah learning to new heights, particularly in areas far removed from Jewish cen­ters, such as the Caucasus.

During World War I, when the German army was ap­proaching Lubavitch, Rabbi Shalom Dov Ber moved the Chabad headquarters to Rostov-on-Don in southern Russia. Soon afterwards came one of the most tragic events in the history of mankind in general, and the Jews in particular ­the communist revolution in Russia. The following amazing story happened at that time.

During World War I, a religious Jew who re­sided in one of the Russian cities disappeared without a trace, leaving behind a wife and small children. His wife looked for him everywhere to no avail. She had almost lost all hope when a friend from Chabad ad­vised her to go to Rostov-on-Don to see the RebbeRashab. “He is the only one in the world who can help you,” the friend told her.

The woman went to Rostov, where she tried to make an appointment to see the Rebbe, however, she was bitterly disappointed. “The Rebbe does not re­ceive women,” she was told by the Rebbe’s secretary. “You can write a letter to the Rebbe. I will take it to him and give you his reply.”

The woman tried to explain that she had to talk to the Rebbe in person, but the secretary was adamant. She had no choice but to relate her sad story on paper, asking the Rebbe to help her find her husband.

Some time later, the secretary brought her the Rebbe’s reply: she was to go to Warsaw, where she would find her husband.

The woman was astonished and dejected; how would she ever get from Rostov to Warsaw, when the country was ravaged by war and dangers lurked at every step? Besides, she had no money for such a lengthy trip. However, the Chassidim at the Rebbe’s house assured her that if she really wished to find her husband, she had to act on the Rebbe’s advice. With­out further ado, they pooled their money to provide for the trip.

Without having seen the Rebbe, the woman set out on her journey. When she finally arrived in War­saw, she stood at the train station at a loss as to where to go and what to do. She did not know a soul in War­saw, and the Rebbe had not mentioned any contacts in his letter.

Suddenly a tall, dignified looking Jew with a light beard approached her and said, “I see that you are in need of help. Can 1 be of service?”

The woman related her story. The man asked for her husband’s name, and then suggested that she should go to a mill nearby, and inquire there about her husband. After giving her directions to the mill, the man wished her luck and went away.

When she found the mill, the woman asked the owner whether he had any knowledge of her husband. “Of course!” exclaimed the miller. “He is one of my workers!” He left, and returned a few minutes later accompanied by the woman’s husband.

Their conversation was brief. The husband ex­plained that he had no choice but to flee Russia. The woman, on her part, urged her husband to come back, but he insisted that he was afraid to go back to Russia. Finally, he asked his wife how she had managed to find him, and she told him about her visit to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and his advice to go to Warsaw. Upon hearing this, the husband said, “If there is a tzaddik capable of finding me from a thousand miles away with his holy sight, I am ready to go back!” They returned to Russia, where they lived in peace for many years.

However, the story does not end there. Upon her return, the woman went back to Rostov to thank the Rebbe. As before, she was told that the Rebbe did not receive women, but she insisted on telling the Rebbe her good news in person. The Chassidim sug­gested that she wait by his office door at the time when he usually came out. The woman did just that.

When the door opened and the Rebbe stepped outside, the woman cried out, burst into tears and, col­lapsed in a faint. When she regained consciousness, the Chassidim questioned her what had caused her such a great shock. “Don’t you see!” exclaimed the woman. “This is the very same man who came up to me at the station in Warsaw and helped me find my husband!”

“You must be mistaken,” the Chassidim ob­jected. “The Rebbe has not been to Warsaw for quite a while.”

Still the woman insisted, “This is the same man! I am not mistaken!”

The Chassidim inquired about the exact time she had met this man in Warsaw. The woman told them the day and the hour she was approached by that “tall, dignified looking Jew with a light beard” at the Warsaw railway station.

An amazing discovery came to light. The Rebbe followed a very strict schedule. Although he devoted very little time and attention to eating, he took his meals punctually at one in the afternoon every day. The secretary would bring his meals to the office, the Rebbe would let him in, the secretary would place the food on the table and leave.

On the day the woman encountered the tall Jew in Warsaw, a strange occurrence took place in Rostov. When the secretary brought the meal at the usual time, the Rebbe did not open the door and did not respond to the secretary’s knocking. The door was locked from the inside. A few minutes later, the secretary knocked again; there was no response.

The Chassidim were seriously concerned that something might have happened to the Rebbe. After all, he had never failed to open his office door before. One Chassid went to the office window, which faced the street. The curtain was drawn. He climbed the wall and peered into the Rebbe’s office over the curtain. He beheld a strange sight: the Rebbe was leaning on the windowsill, standing and gazing into the distance. His face was pensive and absorbed; it was obvious that his thoughts were somewhere far away. After a long time the Rebbe opened his office door and asked for his meal to be brought in.

By comparing the dates, the Chassidim ascer­tained beyond any doubt that it was precisely when the Rebbe had stood lost in thought by the window of his office in Rostov that the “tall, dignified looking man with a light beard” had come up to the woman at the Warsaw railway station.

The son of Rabbi Shalom Dov Ber, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak (1880-1950), became the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe after the passing of his father in 1920. This was a turbulent time; the violence of the Bolshevik revolution and the bru­tality of the infamous Yevsektzia (the Jewish Section of the Communist Party) were at their height. Joseph Stalin and his Jewish right-hand man, Shmuel Agursky, established the Yevsektzia in 1918 with the goal of killing the soul of Rus­sian Jewry. Even prior to assuming the Chabad leadership, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, in his capacity as his father’s assis­tant and envoy, had weathered many storms to emerge as a capable leader. One of the main areas of his activity was strengthening the Chabad yeshivot, which provided Jewish education to numerous students who went on to serve as teachers and mentors for the entire European Jewry. He did a great deal to improve the social and economic condition of the Jews. One of the ways he did so was by resettling the Jews in areas where they could engage in agriculture. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak spent a great deal of time traveling to the most remote and neglected areas, wherever there was a need to take immediate action to improve Jewish life.

There are numerous Chassidic stories about the amaz­ing courage and inventiveness displayed by Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak even before the revolution, when he was acting on the behalf of his father, the Rebbe Rashab. On a number of occasions, when Jewish lives were at stake, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak managed to secretly penetrate the offices of czarist ministers (specifically, the office of Stolypin, the brutal anti-Semitic minister of internal affairs), find confidential papers containing anti-Jewish regulations, and delay their progress through the bureaucratic channels.

Like his predecessors, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak also ac­quired first-hand knowledge of czarist prisons. Even before he became the Lubavitcher Rebbe, he was arrested five times for “illegal” involvement in the affairs of his fellow Jews throughout Russia. Before the revolution, the main threats facing Russian Jewry were poverty and pogroms. With the revolution came the added reprisals carried out by the Yevsektzia. It is no surprise that the agents of the Yevsektzia viewed the Lubavitcher Rebbe and his followers as their worst enemy, bent on fostering and supporting a Jewish way of life based on Torah commandments.

In 1921, the Rebbe established a yeshiva in Rostov. This was used as a pretext for yet another arrest on charges of treason against the Soviet government. The Rebbe was subjected to lengthy interrogations; brandishing guns, the interrogators tried to intimidate him into signing a confes­sion. Naturally, the Rebbe flatly refused.

Before long the Rebbe was released, to plunge once again into feverish activity. At a time when the majority of Jewish leaders either left the country or were immobilized by fear, the Rebbe sent envoys to every comer of the Soviet Union with instructions to do the seemingly impossible: to establish new underground yeshivot and Torah schools, to build mikvaot, to utilize every opportunity to foster Jewish education and Torah observance.

One night early in the summer of 1927, agents of Tcheka (the Soviet secret police) and the Yevsektzia broke into the Rebbe’s home in Leningrad. They searched for sev­eral hours, The secret police tried everything to humiliate the Rebbe, including rude and abusive behavior. In the pre­dawn hours, he was taken away to one of the most gruesome detention centers – the infamous Shpalernaya prison.

The interrogations were once again full of the usual threats and intimidation techniques. “This little toy,” said the investigator as he pressed the barrel of a gun against the Rebbe’s chest, “has made many a man change his mind.”

“This little toy,” replied the Rebbe, “can intimidate only the kind of man who has many gods and but one world. Since I have only one G*d and two worlds, I am not im­pressed by your little toy.”

The “trial” was held several days later, and the Rebbe was sentenced to death. He was placed in solitary confine­ment. Would the Bolsheviks have the audacity to carry out the sentence? The mere thought that the Rebbe could be executed horrified both his thousands of Chassidim and countless other Jews. Leading politicians, heads of govern­ment, and presidents of various countries tried to intercede with the Soviet authorities on the Rebbe’s behalf. Millions of Jews were praying for the Rebbe, and their prayers were answered. For the first time in history, the Bolsheviks had to concede defeat. The death sentence was replaced, first by imprisonment on the Solovetzky islands, and then by exile to Kostroma. Ten days later, on the 12th of Tammuz, The Rebbe’s birthday, he was completely acquitted and released.

The joy and gratitude following the Rebbe’s miracu­lous deliverance knew no bounds. The Bolsheviks were not all-powerful after all. The iron will and un shakable faith of one truly spiritual man had overcome them! Clearly, despite the horrors of the Soviet regime, the future and destiny of Soviet Jewry were not as hopeless as they had seemed.

The Rebbe left Kostroma and settled in the village of Malachovka, in the vicinity of Moscow. Giving way to the relentless pressure of the international community, the au­thorities gave the Rebbe permission to leave the Soviet Union for Riga, the capital of still independent Latvia. He de­manded that the authorities provide him with several freight cars for his enormous library, which contained invaluable books and numerous unique manuscripts.

The Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak may have left Russia, but this was not the end of the Russian chapter of Chabad his­tory; everything the Rebbe achieved, as well as the miracle of his freedom, was to have a lasting effect on the future of Russian Jewry.

In 1929, one year after arriving in Riga, the Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak took a trip to the United States, where he stayed for ten months. One of the main goals of his visit was to rally public support in defense of Soviet Jewry. While in the United States, the Rebbe was received by President Hoover. However, he attached primary importance to his meetings with Jewish public figures and countless ordinary Jews, aimed at clarifying the situation concerning Jewish education, religious and social life.

Following his return from the United States, the Rebbe remained in Riga for several years, until 1933, when he moved to Warsaw. Two years later, the Chabad head­quarters were relocated to Otvock, a small town in the vicin­ity of Warsaw, where a Chabad yeshiva had been estab­lished twelve years earlier.

At the outbreak of Word War II, the Rebbe was in Warsaw. Together with his Chassidim, he witnessed the ter­rible siege of the city and its eventual capitulation to the Nazi invaders. From his shelter, he supervised the evacua­tion of hundreds of Jews, especially young men, to safer ar­eas, including helping a large group of American yeshiva students leave the country. Eventually, at the start of 1940, the Rebbe left Poland for Riga, where he spent the next two and a half months. Several months before the Soviet Union annexed Latvia, the American government helped the Rebbe move to the United States. The Rebbe foresaw that the United States would become the stronghold of world Jewry in general, and of the Chabad movement in particular.

The Rebbe arrived in New York on March 19, 1940. At the port, he was enthusiastically welcomed by thousands of Chassidim and other Jews. Many of them had recently escaped the Nazis with the Rebbe’s help. Immediately upon arriving at the hotel, the Rebbe announced that he would not rest or sleep until the first Chabad yeshiva was created in America. The next morning the first ten students of the new Tomchei Temimim yeshiva began their studies.

Six months after his arrival, the Rebbe moved into a building at 770 Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights, which serves as Chabad world headquarters to this day. From here, the Rebbe continued to spearhead the enormous task of sav­ing thousands of European Jews and aiding countless refu­gees. He supervised the process of reconstructing the ruined Jewish communities of Europe, as well as reviving and expanding the Chabad movement, which had survived the ravages of Stalinist terror and the Nazi extermination campaign.

It is difficult to list all the educational institutions, publications, organizations, and special projects created and supervised by the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe. We will men­tion only some of them: the Hakriah Vehakdushah monthly official organ of Chabad, published during World War II; the Machaneh Israel organization founded to assist Jews in reclaiming their Jewish identity, learning Torah, and per­forming good deeds; a network of Lubavitcher yeshivot in Brooklyn, Pittsburgh, Wooster, New Haven, Montreal, and other cities; the Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch center for Jewish education; schools for Jewish girls, the largest among them Beth Rivka in Crown Heights; the Kehot Publication Soci­ety, the world’s largest publisher of Chassidic books, including discourses, articles and books written by the Reb­bes; a special project for hosting children from non-religious homes by Chassidic families for Shabbat; and a project for saving North African Jewry (mainly the Jews of Morocco). These and more formed the foundation, the infrastructure of a worldwide organization, which is still in the process of constant consolidation and expansion. This was the answer given by the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe to the calamities unleashed by Stalin and Hitler.

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak left this world on the 10th of Shvat, 5710 (1950).

Up Close and Personal

The most recent Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, became the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, the seventh link in the dynasty. It is important to have some idea of the particular atmosphere in which this phenomenal, incomparable person was raised and educated. We will try to describe his father’s home – the family, the circum­stances, and the events that surrounded it.

In 1917, the year of the Bolshevik revolution, the world was caught up in a wave of unprecedented enthusi­asm. Revolutionary slogans, translated into numerous lan­guages, were galvanizing people’s imagination. Thousands of mouths were screaming in mindless frenzy: “Friendship among nations!” and “Proletariat of all countries, unite!” The blue of the sky seemed to be obscured and eclipsed by the blood red of the banners. The sad irony lay in the fact that the majority of top Bolshevik leaders and torchbearers were Jewish by birth. They waged a campaign of vilification and brutality against religion – and that primarily meant, of course, the ancient religion of their fathers, which they had betrayed. These people were responsible for portraying re­ligion as one of the main enemies of revolution. It took very little time for the population of the former Russian empire to realize that the lawlessness and cruelty of the czarist regime paled before the ruthless brutality of the Bolsheviks. The savagery of the special police, the death sentences pro­nounced by the troikas (groups of three Secret Police) and summarily carried out, the growing number of people dragged from their homes never to be seen again – all con­vinced the people that resistance was useless, that “even the walls have ears,” that not only their words but even sedi­tious thoughts would be swiftly and surely punished.

To be sure, the Jewish religion was not the only one to suffer. Bolshevik repression was directed equally against Christian priests and worshippers. This prompted the Pope to issue a firm protest. Russia’s new dictatorial regime, in its merciless policy of terror, lost no time in learning the art of disinformation. One of its replies to the Pope and world opinion was to stage a showcase conference of Byelorus­sia’s rabbis, scheduled for the beginning of 1928 in Minsk. It was the government’s intention to have thirty-two of the rabbis attending the conference sign a declaration denying the existence of any anti-religious persecution and counter­ing all the allegations.

With broken hearts and shaking hands, the rabbis signed the declaration prepared beforehand. In triumph, the government began to plan another conference, this one to be attended by rabbis from the Ukraine. The conference was to be held in Kharkov, then the Ukrainian capital. There was only one obstacle. According to government informers, the rabbi of Yekaterinoslav (later renamed Dnepropetrovsk), Levi Yitzchak Schneerson (a great-grandson of the Tzemach Tzedek, and an immensely popular and respected figure among the Jews), adamantly refused to sign the fabricated statement. The GPU (State Political Directorate), as the se­cret police had come to be called, decided to summon Rabbi Schneerson for a little talk. Everything was done to make this a “congenial” affair, with not a single threat or accusa­tion against the rabbi. The mouths of the GPU officials were all but dripping with honey. Their boss delivered a lengthy speech to the effect that he had no doubt that the esteemed rabbi would sign the statement rebuffing the vile insinua­tions of international capitalism, and the Pope in particular, concerning anti-religious measures allegedly taking place in the Soviet Union. He went on to say that Jews must be grateful to the Soviet regime, which had freed them from the czarist yoke. Finally, he promised that Jews would be awarded a series of concessions provided the statement was signed. “Of course,” he added with an insidious smile, “if the statement is not signed, you and other conference par­ticipants may be in for some trouble.”

The rabbi had already risen to take his leave, when one of the GPU officials pulled a train ticket from a desk drawer. “We have thought of everything,” he said. “Here is your ticket to Kharkov. First class, of course.”

However, Rabbi Schneerson’s reply was brusque and definite: “I have no need for your ticket. I will come to the conference at my own expense.” He left without saying an­other word.

On the appointed day, the rabbi arrived at the confer­ence. There were several dozen rabbis in the auditorium. Scurrying among them were some unfamiliar characters eas­ily recognizable as GPU agents. Palpable fear and tension were in the air; the participants avoided talking to one an­other. One by one, they were called to the podium, where they recited the prepared texts and, hanging their heads in shame, returned to their seats. When it was Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson’s turn, a barely audible rustle went through the auditorium, followed by total silence. With quick and confident steps, the rabbi crossed the floor, climbed up to the stage and, in a loud and clear voice, called upon everyone present not to sign the statement, calling it an outright fabrication. “Those who sign this lie will be committing a grave transgression,” he concluded his brief speech.

Deep silence descended on the auditorium. To the ut­ter astonishment of all those present, no one came up to Rabbi Schneerson to demand that he retract his words. The conference lasted for several more days, during which Rabbi Schneerson was able to repeat his appeal a number of times. His words and his unshakeable conviction were beginning to affect those attending the conference, and their spirits were regaining power.

Seeing their plans threatened, the authorities sum­moned Rabbi Schneerson to a meeting with the people’s commissar in charge of education in the Ukraine. The com­missar attempted to gain the rabbi’s sympathy with a show of mildness and friendliness. However, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak explained, patiently and without the slightest sign of fear, that nothing would intimidate him into signing the declara­tion, which did not contain a single word of truth.

“You persecute religion every way you can,” he said. “You destroy synagogues and yeshivot, close down printing houses and ritual baths, deprive us of our legal right to lead Jewish lives. Do you really believe that I can be forced to sign this fabrication?”

At this point, the commissar could no longer restrain himself. “I’ll have you know,” he yelled, “that we will not tolerate your incitement! You are undermining the founda­tions of the Soviet regime, and you will pay dearly for this!”

The authorities never did obtain the desired results from the rabbinical conference. They were literally fuming with rage, which grew even more intense when they found out that someone had managed to smuggle information about these events abroad, triggering a storm of reactions and protests throughout the world. Thousands of Jews inside and outside the Soviet Union held their breath: the solitary battle of one seemingly defenseless Jew against an all-powerful state had an unreal quality.

This was not the only clash between Rabbi Levi Yitz­chak and the Soviet state. That same year, the government conducted a population census. One of the items in the questionnaire read, “Are you religious or non-religious?” It was common knowledge that anyone who admitted his reli­gious affiliation would expose himself to various perils and repressive measures. Many ordinary religious Jews saw nothing wrong with registering as non-religious; after all, they did it solely out of fear of the authorities and the desire to avoid persecution.

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, on the other hand, thought dif­ferently. He gathered his followers in a synagogue, and an­nounced that registering as non-religious would be tanta­mount to apostasy and a grave transgression. There could be no two ways about it! Despite the enormous fear of the au­thorities, the words of someone like Rabbi Levi Yitzchak could not be ignored, and many people abided by his in­structions. Naturally, the GPU added this information to his “file.”

Many other events in the life of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson guide adults and children to this day. The Rebbe related the following episode to children during a gathering in honor of his father’s birthday. The Rebbe explained that the story he was about to tell had not become widely known for various reasons. This story illustrates what a Jew who puts the observance of Torah commandments above all else can achieve. “The story I am about to tell you,” began the Rebbe, “is about flour and matzah for the Pesach holiday.”

My father, one of the most prominent rabbis in Russia, was the rabbi of Yekaterinoslav, one of the largest cities of the Ukraine, in an area that supplied wheat to the entire Ukraine. Thus it was natural that people turned to him to certify the kashrut of Pesach flour. Obtaining a kashrutcertificate from my father was not an easy matter. He would dispatch reliable people to every mill that supplied Pesach flour. Their task was to observe the production to make sure that the grain did not come into contact with water or any other moisture. Whenever this did happen, they would immediately pronounce the flour not kosher for Pesach. Everyone knew that attempts to appeal to my father’s leniency were totally useless. When the So­viet government took control of all means of produc­tion in the country, including the mills and bakeries, envoys from a number of Jewish communities ap­proached my father in an attempt to convince him that under the circumstances, it was extremely dangerous for Jews to refuse to purchase flour from the govern­ment. In those years, during Pesach the overwhelming majority of Jews only used matzah. Since matzah flour was much more expensive, pronouncing it not kosher would cause considerable financial loss to the government, the only source. The authorities would surely react with savage vengeance if this were to happen.

“I will certainly issue kashrut certificates,” My father replied, “provided I am allowed to send super­visors to each mill, and provided the authorities agree to accept their instructions unconditionally. If, how­ever, the government refuses, then issuing kashrut certificates would be out of the question. Moreover,” my father continued, “If the government does not agree to my terms, I will do everything in my power to inform every Jew that the matzah flour was not made under my supervision, and is therefore not ko­sher for Pesach.”

The envoys told my father that he would proba­bly be allowed to send his observers, and if they la­beled the flour as kosher, everything would be fine. If, however, they had any reservations as to whether eve­rything was done in accordance with Torah com­mandments, and if my father refused to approve the flour as a result, that would amount to an open chal­lenge to the Soviet government, with all that implied.

“In that case,” my father said, “I will go to Moscow to see the chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, to explain that it is impossible for me to issue false kashrut certificates.” If the authorities decided to punish him, he was ready for that. This would be far preferable to even thinking about the possibility of violating the laws of Torah as decreed by the Almighty!

The envoys were flabbergasted. They could not fathom how one seemingly powerless Jew could dare make an open and adamant stand against the omnipo­tent regime. They made another attempt to reason with father and “bring him to his senses,” but to no avail, as was to be expected.

Eventually the entire affair reached Kalinin, the chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, who was known to have retained at least some sem­blance of humanity, in contrast to the other commu­nist leaders. Kalinin, evidently impressed by the rabbi’s courage, instructed the managers of the mills to unconditionally accept my father’s demands.

This was nothing short of a miracle. The au­thorities had yielded to the demands of a Jew, a rabbi! That year, and for many years after that, Pesach mat­zah was baked in full conformance with the laws of kashrut.

“And so,” the Rebbe concluded his story, “we see that when a proud Jew stands firm and does not give in even when facing the Soviet government, which may appear all-powerful to many, ultimately such a Jew will triumph. All of this should be a reminder to each of us, especially to children. We must realize that our duty is to adhere firmly to the views and laws of Torah. This firm stand is based on the fact that the words of Torah were dictated by the Almighty Himself, who created heaven and earth – and it is unthink­able for a Jew to act contrary to the words of Torah. Once we embrace this truth and act accordingly, we will achieve our goals, even if they are directly opposed by a mighty state. After all, the entire universe was created in accordance with Torah, and nothing in this universe can possibly con­tradict its laws. Moreover, just as the authorities in this story issued orders to bake matzah in accordance with the Shul­chan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law, so too, any gentile, seeing a Jew who proudly follows the path of the Lord, be­comes in fact a ‘tool’ in G*d’s hands.”

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak exhibited courage not only in critical moments or in confrontations with the Soviet re­gime. Ineveryday life, full of hardship and danger, his sole concern was for Jews and Judaism. This concern was mani­fested in many situations: when it was time to circumcise a baby whose parents worked for the government, and per­forming the circumcision ceremony required heroic effort; when a Jew with no family was on his deathbed; when complex halachic issues arose concerning practical applica­tion of Torah laws; when a Jew needed support, either mate­rial or spiritual. Anyone who needed help could turn to Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, day or night, and he was always there to lend a helping hand through word or deed.

His capacity for self-sacrifice knew no bounds. At one time he entertained thoughts of leaving the Soviet Union and escaping the unbearable perils and privations of its totalitarian regime. Yet he cast away these thoughts, refus­ing to leave his community. He was fully aware that the survival of his own Jewish community, and perhaps of all the Jewish communities in the Ukraine, would be impossi­ble without his presence. If he were gone, who would lead the struggle for kosher food, Jewish education, or the con­tinued functioning of mikvaot, without which it would be impossible to observe the laws of family purity? For that reason, he did not even reply to a letter signed by Jerusalem rabbis offering him a rabbinic position. According to the recollections of his wife, Rebbetzin Chana, there was an­other reason for his failure to reply: Rabbi Levi Yitzchak was convinced that he did not deserve the privilege of living in the Holy Land. Even though invitations from Israel con­tinued to arrive during the subsequent years, he chose to remain in the Soviet Union, together with his community.

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak served as the rabbi of Yekateri­noslav (Dnepropetrovsk) for thirty-nine years before his ar­rest, which marked the beginning of years of suffering and privation. On the night of the 10th of Nisan, 5699 (1939), the long arm of the Soviet regime reached Rabbi Levi Yitzchak. At three a.m. there was a knock on the door. The Rebbetzin opened it and saw four officers of the NKVD (Soviet inter­nal security). Pushing the Rebbetzin aside, the officers burst into the house, shouting, “Where is the rabbi?”

When the rabbi came to meet the unwelcome guests, the chief officer produced the search and arrest warrant. The search began immediately. The officers smashed the doors of bookcases, piling hundreds of volumes onto the floor. They were particularly interested in letters and manuscripts. The rabbi’s personal correspondence, including numerous letters from the Joint Distribution Committee, and his rab­binical diploma, were confiscated. The most valuable books and manuscripts were sealed with wax. Among the latter was a manuscript on Chassidism written by the Tzemach Tzedek himself, including a marginal note written by the Alter Rebbe on one of the pages. The manuscripts of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak himself were packed separately.

Around six a.m., after turning the entire house upside down, they ordered the rabbi to get dressed and come with them. His sole request was to be allowed to bring along a small package of matzah, for the Pesach holiday was only a few days away. To his surprise, the NKVD officers granted his request.

The Rebbetzin strove to understand what had hap­pened, reconstructing in her mind the events that preceded the arrest. Gradually, certain things began to make sense. For example, she realized why two suspicious young men had been lurking around their home for close to a month. Three weeks before the arrest, on Purim, Rabbi Levi Yitz­chak had hosted a large gathering. He had delivered a long speech about the significance of Purim and its moral rele­vance to the present. The gathering had culminated in in­tense Chassidic dancing which wordlessly expressed the people’s fears and hopes. At the end, the guests dispersed, unaware of the NKVD agents who had been watching their every move. Meetings of this kind were strictly forbidden, and the Rebbetzin suspected that the Purim gathering would be used as evidence against her husband.

Driven to the verge of total despair by the lack of any news of her husband’s fate, the Rebbetzin suddenly received a message: the rabbi was being kept in the local prison. She was also informed that once every ten days he was allowed to receive a food parcel. The next day for sending a parcel was a Saturday, and the Rebbetzin asked a young gentile woman she knew to take it to the prison. The next time, the Rebbetzin had to wait for almost twelve hours before the prison authorities accepted the parcel. Finally, when it had grown totally dark outside, one of the guards informed her that she had a note from her husband. In this note, he told her, among other things, that the previous parcel had never reached him, since he had refused to sign the receipt for it on Shabbat.
As it turned out, one of the charges against Rabbi Levi Yitzchak had to do with his leading role in the con­struction of a mikveh. There were a series of other charges concerning his alleged contacts with “hostile elements.” Foremost among these “hostile elements” was his son’s fa­ther-in-law, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, who had left the Soviet Union long before, but who was still bitterly hated by the Bolshevik regime.
The NKVD butchers had broken the spirit of count­less thousands of young, healthy prisoners, forcing them to sign “remorseful confessions” admitting to “crimes” con­cocted by their interrogators. A released convict told the Rebbetzin that Rabbi Levi Yitzchak had spent thirty-two days in solitary confinement under inhuman conditions, and that the prison guards were relentless in inventing new forms of torture and abuse. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, who was sixty at the time, remained steadfast, and he triumphed over every torture, physical and spiritual. His human and Jewish pride and his indomitable spirit and faith served him in good stead. Rumors about him circulated within the prison sys­tem; he was becoming a legendary figure.

Almost a year of perpetual, agonizing anxiety about the rabbi’s health and life had passed since the day of the arrest. Using every roundabout way available, the Rebbetzin managed to learn that the rabbi’s trial would be held in Moscow. She went there and made superhuman efforts to arrange a visit with her husband. For a long time, her at­tempts bore no fruit. She did manage to find out that her husband was alive and sentenced to a five-year exile in a remote area with no Jewish population. Finally, she was to be allowed one visit before his departure.

Initially, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak was transferred back to the Dnepropetrovsk prison; then he was held in a Kharkov jailhouse. His health was deteriorating with every passing day. Finally, the rabbi was sent into exile without ever being told where exactly he was going. The journey seemed end­less and was full of misery. For eleven days the prisoners were issued one glass of water a day. People greedily gulped down the water to partially quench their terrible thirst. Yet Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, whose spirit always pre­vailed over his physical needs, allowed himself no more than a couple of swallows, saving the rest of the water for ablutions, without which he could not recite the prayers.

Finally, the train arrived in Alma-Ata, the capital of Kazakhstan. From there, the prisoners were dispatched to Chiili, a town already filled with political exiles. The NKVD thugs had astutely surmised that living in a place like Chiili would be the worst punishment for Rabbi Levi Yitzchak. In addition, the living conditions in Chiili were appalling. The swampy ground exuded heavy moisture into the air. Swarms of mosquitoes were a constant source of ir­ritation. The huts of mud-covered wood were no protection against the murderous climate. Epidemics were rampant. Hunger was ever-present; even drinking water could only be obtained with considerable difficulty. Here the rabbi would be completely cut off from his family and his people for an indeterminate period of time. For the rabbi, this was worse than any physical hardship.

When the Rebbetzin’ s desperate attempts to obtain a pardon for her husband ended in failure, she went to join him in Chiili. If the lonely battle with the hardships of eve­ryday life required feats of courage, observing the Jewish holidays became an act of self-abnegation. It was especially difficult to comply with all the intricate laws of Pesach. De­spite everything, the Schneersons were fully committed to making any sacrifice necessary, creating a holiday atmos­phere around them.

Time passed without bringing any relief. When he became gravely ill, his Rebbetzin devoted herself heart and soul to easing his plight and enabling him to continue his Torah studies and writing. She would stand in endless food lines, or walk for miles in order to settle some problem with a boorish government official – all in order to protect her husband.

One account of the Rebbetzin’s life in exile recalls the dignity with which she faced hardship and hunger. She would often give the last piece of bread to a hungry guest without the slightest hint that the household was in dire need, or that this was literally their last morsel, and that there was no hope of getting more bread the next day.

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak spent days and nights studying Torah. Naturally, he dreamed of recording his thoughts and revelations, but paper and ink were very scarce. The Reb­betzin would walk to the fields to gather plants, and steep them in water to make thick ink, which Rabbi Levi Yitzchak used to write down his thoughts. He did much of his writing in the margins of the books he was studying. Due to the lack of ink and paper, his writing was very concise.

Keeping and smuggling written records was ex­tremely dangerous, and people had been known to disappear without a trace for far lesser “transgressions.” Nevertheless, the Rebbetzin, who had devoted her entire life to her hus­band, kept the manuscripts after he left this world; the Jew­ish world was enriched by the work of the late Rabbi Levi Yitzchak solely through her efforts. The exiles suffered from heat in the summer, from bitter cold in the winter and from severe hunger all year. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak’s health continued to deteriorate. He contracted a severe case of ma­laria, and barely managed to recover; a gentile doctor among the exiles secretly treated the rabbi.

Amidst the spell of misfortune and deprivation, the Schneersons received unexpected moral support in the form of a telegram from Europe, sent by their eldest son, Menachem Mendel, who later became the Rebbe. Several days later a food parcel arrived from him.

Years went by. The endurance and courage of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak appeared to be infinite. A number of people in the center of the country continued to endanger their lives and freedom in order to bring about the rabbi’s release. Fi­nally he was released, settling in Alma Ata. On the 20th of Av, 5704 (1944), Rabbi Schneerson left this world. The few Jews who lived in that city did not leave his side until the very end. Jews still come to Alma Ata from Russia and other countries to Rabbi Levi Yitzchak’s grave to ask the rabbi to intercede on their behalf in the higher realms. They have amazing stories to tell about the help and blessings that the tzaddik obtained for them from the Almighty.

How does a Rebbe come into being? What is the source of his supernatural abilities, his spiritual power, his faculty for making critical decisions and guiding others? An exhaustive answer to these and similar questions lies beyond human capacity.

Some people are gifted with exceptional genius.

Some young men, raised and educated in their parents’ home, possess outstanding spiritual qualities. However, these factors are clearly not sufficient to form a Rebbe. Nu­merous Torah scholars immerse themselves in the depths of the halachah, yet at most influence a narrow circle of pupils and close friends. A Rebbe must possess a greatness that de­fies all imagination, a spirit whose power sweeps away every obstacle. Most importantly, a Rebbe must possess boundless love for every Jew. This love spreads from heart to heart; it knows no boundaries or limitations; it is uncondi­tional, beyond calculation; it is akin to the love of a father for his son, yet multiplied a hundredfold.

No one has been able to describe the precise mecha­nism of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s influence, to capture the enigmatic essence of his personality, the unique qualities that raise him to usually unattainable heights. Despite our attempts to analyze the elements that make up the extraordi­nary image of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, we do not presume to have exhaustive or accu­rate answers.

Can it be that when he was born, on the 11th of Nisan, 5662 (1902), there were people in Nikolaev who foresaw the great future in store for the newborn baby? Is it conceiv­able that even then, someone’s inner vision foretold that the baby was destined to become the leader of the entire Jewish people? Those accustomed to relying exclusively on their rational mind will dismiss the idea as preposterous, yet it is true. On the day of the birth, Rebbe Shalom Dov Ber sent no less than six (!) telegrams containing detailed inquiries and instructions concerning the baby. Following these instruc­tions, his mother, Rebbetzin Chana, washed her own and the baby’s hands prior to each feeding. Thus from the moment of his birth, the Rebbe did not eat a single meal without washing his hands. Even the most religious families usually teach their children to observe this commandment only from the age of three.

The circumcision ceremony was held during the Pesach holiday. The boy was named Menachem Mendel, after his great, great, great-grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek. The day of the circumcision was the baby’s father, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak’s twenty-fourth birthday. During the festive meal following the ceremony, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, a great expert in the Kabbalah, talked about the significant connection between birthday and circumcision, according to the teachings of the Kabbalah.

By the age of two, Menachem Mendel was already able to ask the four traditional questions during the Pesach Seder. Six months later, he could pray as fluently as an adult. Once, when Jews had gathered in his father’s house for the evening prayer, Menachem Mendel, then two and a half, jumped out of his little bed in the next room and joined them in prayer. The Rebbetzin, afraid of the evil eye, carried the boy back.

When the child turned three, he was brought to a che­der, as was the custom. A group of three-year-old boys sat around the table at the home of the melamed, who was teaching them the Hebrew alphabet and other Torah basics that lie within the grasp of a three-year-old child. Men­achem Mendel’s melamed, Rabbi Zalman Vilenkin, quickly saw that the boy had nothing to learn at the cheder, and be­gan to give him private lessons. (Many years later, Rabbi Zalman Vilenkin managed to flee the Soviet Union and vis­ited the Rebbe, who treated his former teacher with the ut­most respect and honor, as prescribed by halachah.)

The failed Russian revolution of 1905 sparked a wave of anti-Jewish pogroms. When Menachem Mendel was four and a half, one such pogrom took place in Nikolaev, where his family was living. The Jews looked for any hiding place. Once such shelter, which Menachem Mendel’s family shared with others, was filled with babies and small chil­dren. They were wailing in fright, creating a dangerous threat of discovery. It was young Mendel, little more than a toddler himself, who immediately grasped the gravity of the situation and started going from baby to baby, calming them with a soothing word, a soft hand, or a candy. He continued doing this until the danger passed.

When Menachem Mendel was five, the Schneerson family moved to Yekaterinoslav, now Dnepropetrovsk, where his father was appointed Chief Rabbi of the city. The anti-Jewish riots had not yet abated. The Yekaterinoslav community, among the largest and most prominent commu­nities in the Ukraine, needed and found in Rabbi Levi Yitz­chak a leader of the highest caliber.

The rabbi had a spacious house. Directly off the en­trance there was a large hall, where the Chassidim would gather for lessons and prayers. Here they sat for many hours around a long table, listening to the words of their rabbi. Adjacent to the large hall were the rooms of the three sons ­Menachem Mendel and his two younger brothers, Dov Ber and Israel Aryeh Leib. (Rabbi Dov Ber was murdered by the Nazis in Europe in 1944; Rabbi Israel Aryeh Leib, an out­standing mathematician, settled in Israel, married and had a daughter; later the family moved to London, where he taught mathematics at a university; he passed away sud­denly in 1952.) Each brother had in his room a complete set of the Talmud. At that time, this was highly uncommon; the Talmud was very expensive.

Word of the extraordinary abilities, diligence and per­severance of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson’s three sons spread through Yekaterinoslav. The eldest son was recog­nized as the most capable of the three, yet his two brothers did not lag far behind. It was obvious to everyone that a regular yeshiva had nothing to teach them. They studied the Torah on their own, under their father’s guidance; in addi­tion, they learned the secular sciences with the help of pri­vate tutors. (One of these tutors was Israel Ben Yehuda, who became Israel’s minister of internal affairs many years later.) Before long, it became clear that the private tutors also had nothing more to teach the children; their students had surpassed them in knowledge.

Thus the Schneerson brothers taught themselves. Naturally, they emphasized learning the Torah, but they also studied philosophy, mathematics, languages, physics, and social sciences. Menachem Mendel was particularly inter­ested in astronomy.

The boys were both persistent and enthusiastic in their studies. They spent countless hours learning, from early morning to late night. Menachem Mendel differed from his brothers and other children. He had no spare time left for socializing with friends; even in his early childhood, no one ever saw him playing children’s games or making mischief. He was always focused, serious and taciturn like an adult, even though his house was filled with events and commotion. After all, this was the home of the city’s chief rabbi, a home open to everyone, where guests were always assured of a warm and loving welcome. Yet, even in the midst of all the noise and commotion, Menachem Mendel was able to devote his full attention to his studies.

There are numerous eyewitness accounts of his ex­traordinary abilities, which indicated a great future even then. Once, when still quite young, the boy and his mother, Rebbetzin Chana, went for a walk along the river embank­ment. Suddenly the weather changed; a strong wind began to blow and large waves rolled in. The Rebbetzin realized that her son was gone. She began to look for him, and no­ticed that a crowd of people had gathered nearby. Coming closer, she saw a boy of about four in the center of the crowd, frightened and soaked from head to toe. The boy’s mother was saying in a voice choked with emotion, “My child fell into the water and almost drowned. Then an older boy – I’ve never seen him before – jumped in without a moment’s hesitation and saved my child!” Before the Reb­betzin had time to feel alarmed, she saw nine-year-old Men­achem Mendel coming back, soaking wet and silent.

By the age of twelve, Menachem Mendel was already part of the inner circle of his Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak. Once the Rebbe had a visit from Professor Barchenko, a prominent Russian scientist. He told the Rebbe that he had heard about certain mysterious powers associated with the Star of David, and that he wished to learn about the secrets of this Jewish symbol.

“Let me ask my ‘education minister,'” said the Rebbe. He summoned Menachem Mendel and asked him to inquire into the subject of the Star of David from the stand­points of Kabbalah and contemporary science. Three months later, Menachem Mendel presented the Rebbe with a thick notebook containing the results of his research. Naturally, all the work had been done as if incidentally, with minimal expenditure of time and effort. His main occupa­tion remained the study of Torah.

Menachem Mendel was twelve years old when the First World War broke out. The war sent floods of refugees streaming from Poland into the interior of Russia. Many ar­rived in Yekaterinoslav; some of them found refuge in the rabbi’s home. The house was in turmoil, yet Menachem Mendel continued to behave as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening. All the commotion stopped at the door to his room. Nothing could distract him from his studies. Frequently his father joined him in study sessions that went on until dawn. After that, the boy would snatch an hour or two of sleep before resuming his studies. His entire being was devoted to mastering the Torah, the Talmud, and Chas­sidic teachings. By the time he reached bar mitzvah age, he knew the entire Talmud by heart – complete with Rashi’s commentaries. Somewhere along the way, he had also mas­tered the secular sciences. What an ordinary, even highly gifted student required two or three months to learn, Men­achem Mendel learned in a day or two.

According to some accounts, during a stay at the Pe­tersburg home of his relative, Rabbi Gur Aryeh, Menachem Mendel paid several visits to the famous Pulkovsky astro­nomical observatory.

When Menachem Mendel was sixteen, he told Yeshayahu Sher, one of the young men who frequented the rabbi’s home that, according to his calculations, a solar eclipse was to take place at a certain hour on the afternoon of February 25th of that year. (This man, rather advanced in years, presently resides in Rechovot, Israel; he related this story and the next.) Rumors of this prediction spread through the city. Everyone knew that the word of Men­achem Mendel could be trusted. Many inquisitive people prepared pieces of tinted glass in order to observe this fairly infrequent phenomenon. The designated day arrived. As the specified hour drew near, everyone took up his observation post – yet the sun continued to shine as before. The disap­pointed would-be astronomers went home.

Next day, Yeshayahu came to Schneerson’s home. “There was no solar eclipse yesterday,” he pointed out cau­tiously.

“Oh yes there was!” replied Menachem Mendel. “Look, we all stood there and watched the sun, but it remained as full and round as always.”

“And I am telling you,” parried Menachem Mendel with absolute conviction, “that there was a solar eclipse. My calculations are totally accurate and irrefutable!”

A few days later everyone knew what had happened. The next issue of the Niva magazine ran a long article about the recent solar eclipse. The article mentioned the scientific centers in various areas of the country that had observed the eclipse; all the areas were far removed from Yekaterinoslav.

Several weeks later, Yeshayahu visited the Schneer­sons again. At the time, he was studying mathematics with an engineer by the name of Ostrovsky. Once he told his teacher about the extraordinary mathematical gifts of the Schneerson brothers. “Let’s do an experiment,” proposed Ostrovsky. “Here is an equation. If these friends of yours manage to solve it, I will publicize the fact in university cir­cles.” Yeshayahu took the piece of paper with the equation to the Schneerson brothers. All three armed themselves with pencils and paper and sat down to work. Several hours later all three had solved the problem. Yeshayahu rushed to the engineer, who could not believe his eyes. All three solutions were correct, but Menachem Mendel had arrived at his in the shortest and most elegant fashion.

That same year, the dean of mathematics at the city’s recently founded university paid the Schneersons a visit. Having heard about Menachem Mendel’s genius, he pre­sented the boy with a mathematical problem, giving him three days to solve it. Before leaving, the dean stopped to talk with the rabbi. Half an hour later, Menachem Mendel handed the solved problem to the astounded dean. He was certain that the boy was playing some kind of a joke on him; nevertheless, he stuck the piece of paper into his pocket.

At two in the morning, the rabbi’s telephone rang. It was the dean. “I cannot believe my eyes,” he said in a voice filled with disbelief. “The solution is correct! An experi­enced professional mathematician would take at least three days to solve this problem. Your son did it in thirty minutes. I simply could not force myself to wait until morning. I am calling at this late hour to express my admiration.”

Menachem Mendel mastered English, Italian, Ger­man, French, and a number of other languages on his own. Once he decided to learn a language, he would arm himself with dictionaries and grammar textbooks, emerging some three weeks later with knowledge of the language.

During the First World War, an epidemic of typhoid fever broke out in Europe, claiming countless victims. The dread of contagion was so great that many of the sick were abandoned to face their fate alone. Eventually, the epidemic reached Yekaterinoslav. The city was gripped by fear.

Young Menachem Mendel, who had spent almost all his life pouring over books, avoiding friends or anything that could disrupt his studies, decided that circumstances demanded that he put a temporary halt to learning. Instead, he resolved to help the sick, undeterred by all the exhorta­tions and warnings. His love for human beings did not permit him to stand idly by and watch his fellow humans die. Day after day, he visited the homes of sick Jews, bringing medicines to some, food to others, or simply sitting by the bedside of a sick man, listening to his sighs. With patients learned in the Torah, he discussed its teachings. He spent days and nights in this way, until he himself became in­fected. Though confined to bed, burning with fever, his life in danger, he continued to utter words of wisdom from the Zohar. His body was bedridden, but his spirit was soaring high through heavenly spheres, all the way to the highest spiritual realm, called Atzilut. Listening closely to his words, one could perceive that even in his delirium he was talking about the purpose of creation, the role of mankind, and many other sublime topics.

The crisis passed, and Menachem Mendel began to recover. Throughout the entire period until he was fully re­covered, he continued to recite Torah from memory.

The young man was obviously brilliant. The only one who remained unimpressed by his absolutely phenomenal abilities was Menachem Mendel himself. He was reserved, taciturn and shy, shunning society. The only day of the year when he let his emotional guard down was the holiday of Simchat Torah. Then his unfettered joy infected all around him. With closed eyes, as if transported by the melody, he would sing the tunes of the Alter Rebbe and other Chassidic leaders. In the intimate circle of Chassidim, holding the To­rah scrolls, he would lose himself in an ecstatic, endless dance that lasted until he was totally exhausted. At those times, he could hardly be recognized as the bashful, retiring youth who spent his entire time in study.

Before Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak left the Soviet Union for Riga, the Latvian capital, on the 24th of Tishrei,5688 (October 20, 1927), he presented the authorities with a list of people for whom he wanted exit visas. Naturally, this list included Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson – his future son-in-law. However, Rabbi Menachem Mendel only joined Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak several weeks later. He had decided to spend the High Holy Days with his parents in Dnepropet­rovsk. Evidently, he had a premonition that this would be his last meeting with his father, and that twenty years would pass before he saw his mother again.

That year, the Simchat Torah celebration in Dne­propetrovsk entailed the kind of genuine, uplifting, all embracing joy that defies rationality, enfolding everyone who came in contact with it.

Five days after the holidays, Rabbi Menachem Men­del left for Leningrad, and from there he continued on to Riga. His mother, Rebbetzin Chana, accompanied him as far as Leningrad. Many years later, she would recall this jour­ney: “We were traveling in a stifling, crowded train, sur­rounded by simple folk – peasants, soldiers and workers. At that time, the anti-Semitism was so great that a Jew was not safe in a train carriage, even if he did nothing to draw atten­tion to his Jewishness. Nevertheless, when it was time for the morning prayer, my son rose, took out his tefillin, and put them on. I was seized by fear. I was afraid that he would be beaten or, even worse, thrown off the moving train. Yet an amazing thing happened: several people got up and formed a circle around my son. They continued to stand guard over him until he completed the prayer and removed his tefillin. This was a true miracle!”

About a year later, on the 14th of Kislev, 5689 (1928), Rabbi Menachem Mendel married the middle daughter of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, Chaya Mushka.

Among Chassidim a wedding in the Rebbe’s family is seen as a momentous occasion that concerns not only his family but also every Chassid and every Jew. On that day, everyone rejoices as if it were his or her own wedding. Even though the Rebbe was residing in Riga, it was decided to hold the wedding in Warsaw – one of the greatest centers of Judaism at the time – to enable the maximum number of people to attend. The Tomchei Temimim Chabad Yeshiva was also located in Warsaw, an additional reason to hold the wedding there. It is said that before the chuppah, the Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, had a private conversation with the groom, after which he tied a prayer sash around him and said, “Now that you are marrying my daughter we are truly bound to one another, both in this world and in the world to come.”

The wedding was one of the most magnificent festivi­ties in the history of Polish Jewry. Thousands of guests sang and danced until they were ecstatic with joy. The celebration continued until the early hours of the morning. From time to time, Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak would stop the dancing to deliver a speech, which inspired the dancers to new heights.

Actually, the wedding was celebrated in two places. Hundreds of miles away, in Dnepropetrovsk, Rabbi Men­achem Mendel’s parents were holding another wedding celebration. Rebbetzin Chana described it as follows: “On the day of the wedding, all the relatives, friends and ac­quaintances that lived in the vicinity began to arrive at our house. Representatives of the city’s Jewish community brought a huge cake inscribed with the names of the most respected members of the community. At that time, any contact with a leader of a religious community could not only damage a person’s social position and ruin his career, but also land him in Siberia or in prison. Nevertheless, at least three hundred people came to congratulate us. Amaz­ingly, despite the draconian censorship of the times, on that day the authorities suspended their own order to confiscate telegrams addressed to the Schneerson family; they even made a special exception and allowed the post office to re­lease telegrams written in Hebrew (in Russian translitera­tion), despite the strict ban on use of the Hebrew language. The fiddler was playing wonderful music, people were dancing on the tables until dawn, but our joy was incom­plete. We may have been singing and celebrating, but our eyes were filled with tears. Our hearts were anguished, for we were denied the happiness of being with our son on his wedding day, and somehow we knew it would be a long time before we saw him again.”

Immediately after the wedding, Rabbi Menachem Mendel and his young wife left Warsaw for Berlin. At the University of Berlin, he earned doctoral degrees in several fields, including physics, engineering, and philosophy.

Leaving the world’s largest Chassidic center, being uprooted from her home, and following her husband to a strange city required considerable sacrifice on the part of Rabbi Menachem Mendel’s young wife. Her world shrank to the size of their tiny one-bedroom apartment.

One of the few people who knew Rabbi Menachem Mendel in Berlin recounts that the rabbi would occasionally join him at his table at the local kosher restaurant. “He never engaged in petty conversation or small talk,” recalls the man. “He never discussed the food, as is often done by res­taurant customers. He ate, but it was as if the food did not exist for him. Usually he was silent, and when he did talk, it was only about the Torah.”

Another Jew, who attended the University of Berlin together with the future Rebbe, relates: “The university had many Jewish students, yet he was the only one who wore a yarmulke and a beret despite the strict German university rules that forbade the wearing of any headgear during lec­tures. In the lecture hall, he usually sat on the last bench, holding an open Talmud on his knees.”

While living in Berlin, Rabbi Menachem Mendel kept up a regular correspondence with his father-in-law, and vis­ited him on several occasions. In the fall of 1929, Rabbi Yo­sef Yitzchak came to New York for the first time, while Rabbi Menachem Mendel replaced him in Poland, presiding over the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur farbrengens. 

In the winter of 1933, when the Nazis came to power in Germany, Rabbi Menachem Mendel and his wife left Berlin for Paris. They rented a small one-room apartment in the city center. He enrolled at the Sorbonne (where he stud­ied physics), and at the Polytechnic Institute’s faculty of mechanical engineering.

Even when the Second World War broke out, the European Holocaust, the global horror and the seeming end of civilization, the Schneersons continued to meticulously observe all Jewish laws and customs. For example, when preparing matzah, he did exactly as his father had taught him, with no concessions to the circumstances and no laxity in kashrut. Witnesses relate that he crossed the border into Switzerland, where he acquired wheat and ground it by hand. The Rebbetzin baked the matzah in a special oven built in their tiny kitchen for the purpose, while the rabbi supervised the procedure to make sure that every rule was observed. Naturally, this matzah was not meant for them alone. They distributed the matzah to scores of Jews, which naturally included his father, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, who was languishing in exile in remote Kazakhstan. It is also said that the future Rebbe provided Hungarian Jewish refugees in France with matzah.

For the Festival of Sukkot, Rabbi Menachem Mendel built a sukkah in his building’s courtyard, next to his ground floor apartment. The journalist Tzvi Shefer recounts that time: “I arrived in Paris and began to look for a sukkah where I could eat the festive meal. During chol ha’mo’ed I met Rabbi Schneerson, and he asked me how I was doing. I told him that I was concerned that I had not yet found a place to have the festive meal. The Rabbi invited me to his sukkah. I was somewhat uneasy about accepting his offer, because I knew that in those difficult times having guests involved considerable problems. However, he insisted, and I agreed to come. The sukkah turned out to be very small, with barely enough space for two. It was obvious that my presence would deprive the Rebbetzin of the opportunity to share the meal with her husband. I felt terribly uncomfort­able, yet the rabbi behaved in a manner that made every­thing fall into place. I felt as if the walls of the sukkah had expanded, turning it into a magnificent palace. The Rabbi was seated across from me, uttering pearls of wisdom, and it seemed as if images of the patriarchs were hovering above his head.”

Though Rabbi Menachem Mendel studied physics and engineering in Paris, he actually spent a large portion of his time pouring over the Torah, and the secular sciences took a minor portion of his time. In this, as in many other things, the rabbi followed the example of the Rambam.

A man who studied at the Sorbonne at that time re­counts: “Once during a break, Rabbi Menachem Mendel was sitting and studying the Talmud, while close by a group of students were excitedly discussing some issue raised at the lecture. Suddenly the rabbi lifted his head from the book and solved their problem in a minute. The students were simply flabbergasted, since they had seen that he was im­mersed in the Talmud throughout the entire lecture.”

In the summer of 1940, when the German army in­vaded France, the Schneersons managed to flee Paris on one of the last trains to leave before the Germans captured the city. They made it to Vichy, where they stayed from the holiday of Shavuot until the end of summer, when they re­located to Nice. Italian authorities administered the city, and many Jewish refugees found safety there, but here too, dan­ger lurked at every comer. Jews stayed indoors; there were frequent curfews. Despite all the perils, Rabbi Menachem Mendel endeavored to help the Jews in every way he could.

In order to check into a hotel, a Jew had to prove that he had at least a hundred dollars – a fortune at the time. Rabbi Menachem Mendel always kept a hundred-dollar bill in case such a situation should arise. He would roam the streets, and whenever he spotted a Jewish refugee in need, he would give him the money. The Jew would then show the bill to the hotel manager, and later surreptitiously return it to the rabbi, who would immediately hand it to another refugee.

The authorities issued a decree ordering everyone who had gold in his possession to sell it to the government. Anyone who violated this decree faced severe punishment. A certain wealthy Jew kept a large number of gold ingots. Knowing that Rabbi Menachem Mendel was above suspi­cion, the man asked him to hide the gold in his home. He consented at once. However, several days later the Reb­betzin began to fear the consequences, and urged her hus­band to move the gold to another hiding place. Rabbi Men­achem Mendel was adamant: “This is Jewish money, and it is our duty to ensure its safety.”

Immense efforts were being made to bring the Schneersons to America, where the Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak had already settled. France was totally under Nazi rule, and it was becoming increasingly dangerous for Jews to remain there. In order to arrange the Schneerson’s move to America, supporters dispatched telegrams, placed transat­lantic calls, exerted pressure on the U.S. State Department, and, of course, paid a great deal of money. When the neces­sary papers were finally ready, the tickets were bought – and suddenly a telegram arrived from Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak: “Do not sail on the next ship.” This was a very odd mes­sage; tickets were very difficult to come by, and it was not certain that there would be another ship. However, Rabbi Menachem Mendel, as always, obeyed his father-in-law without hesitation. When the Rebbe gives instructions, the Chassid does not question them and is fully confident that the Rebbe is right! The ship was indeed attacked by German submarines. Eventually the Schneersons did manage to leave France, and reached America via Spain and Portugal.

Immediately upon arriving in America, Rabbi Men­achem Mendel immersed himself in work. According to reminiscences of Rabbi Leibl Bystritsky, the rabbi’s day was divided into two parts: every morning at seven he left home and set out for the Brooklyn shipyard where he worked as a shipbuilding engineer. At three p.m., he came home and applied himself to his other work: his father-in-law had entrusted him with the management of the Center for Jewish Education, the Machaneh Israel, and the Kehot Publication Society. He did everything under the direct su­pervision and close scrutiny of the Rebbe, Yosef Yitzchak. Their unique relationship grew stronger day by day. Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak had one single Chassid who was perfect in every way: his son-in-law, Rabbi Menachem Mendel.

In 1944, several months after Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson left this world, Rebbetzin Schneerson, Rabbi Menachem Mendel’s mother, moved to Kraskovo, not far from Moscow. Her situation was far from encouraging. In order to reside in Moscow, or even in the vicinity, one needed a special permit, which the Rebbetzin did not have. She was living clandestinely, forced to spend each night in a different place. Given the poor state of her health, it was obvious that she could not continue to live this way. She managed to move to Lvov. It was at this time that the Lubavitch Chassidim succeeded in carrying out the now legendary scheme of using false papers to smuggle several thousand Jews into Poland. This was an unprecedented act of daring, the only one of its kind during the entire period of Stalin’s regime. The Rebbetzin was one of the fortunate people who managed to flee the Soviet Union via this es­cape route. From Poland, she relocated to Paris in 1947.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel traveled from New York to Paris to meet his mother, whom he had not seen for twenty years. The Chassidim who lived in Paris at the time would cherish the heart-warming memory of this meeting with his mother. The Chassidim arranged a farbrengen during which Rabbi Menachem Mendel started talking about Yosef, the son of our patriarch Ya’akov, who met his father again after a twenty-two year separation. However, as soon as he began to talk, he could not contain his feelings and he burst into tears.

The Rebbetzin stayed in Paris for three months ­from Purim until Shavuot. During that time, Rabbi Men­achem Mendel visited his mother in the morning and in the evening. On Shabbat and holidays he would walk from his apartment to hers, pray at the nearest synagogue, and have the meal with his mother.

During his sojourn in Paris, he would frequently de­liver discourses to eager audiences. His talks were novel, deep, and filled with simple and boundless faith, and inevi­tably concluded with practical advice. On one occasion, Rabbi Menachem Mendel came to a synagogue filled with people, among them prominent rabbis and mentors. Despite his youth, he already enjoyed enormous respect in the Jew­ish world. Rumors of his genius, incredible learning and pi­ety were spreading in increasingly wide circles. After min­chah, Rabbi Menachem Mendel asked the worshippers what topic they were studying at the synagogue, and was told that it was Ein Ya’akov (Ya’akov’s Spring), a compilation of the non-legal parts of the Talmud. The Rabbi took the book, immersed himself in it for several minutes, and then deliv­ered a two-hour discourse based on the book, discussing the Passover Haggadah, Kabbalah, and Jewish philosophy. Af­ter ma’ariv he was asked to continue his discourse. At first he declined, but then, seeing that the people were sincerely eager to hear words of Torah from his lips, he agreed. Once again he asked what they usually studied following ma’ariv. When told that they studied the rules of tefillin from the Shulchan Aruch HaRav, he spent another hour speaking on that subject. When he finished, the synagogue elders told him that they were also in the habit of studying a chapter from the Tanya, and that they had just reached chapter 41. The Rabbi agreed once again. In conclusion, he fused the lessons from all three books into one integral whole. His lis­teners were simply amazed: they had never heard such a discourse before. They were particularly stuck by Rabbi Menachem Mendel’s unique ability to find a common de­nominator in such seemingly unrelated topics, and to blend them together. In his discourse, the Rebbe had quoted hun­dreds of passages verbatim, without pausing for a minute. Hitherto familiar concepts suddenly acquired a new mean­ing, one that the listeners had not even suspected before. At the end of the lesson Rabbi Menachem Mendel rose and ex­cused himself, saying that it was late and he still had to visit his mother.

Once Rabbi Menachem Mendel asked a member of the Paris Chabad community why they were not doing any­thing to spread the message of Judaism. The man replied that the atmosphere in Paris was not conducive to spiritual life. People had no interest in religion, and there was noth­ing to be done about it. “There is plenty that can be done,” said Rabbi Menachem Mendel. “Come with me, and you will see how simple it is.”

They headed for one of the city’s main streets, in a section with a large Jewish population. There, Rabbi Men­achem Mendel climbed atop a crate and began to wave a handkerchief. A crowd of curious people gradually gathered around him, and he began to talk to them, urging them not to forget their Jewish roots and to observe the command­ments. His simple and boundless sincerity, and his lack of pretension had their effect. His words stirred the listeners, even those who were far from Judaism. Many felt that they were rediscovering something infinitely familiar and close to their hearts, something that for some reason had remained hidden until then. Many of the people had tears in their eyes. After the Rebbe’s speech, everyone joined in minchah. Many of the Jews had not uttered a word of prayer in years.

On the eve of his departure, Rabbi Menachem Men­del led a farbrengen that lasted well into the morning hours. The Rabbi, his wife and his mother sailed to America. In New York, the Rebbetzin lived less than two blocks from her son. He visited his mother every day; he took an active interest in her affairs, and sometimes ate at her home. Even after he had assumed the duties of Rebbe and had to sched­ule every minute of his time, he continued his usual routine. He always kept a key to his mother’s apartment in his pocket, in order to save her the trouble of opening the door for him. On Shabbat and holidays, the Rebbetzin would at­tend synagogue at “Seven-Seventy” [see chapter 8], and she would stop by to wish her son a good Shabbat or holiday. When the Rebbetzin left, the Rebbe would always see her to the door and watch her until she disappeared from sight.

During the 1940’s, the Chabad movement consoli­dated its position both in New York and in the rest of the United States. Those years saw the establishment of new synagogues and yeshivot. The Center for Jewish Education, the Machaneh Israel, and the Kehot Publication Society expanded the scope of their activities under Rabbi Menachem Mendel’s leadership. The community was growing. All dur­ing that time, Rabbi Menachem Mendel continued working at the shipyard.

On the 10th of Shvat, 5710 (1950), the Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak left this world. Since The Rebbe had no sons, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, his son-in-law, was the natural choice for succession. However, to every­one’s surprise, Rabbi Menachem Mendel adamantly refused to accept the mantle of leadership, meeting all entreaties with a firm, “No.” Some people tried to pressure him into accepting the position by sending him notes with requests to say prayers for them. He would pray, give his blessings, and reply to all the letters, yet he persisted in his steadfast re­fusal to assume leadership of the Lubavitch movement.

Months went by without any other suitable candidate being found. Finally, about a year after his father-in-law left this world, Rabbi Menachem Mendel accepted the title of “Rebbe.” In this manner, without any official ceremony, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson became the seventh Rebbe in the Chabad dynasty.

In 1952, in England, Rabbi Israel Aryeh Leib, the Rebbe’s brother, left this world. He had been in the habit of sending his mother congratulatory telegrams on every holi­day. The Rebbe was afraid that the terrible news of his brother’s passing would kill his mother. He therefore made sure that the telegrams continued to arrive, as if the de­ceased son were still alive. The Rebbe’s love and tender care were a comfort to the Rebbetzin during the last years of her life. After all the terrible hardship she had lived through, she had the good fortune to see her son’s wonderful achievements. Rebbetzin Chana left the world on the 6th of Tishrei, 5725 (1964); she was buried near the grave of her son’s father-in-law, Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak.

Every year on the festival of Sukkot, the Rebbe staged the celebration of Simchat Beit Ha’Shoevah – the Re­joicing of the Drawing of Water. (During the Temple Pe­riod, Jews would pour water on the altar on Sukkot, instead of the wine used during the rest of the year. The drawing of the water to be used in this ritual was accompanied by great rejoicing. It says in the Talmud that one who never wit­nessed a Simchat beit ha’shoevah never knew real joy. Chassidic teachings draw a profound philosophic parallel between the water libations and the accompanying intense joy.)

Each night during the eight-day celebration, the Rebbe delivers a discourse that lasts for an hour or two, fol­lowed by rejoicing and dancing in the streets. Right after Sukkot, on Shemini Atzeret, hakafot – processions with To­rah scrolls – are held at “Seven-Seventy.”

On Sukkot in 5738 (1977), the Rebbe danced as never before. Truly, those who did not witness that night’s festivi­ties at the Rebbe’s synagogue have never seen what real re­joicing is like! The Rebbe was happy, dancing joyfully with ecstatic abandon. Despite his seventy-five years, the Rebbe was as energetic as a young man.

“Seven-Seventy” was filled to overflowing. Thousands of Chassidim were dancing together, their feet moving of their own volition, their eyes shining. The dancing and the singing went on for hours. The Rebbe was focused, in full control of his every step, but his face wore an expression of total bliss – the joy of Torah.

Suddenly the Rebbe’s face turned pale. He stopped and slowly lowered himself into a chair. The hearts of the Chassidim skipped a beat; this had never happened before. The Rebbe had never stopped during the hakafot. Every­one’s eyes were on the Rebbe. Something was amiss.

A whisper passed through the crowd, “Is there a doc­tor here?” Several doctors rushed toward the Rebbe. They examined him and found nothing. Still, something was wrong. He was urged to go upstairs to his room and rest a while.

The Rebbe absolutely refused to leave at the height of the hakafot. Out of the question.

The hakafot continued, but the initial joy was gone. The Chassidim were petrified by the thought that the Rebbe might be unwell. The festive mood had been marred by anxiety.

The last hakafah came to an end. The Rebbe rose and walked to his private sukkah adjacent to his office with slow, measured steps. On the way, he instructed the guests, “Do not stop the festivities! Keep dancing!” He entered his sukkah, made kiddush, then settled in his office. Meanwhile, downstairs, the Chassidim went on dancing. Their vigorous singing shook the walls. Yet in the midst of all this revelry, the people’s hearts were gripped by fear.

The Rebbe’s secretaries were already on the phone, calling the best cardiologists in New York. In the middle of the night the doctors, armed with advanced medical equip­ment, hurried to “Seven-Seventy.” Four doctors examined the Rebbe thoroughly. The Rebbe took an active part in the doctors’ discussion, amazing them with his knowledge of cardiology. They could not understand how someone who had never studied medicine could have such deep insight into the intricacies of cardiac function.

The examination revealed that the Rebbe had suffered a serious heart attack. His condition was extremely grave.

“Did the Rebbe moan with pain?” inquired one of the doctors.

“The Rebbe did not utter a sound,” replied the secretary.

“That’s impossible,” said the doctor in disbelief. “He did not cry out, or twist in pain?”

“All the Rebbe did was sit down in a chair,” replied the secretary. “No one heard him complain or moan.”

“I have to tell you,” explained the doctor, “that the Rebbe has gone through agony. The pain is more than any­one can bear. In all my years of experience, I have never seen a patient react to a heart attack in such a manner. This is incredible,” muttered the doctor. “I have never seen any­thing like it.”
The doctors decided to inject the Rebbe with a pain­killer, but when they asked for the Rebbe’s consent, he re­fused. “There is no need,” he said. One of the Chassidim present indignantly confronted the doctor: “Don’t you un­derstand that by phrasing the question in that way, you are forcing the Rebbe to answer in the negative? Today is a holiday, and Jewish law stipulates that on a holiday, an in­jection may be administered only on doctor’s orders!”

The doctor, realizing his mistake, turned back to the Rebbe. “Esteemed Rebbe! In my capacity as your physician, I must insist on an injection. This is absolutely essential. Pains of this magnitude can be life threatening.” The Rebbe immediately gave his consent.

In the meantime, the doctors had decided that the Rebbe must go to the hospital immediately. His condition was serious, requiring proper equipment and special care.

The Rebbe’s voice sounded weaker than usual, but his answer was firm: “I am not going anywhere. I am stay­ing here.”

A tense silence fell in the room. One of the doctors appealed to the Rebbe, “Your condition is very dangerous, and you know it. After all, you have demonstrated an excel­lent knowledge of medicine. This place is not equipped to provide you with the necessary treatment. By remaining here, you endanger your life – that is as clear as day. Only a hospital has everything needed to treat a patient in your condition. Moreover, experienced doctors will be constantly on hand to render their assistance if necessary. You should not remain here under any circumstances. We insist on im­mediate hospitalization.”

“I am not leaving,” the Rebbe repeated. “I am staying right here.”

A second doctor tried to reason with the Rebbe, to no avail. The Rebbe had made his decision, and nothing could change it.

After a hushed consultation, one of the doctors finally said, “If you do not consent to be hospitalized, we will leave at once and decline any responsibility for the consequences. As experienced specialists, we must warn you that you are putting your life at risk. If you refuse to go to the hospital, we cannot assume responsibility for your life!” At two a.m., the doctors packed up and left. Mere hours after his massive heart attack, the Rebbe was left without medical supervision or treatment.

The Rebbe’s secretaries and a number of Chassidim set about bringing medical supplies from the Jewish hospital in Brooklyn to “Seven-Seventy.” One of the doctors on the hospital staff helped them find everything necessary. Within an hour, the Rebbe’s office was transformed into a hospital room, complete with the most up-to-date medical gadgetry. The same doctor connected the Rebbe to the equipment and remained at his side. At five in the morning, he was shocked to discover that the Rebbe had suffered another heart attack.

The dismayed secretaries began to lose their self-control. They themselves were on the verge of heart attacks. Everyone realized that the Rebbe must be provided with the best medical care possible. What were they to do?

After spending a sleepless night at the Rebbe’s bed­side, everyone had the same question: “What now?” Then, at about six a.m., one of the secretaries exclaimed suddenly, “Doctor Weiss! Doctor Weiss from Chicago! He is just what we need!”

Doctor Weiss, a cardiologist, was one of the countless Jews who had joined the Chabad movement, and had even visited “Seven-Seventy.” While still a young man, he had made a name for himself as a promising, gifted cardiologist. The secretary lost no time in calling Dr. Weiss. At first, the doctor was taken aback – it was a holiday, and making tele­phone calls on a holiday is permitted only in life and death cases. As soon as he was told about the situation, he curtly said he would be on the next flight to New York, and hung up.

Several hours later, Dr. Weiss was standing at the Rebbe’s bedside. After examining the Rebbe, he decreed. “It is difficult to treat the patient under these conditions. Diffi­cult, but not impossible. I will stay here as long as neces­sary, and I will take care of the Rebbe until he recovers.” The Chassidim began the morning prayers. By then, every­one knew that the Rebbe had suffered a severe heart attack, but his instructions had been to continue the hakafot, per­forming the mitzvah of holiday rejoicing. How could they celebrate when the Rebbe was in such grave danger?

At the same time, a minyan gathered in the Rebbe’s room. The Rebbe recited his prayers while lying in bed; he then read the haftarah. The next morning, the Rebbe was already sitting up as he prayed.

All through the second day, the Chassidim were ill at ease. The holiday was drawing to a close. Until then, the Rebbe had never missed leading a farbrengen at the end of Simchat Torah. Then a rumor began to circulate: the Rebbe was going to lead the farbrengen by microphone! The peo­ple could not believe their ears! A mere forty-eight hours ago, the Rebbe had suffered a massive heart attack! How could he possibly be well enough to talk, let alone deliver a discourse on Torah?

Yet that is exactly what happened. In the blink of an eye, speakers were set up in the synagogue, and thousands of Chassidim listened to the Rebbe expound on Torah and Chassidism, as he always had at the end of Simchat Torah. Dr. Weiss had given the Rebbe permission to speak for only five minutes, but the Rebbe spoke for close to half an hour. No words can describe the emotions that filled the hearts of the Chassidim, and the spiritual elation that took hold of their souls! Could any doctor find a rational explanation for the medical miracle that had just taken place?

That same evening, after the festival, the Rebbe began to sort through his mail. Hundreds of letters had accumu­lated in the office during the two-day festival. Even though the Rebbe still felt weak from the heart attack, he knew that somewhere in the far corners of the earth Jews were waiting impatiently for his reply, and neither his heart nor his physi­cal condition would prevent him from addressing their need. The secretary made a cautious attempt to stop him. “Perhaps the Rebbe should put the letters aside until he feels stronger?”

“Is a Jew who wrote to me today less in need of help than someone who writes tomorrow?” replied the Rebbe.

Usually, the Rebbe would receive the guests who had come to visit him for the holiday. This time too the Rebbe did not deviate from the tradition. Seated in his chair, with infusion tubes and monitor wires attached to his body, he welcomed the guests as they filed past him, and blessed them, “Shalom Aleichem, Peace be with you!” Many of the visitors could not stop themselves from crying.

The Rebbe spent three weeks confined to his room at “Seven-Seventy,” but he did not stop working all that time. He conducted weekly farbrengens that were broadcast on the radio. Dr. Weiss did not leave his side the whole time, watching over him day and night. In spite of the fact that the phone was ringing off the hook, urging him to come back to Chicago, Dr. Weiss cancelled all his operations, meetings and lectures. “I am not moving until the Rebbe has recov­ered.”

And the Rebbe did recover! After five weeks, during which the Rebbe worked at full intensity, he was finally able to resume his normal routine, except for one change: he stopped giving private audiences. This was not only due to the heart attack; the number of people asking for yechidut had grown to the point where it became impossible to re­ceive them all. For that reason, the Rebbe discontinued the practice altogether, replacing it with the distribution of dol­lars for charity.
The Rebbe exhibited the same optimism and sense of humor concerning his health as he did about other subjects. When a doctor pointed out that heart attacks recur in twenty-five percent of the cases, he remarked, “Why not stress the point that in seventy-five percent of the cases, the heart attacks do not recur?”

Chabad Headquaters

“Seven-Seventy” is the way Chabad Chassidim refer to the building at 770 Eastern Parkway, one of the main avenues in Brooklyn. A wealthy New York physician built the house in the 1930’s. It is sturdy, well designed, and made of top-grade, special-order materials, as if the physi­cian had known the crucial role his house would play in the future.

The handsome, unostentatious house is made of red brick, with a pointed roof executed in the Gothic style. The heavy oak doors with brass handles highlight the house’s design. In front of the house are several trees and carefully trimmed bushes. The previous Rebbe bought the house im­mediately upon his arrival in New York. At that time, the Crown Heights neighborhood where the house is situated was one of the most prosperous Jewish areas in New York.

“In America everything is different,” said the Jews who came to the “land of unlimited opportunities.” The spiritual heritage carried by these Jews and their ancestors through centuries of pogroms and hardships began to lose its significance in their eyes. Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak burst onto the carefree world of American Jewry like a merciless pang of conscience, like an accuser and a prophet. His goal was to convince everybody that adherence to the Jewish lifestyle must not be different in America from Eastern Europe in the old days.

Since the first day that “Seven-Seventy” became the world headquarters of Chabad-Lubavitch, the building has been the launching pad for a tireless campaign aimed at pre­venting assimilation and ensuring that Jews remain Jews.

The second floor houses the apartment of the previous Rebbe. Above that is the apartment of Rebbe Yosef Yitz­chak’s other son-in-law, the late Rabbi Shmaryahu Gur­Aryeh, a former head of the Central Lubavitch Yeshiva. The rest of the house contains the various institutions of the Chabad headquarters. The Rebbe’s office is a small, mod­estly furnished room. There, the Rebbe spent fifteen to twenty hours a day, writing, studying holy books, reading and replying to letters and telegrams.

From there he led the worldwide struggle against assimilation, and issued instruc­tions to his emissaries dispatched to the four comers of the earth, who work indefatigably to found new schools and centers of Jewish education. This entire enterprise is part of a wonderful process, set in motion by the Rebbe, of hasten­ing the Age of Mashiach and heralding the Redemption ­G*d’s ultimate purpose in creating the universe and human­ity.

The reception room also occupies a space of no more than eighteen square yards. The entire room is cluttered with piles of papers, newspaper clippings, brochures, books and countless letters. In the center of the room are two desks containing typewriters and several antediluvian telephones ­and that is all.

The telephones deserve special mention. If there were a global competition for the greatest number of incoming calls, these telephones would definitely take first prize: they ring non-stop from morning to midnight, except for Satur­days and holidays, of course.

An endless stream of visitors navigates the small area that is free of mailbags, desks and piles of paper. Working in the midst of all this commotion are the secretaries – Rab­bis Leibl Groner and Binyamin Klein. They are usually poised with one hand clutching a stack of letters, the other holding a pen, with a telephone receiver wedged between shoulder and cheek; or, in another version, the right hand on the typewriter, while the left hand sorts through a huge stack of letters addressed to the Rebbe. Their ears are invariably glued to a telephone receiver – sometimes two at a time. They spend only a few hours a week with their families – on Shabbat, when even the Rebbe goes home.

The secretaries’ entire lives revolve around the Rebbe’s schedule. They work for years without a single va­cation, not even for a day or a mere hour to take care of their private matters. Day and night, including Saturdays and holidays they are on duty (obviously, without telephones, pens or typewriters on Saturdays and holidays). Naturally, this kind of unflagging effort required infinite self-sacrifice on the part of their wives and children as well. It is told that once Rabbi Binyamin Klein’s young daughter came into the reception room and quietly stood in the comer. When one of the visitors asked her what she was doing there, she replied, “Nothing. I just came to look at Daddy.”

Nestled on the ground floor is a tiny room no larger than an average-size closet; this was the office of Rabbi Chaim Mordechai Isaac Hodakov, the Rebbe’s personal sec­retary and head of the Center for Jewish Education. He was in charge of the entire global network of Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries.

Adjacent to this room is the broadcasting center; from here radio, and occasionally television broadcasts of far­brengens are transmitted to the entire world.

The same floor houses the small synagogue, where the Rebbe prays on weekdays. A few steps lead down to the large synagogue, which has been expanded by incorporating adjoining houses into the structure. This synagogue has more congregants than any other synagogue in the world. On holidays, the congregation can number five thousand or more. Other synagogues may be more spacious, or have comfortable benches or even individual chairs. Here seats are available only to the most elderly and respected com­munity members, and even they have to crowd onto narrow, plain, rough bleachers that look like they were imported from some small town in the Russian Pale of Settlement. The majority of worshippers have to stand, forming a close packed human mass.

The large synagogue is used for prayers, Talmud les­sons, farbrengens, children’s meetings, and women’s con­ferences. On weekdays, it is occupied by several dozen minyanim, with two, three, or even five minyanim, each made up of twenty to thirty people, praying simultaneously in dif­ferent sections of the huge hall. From six a.m. to midday, one can join the morning prayer. One can also join one of the groups gathered in the comers of the hall, and hear a lesson on the Talmud, the Mishna, the Shulchan Aruch, and of course Chassidism, conducted separately for different skill levels. The language of instruction is also a matter of choice: the lessons are held in Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Russian. People are in the synagogue at all times, day and night – praying, learning, talking, arguing, eating, and even sleeping.

Annexed to the original “Seven-Seventy” are several buildings housing a yeshiva, kollel, a publishing house, and nearby a school and a teachers’ college for women. These buildings are also used by organizations affiliated with Chabad. The complex also contains a library and an ar­chive of rare manuscripts, where research is conducted and manuscripts are prepared for printing. Here, hundreds of books on Judaism, as well as newspapers, brochures and en­cyclopedias are written, edited and published. Here too is an educational center for ba’alei teshuvah.

An outsider who comes here for the first time may be uncomfortable and disoriented by the apparent chaotic tur­moil and disorderly mingling of the crowd. However, as soon as the Rebbe emerges from his study an incredible thing happens: the crowd, packed beyond all limits, in­stantly parts as if by magic, leaving a wide passage for the Rebbe. As soon as he passes, the crowd closes once again.

Here one can meet disgruntled people, complaining about every trivial matter – this one has been pushed aside, that one has been deprived of proper attention and respect. Some are disappointed because the Rebbe was unable to re­ceive them. They know perfectly well that for many years now the Rebbe has not granted private audiences, but every case is so important, every problem is so complicated, they think that perhaps the Rebbe could make an exception just this once … That is what they think.

To get a sense of the atmosphere that pervades this place, to see beyond the outer disorder and confusion to its inner rhythm and purpose, one has to grow accustomed to it. With time, you are infected by the general mood, everything trivial falls away, and you are suffused with the sublime beauty and joy that fill this place.

Our holy books say that the Jerusalem Temple radi­ated a glow that suffused the entire world. The same can be said about “Seven-Seventy”: the light of Judaism that it casts illuminates the entire world. From here, emissaries disperse around the globe to wage a tireless, uncompromis­ing battle against assimilation, a battle to return Jews to the Torah, a battle to hasten the arrival of Mashiach and the Re­demption. In fact, each of the Rebbe’s Chassidim considers himself an emissary.

What gives them strength for this relentless battle? What is the source that nourishes the exalted ideals of these emissaries? “Seven-Seventy,” which Chabad Chassidim also call Beit Chayeinu(Hebrew for the “House of Our Lives”), is this source. Every minute spent in this house is a festive occasion. Every visit to “Seven-Seventy” is a springboard to a spiritual flight that may last months or even years. Many Chassidim compare their visits to “Seven ­Seventy” to the process of recharging electric batteries.

“Crown Heights” and “Seven-Seventy” are used by Chabad Chassidim as code words. The Brooklyn neighbor­hood of Crown Heights is densely populated by Chabad­niks. “Seven-Seventy” is the heart of that neighborhood.

During the 1940’s and 1950’s Crown Heights was considered a respectable Jewish neighborhood. The Chabadniks, gathered around the previous Rebbe, lived in tran­quility and peace side by side with two hundred thousand other Jews, both religious and secular. In the 1960’s the population began to change; the stable and quiet atmosphere was disrupted. This process was hastened by the riots of 1964, when burglary, theft and murder became more com­mon. Life in the neighborhood became quite dangerous, and people were afraid to leave their homes. At night, the side­walks were totally deserted, and the cars sped along the streets. Even in the daytime those who had to venture out­side to go to work or to shop tried to do it as quickly as pos­sible. People locked and bolted their doors.

The Jews began to leave Crown Heights in search of a safer and more secure environment. People vacated their apartments, abandoned their stores. The neighborhood was being deserted. The empty homes were immediately taken over by the homeless.

Eventually, the Chassidim also began to lose their nerve. “Rebbe, we can’t go on like this,” they said. “Let us gather the entire community and move someplace else.”

The Rebbe’s reply was unexpected and, as usual, adamant: “Out of the question! We are staying. A Jew has no right to retreat before a gentile. A proud Jew does not run away, he digs in to defend his rights. If a Jew submits and concedes defeat, the gentile will hound him with redoubled zeal; but if a Jew stands firm, the gentile will yield and offer peace.” The Rebbe added that any Jew who surrenders his home to a gentile in such a time bears responsibility for the fate of his neighbors.

“This is always the case – in everything to do with the commandments, and with everyday life. It is the same here in Crown Heights as in the Land of Israel or in South Af­rica. This is the place where my father-in-law, of blessed memory, the previous Rebbe, the leader of our generation, lived and worked for ten years. Here is where he prayed and studied Torah with his Chassidim. We will never leave here, no matter what happens.”

Many years have passed since the Rebbe made his decision. In Crown Heights today, Chabadniks live side by side with their gentile neighbors. The number of Jews is steadily increasing. Stores display signs written in Hebrew, Yiddish, sometimes even Russian; the goods they sell are strictly kosher, under the supervision of the High Rabbinical Court of Crown Heights. Every corner has a synagogue, a mikveh, or a bookstore selling Jewish holy books. Even late at night, the streets are filled with Jews – this one carrying a book, another prayer shawl under his arm. Many of them are headed for “Seven-Seventy,” the core of Crown Heights. Whites and blacks, Jews and gentiles all form an organic part of the overall picture, living side by side in fairly peace­ful coexistence and almost complete harmony.

It should be noted that Chabadniks in general, and Crown Heights residents in particular, include people from all walks of contemporary life: scientists, doctors, busi­nessmen. However, the common denominator in their lives is their membership in Chabad-Lubavitch.

Of course, the picture cannot be said to be free of all blemish. People still have to be on their guard. From time to time, Jews are still the victims of attacks, which can be quite vicious. Occasionally, a Jew comes home to find his apart­ment burglarized. However, compared to the years of panic before the Rebbe rejected the idea of running away, the neighborhood leads a quiet life. The Chabadniks, for their part, will certainly tell you that there is no other neighbor­hood like theirs in the entire world. For many years, there was a “town watch” of Chabad volunteers; recently, it was replaced by private police. Thus the Jews themselves are in charge of patrolling their area and maintaining order.

On the surface, it may appear that people are en­grossed in their personal concerns, but in fact, the neighbor­hood’s rhythm is set at “Seven-Seventy.” When a farbren­gen or some other important event occurs, the Jews immedi­ately cancel their plans and put all other affairs aside, no matter how important they might seem.

On holidays, especially Sukkot, the festivities over­flow into the city streets, and Crown Heights becomes truly unique. The police block traffic, and people dance in the streets from dawn until night. At such times, the area seems entirely Jewish. Magnificent processions take place during the last day of Pesach, on Lag Ba’Omer, and on Shavuot; the New York police keep order with the aid of helicopters.

Crown Heights residents display unprecedented hos­pitality. Every week hundreds of Lubavitchers and newly initiated followers come from every comer of the world. During holidays, their numbers swell too many thousands. Crown Heights has no hotels capable of accommodating this mass of people. The guests are housed in the homes of Cha­badniks, who happily fulfill the commandment of hospital­ity at their own expense. It is not unusual to see several families from different countries, up to fifty people, seated around the same festive table. As soon as the guests come in, their hosts hurry to welcome, serve and feed them as if they were part of the family. All of this is done naturally, without any forced zeal, with joy that comes straight from the heart. This characterizes the spirit of Chabad, as taught by the Rebbe. Whoever comes is welcome, and every guest is received gladly. No one will pry into his private thoughts and affairs. Every Jew is cherished. How do the hosts man­age to receive so many guests? After all, they may have from ten to fifteen children of their own. Raising children is not easy, and supporting such large families is a formidable task. Praise G*d, they manage, because this too is part of the Rebbe’s teaching: having children is more than a com­mandment – it is a privilege and a source of joy . You will always see happy, smiling faces in Crown Heights. When people have a leader and a clear purpose in life every prob­lem is surmountable.

A King and His Nation

Family ties, shared concerns, and daily contacts are the elements that make up human relationships. The loss of shared interests or a parting of ways usually results in the weakening and severance of human relationships. The rela­tionship between the Rebbe and his Chassidim follows a different pattern altogether. The Chassidim love the Rebbe, even if they have never laid eyes on him. They are con­nected to him, even if they have never exchanged a single word. They follow his instructions to the letter, even if the task goes totally against their nature and inclinations, or looks like it has absolutely no chance of succeeding. They miss and yearn for the Rebbe, and are willing to go without food to save enough money to visit him. The Chassidim feel that the Rebbe knows and remembers every one of them, that he loves them and cares about their lives even if he has never seen them in person.

To an outside observer, all this may appear rather strange. This system of relationships has no parallel any­where, and it is radically different from anything accepted in regular society. However, once within this framework, a person will never exchange it for any other.

Rav Mendel Futterfas resides in Kfar Chabad and teaches at a yeshiva. He devotes all his time to studying the Torah and performing good deeds. Looking at the noble, animated face of this venerable old man, it is hard to believe the indescribable suffering he has gone through: Rav Men­del spent fourteen years in Siberian labor camps, enduring the cold, the hunger, and the back -breaking work.

During the years after World War II, Rav Mendel Futterfas did the impossible: he organized the escape of several thousand Russian Jews to Poland, from where it was relatively easy to reach the free world. As the operation was nearing completion, he was arrested and sentenced to death. He spent several months in prison, in solitary confinement, waiting for the sentence to be carried out. At the last mo­ment, the death penalty was commuted to many years of hard labor.

“Those were the happiest years of my life,” he says, and we cannot believe our ears. “Yes, yes. Those were happy years. I knew that I was suffering for my devotion to the Jewish cause, to Judaism. There, in the Siberian labor camp, I did not violate Shabbat even once. I worked harder during the week, and met the weekly quota. Naturally, I ab­stained from eating treif. Even when I felt that I was on the brink of starving to death, I still refused to touch nonkosher food. Five years after my arrest, friends managed to send me a set of tefillin. This was sheer happiness! The gentile in­mates helped me. They said that they envied me because I had spiritual resources that nobody could take away from me, even those who had put me behind barbed wire. They, on the other hand, had been stripped of everything that gave meaning to their lives – all of their joys, everything that was worth living for. Some of them even offered to work on Shabbat instead of me. Whenever the guards were too close for me to put on the tefillin, several of my gentile friends would form a circle around me in the forest, using their bod­ies to hide me from the watchful eyes of the guards. This enabled me to put on the tefillin and to pray, until one day, when the temperature was fifty degrees below zero, the te­fillin strap just snapped from the cold, as if it were made of glass.”

“How did you manage to endure all that?”

“I corresponded with the Rebbe,” Rav Mendel re­plies, and his eyes, lit with an age-old Jewish wisdom, spar­kle with laughter. “Well, not in the literal sense of writing letters,” he adds with a smile. “I simply sent him mental messages, like telegrams. I would describe camp life, every­thing that was happening to me at the moment, and receive his replies, which penetrated straight into my mind. Inciden­tally, I found out later that the Rebbe had indeed received at least some of my mental messages.”

“What??”

“Oh yes! One incident left an especially deep mark in my memory. Once, in the late 1940’s, when Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak was Rebbe, I was in solitary confinement, waiting to be led to my execution, feeling my physical and spiritual strength draining from me. According to the Jewish calen­dar I had constructed for myself, it was Lag Ba’Omer. I sent a mental telegram to the Rebbe. Years later, I was released and permitted to leave the Soviet Union. I rejoined my wife, who was in London. When we looked through the mail that had accumulated during all those years, I was amazed to find a letter from the Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, which had been sent on that same Lag Ba’Omer, containing a reply to my ‘mental telegram’ !”

The Rebbe knows and remembers each and every one of his numerous Chassidim, keeping track of them without the help of a computer. He is informed of each one’s family status, and spiritual and financial situation – down to the smallest detail. Often the Rebbe recalls details that the Chassid himself had long forgotten. Some of the Chassidim submit reports to the Rebbe, describing every step in their lives. Others refrain from doing so, reluctant to bother the Rebbe with everyday trivia. Still, the Rebbe knows every­thing about them, reports or no reports. This makes the Chassid feel that he has a “father” whose concern follows him every step of the way.

Most importantly, the Chassidim carry out every task assigned by the Rebbe. Every Chassid, before embarking on an important undertaking, asks himself, “What will the Rebbe think when he finds out about this undertaking?”

Of course, when the Chassid does not know the an­swer to the question, he asks the Rebbe for advice. Often the Rebbe’s reply sounds more like an order than advice. The Chassid will obey the Rebbe’s order exactly and unhesitat­ingly. Even when the directive appears at first glance to go against logic or expert opinion, the Chassid will carry it out to the letter.

In the early 1990’s, a terrible hurricane broke out in the Atlantic Ocean, threatening to destroy everything in its path. The hurricane was moving in the direction of Florida, and meteorologists predicted that it would strike Miami Beach. There were hourly weather forecasts, and with each hour the danger became more and more menacing. The au­thorities began to evacuate those parts of Miami Beach that were most endangered. The areas that were densely popu­lated by Chabad Chassidim were inside the danger zone. Naturally, one of the Chassidim called the Rebbe’s office in New York, asking for instructions. The Rebbe’s reply came an hour later: “The dire predictions appear to be vastly ex­aggerated. There is no need to panic.”

Nevertheless, panic continued to grip the city. Every­one fled, and only Chabad Chassidim remained in their homes. Several hours passed. The meteorological service issued a definitive warning that the hurricane was approach­ing fast and would reach Miami Beach within a short time. Once again, the Chassidim called the Rebbe’ s secretary, who reluctantly – since this was the second time they were asking the same question – approached the Rebbe. The Rebbe’s reply was the same: “Stay put.”

The night came, with peals of thunder, flashes of lighting, pouring rain, and violent gusts of wind. Yet the an­ticipated hurricane never reached the city! Later the discom­fited meteorologists announced that just before crossing into Florida, the hurricane suddenly changed direction, heading back to the ocean, where it eventually died out.

A childless young couple appealed to the Rebbe for a blessing. Several months later, the woman became pregnant. When she was in the advanced stages of pregnancy, a fire broke out in the house. The woman, who was alone at home, fainted from the lack of oxygen, and the firefighters carried her out of the burning house in a state of clinical death. The doctors had to work for hours before she was out of danger. Then the doctors unanimously decided that they had to per­form an abortion. “The chances of the baby’s survival are next to nil,” they said. “However, even if the baby lives, it will be abnormal.” The couple sent an urgent letter to the Rebbe, explaining the doctor’s decision. The Rebbe replied as follows: “Do not agree to an abortion; get a second opin­ion.” The couple followed his advice, but the other doctor was equally adamant: “The birth will endanger both the baby and the mother. An abortion must be performed im­mediately.” The husband sent another letter; the Rebbe’s answer remained the same: “No abortion under any circum­stances. With G*d’s help, everything will be fine.” Eventu­ally, the mother gave birth to a healthy baby girl, and later to another healthy child.

A prominent businessman never embarked on a busi­ness venture without receiving the Rebbe’s advice first. Once he had an offer to set up a company in an African country, together with several partners, for processing and selling precious stones. The venture required a large in­vestment, but it also promised a handsome return. Launch­ing the company necessitated overcoming numerous legal hurdles. Finally everything was settled; all that remained was to fly to Africa and sign the contract. A day before his flight, the businessman asked the Rebbe for a blessing. The Rebbe told him, “In that country, only short-term deals are advisable. Do not invest any money.” The businessman was shocked; he had been positive that the business would be a great success. Still, he did not hesitate. An hour before his flight, he told his partners that he was pulling out of the deal. The partners pleaded, insisted, threatened, and demanded – to no avail. Eventually they found another part­ner, and the business was launched. Three months later, there was a military coup in that African country. The tens of millions of dollars invested in the business were irre­trievably lost.

Despite experienced doctors, meteorologists and scores of other experts, to a Chassid, the Rebbe is the one supreme and unquestionable authority. It is also true that in most cases the Rebbe gives his blessing and at the same time refers the person to a physician or other specialist. However, there are exceptions. A Chassid is confident that the Rebbe knows him better than any specialist, and that he knows exactly what is best for him. What is it? Prophetic vision? Or is it perhaps that by absorbing the Torah with his wonderful mind, and projecting its influence over all worldly phenomena, the Rebbe is always able to give proper and timely advice? This is not for us to decide.

The most important principle is love; love is at the core of everything. Love for the Jewish people bums in the Rebbe’s heart; we sense this love in his books, hear it in his voice, and see its bright reflection in his eyes.

Thus it is no wonder that thousands of people yearn for the Rebbe with all their heart, even if they have never seen him. They know that the Rebbe is concerned about them for the simple reason that they are Jews, that he will do everything and anything to enable them to fulfill their mission, or simply to ease their burden in life. Anyone who has any connection with the Rebbe knows that the Rebbe loves him and cares about him as if he were the most impor­tant person in the world. Do not be surprised, therefore, to find the Rebbe’s portrait in every room of a Lubavitcher Chassid’s home, next to the pictures of parents and grand­parents. You may hear your host mention the Rebbe’s name in nearly every sentence. Later, you will encounter this same Chassid in the Rebbe’s synagogue trying to inch his way through the dense crowd of congregants to catch a glimpse of the Rebbe, if only for an instant.

Many have attempted to explain the profound, hidden aspects of the special two-way connection between the Rebbe and his Chassidim, and to understand the role this system of relationships plays in Chassidism and the spiritual world. However, on the earthly level the Chassid behaves this way because that is what his heart tells him to do. His sincere and wholehearted connection to the Rebbe and his boundless love for this great Jew empower and inspire him, infusing him with a sense of self-confidence and well being.

Five thousand people stand in a crushing throng in a densely packed room, filled to bursting. Venerable elders stand side by side with beardless youth. Men wearing the traditional black coats squeeze next to longhaired hippies who may have donned a yarmulke for the first time in their lives a moment before entering the hall.

Here everyone is equal: those who belong to Chabad and those who do not, the deeply religious and those who have not yet begun to observe the commandments, the rich and the poor. All of them are overshadowed by one single figure – the Rebbe.

A farbrengen is a special occasion, during which the Rebbe talks to Chabad Chassidim and anyone else who wishes to listen. Farbrengens are held every Shabbat, on holidays, and on special dates on the Chabad calendar such as the 19th of Kislev (the “Chassidic New Year”). If a far­brengen is held on an ordinary day, it is broadcast to the en­tire world on radio and television. Chabadniks the world over – in Israel, France, Australia and Brazil, and recently in Moscow as well – have an opportunity to see and hear the Rebbe as if they were attending the farbrengen at “Seven­Seventy.” The farbrengens are also broadcast on American cable TV.

As a rule, the Shabbat farbrengens start at 1:30 p.m., and last three, four, five, six hours, and sometimes even longer.

On a Saturday morning when the Rebbe decides to hold a farbrengen word spreads through the hall by word of mouth, and all plans are put on hold. The women know that their family will eat the cholent and kugel only in the eve­ning, after the final Shabbat prayer.

By one o’clock, the hall is filled to capacity. The crowding is unimaginable. People squeeze as close as pos­sible to the dais where the Rebbe will sit, surrounded by the most elderly and respected Chassidim and guests. The peo­ple are packed together like sardines, yet more keep arriv­ing, and, strangely, everyone manages to find a place, some closer, some further away.

At one-thirty, everyone breaks into a Chassidic mel­ody. The Rebbe comes in. With brisk steps, he ascends the dais, sits in his red velvet chair, recites a blessing over the wine, and thousands of people answer, “Amen!” In some mysterious fashion, numerous bottles of wine materialize among the thousands of guests. The wine is poured into small glasses. Now everyone is looking at the Rebbe, trying to catch his eye. They are all waiting for the moment when the Rebbe will look at them personally. The Rebbe looks around at the crowd and, noting a man who has raised his glass toward him, nods his head and says, “L’chaim velivracha!” “To life and to blessing!” Then the lucky man drinks the wine, and the warmth radiating from the Rebbe’ s eyes thaws his heart.

Some minutes later, the Chassidim sense, from signs invisible to outsiders, that the Rebbe wishes to speak, and in an instant the noise turns into absolute silence. The Rebbe begins to talk. The order of his speech is more or less con­stant; the Rebbe discusses the current events as seen in the light of Torah, the weekly Torah chapter or the meaning of the festival, quoting verbatim countless passages from the Torah, the Talmud, Rashi, the Zohar, Rambam’s Mishneh Torah, Chassidic works and commentaries by other sages. In the summer he includes the appropriate chapter of Pirke Avot. The Rebbe elucidates difficult points, examines the issues from every possible angle, and proposes various the­ses and antitheses, until suddenly the lengthy and fascinat­ing discourse resolves itself in a brilliant synthesis. Next he quotes from the innermost depths of Torah as explored in Chassidism. At the end, the Rebbe offers practical conclu­sions and instructions based on his discourse, for the Torah says that action is the main point. The final words of the discourse are almost always devoted to the subject of Mashiach, explanations of how everything, especially deeds, may help hasten the arrival of Mashiach, and bless­ings expressing the hope that this would happen in the near future.

The Rebbe cites countless sources. In the course of a single farbrengen he may quote hundreds of passages from the Torah, the Talmud, commentaries by Rashi, the Ram­bam, and others, the Kabbalah, and every other possible Jewish thinker. He does not resort to notes to help him recall a quotation or the outline of his speech! An ordinary lecturer brings a pile of papers to his lecture, so as not to forget something essential, and usually deals with a single topic.

The Rebbe, in contrast, discusses dozens of topics at once, quoting verbatim from hundreds of sources for hours on end – and this is all done from memory!

The wife of a famous contemporary writer described the Rebbe’s speaking style: “My husband frequently lec­tures, and is an exceptional speaker. When he speaks, the world ceases to exist for him. He hears only his own voice, sees his own gestures, and overflows with pathos. With the Rebbe, it is completely different. He sees, hears and senses everything that goes on among the five thousand listeners. Each listener, even young children, feels embraced by the Rebbe’s concern. This makes all the difference.”

The Rebbe’s speech lasts anywhere from thirty min­utes to an hour, occasionally even longer. Then the singing begins anew. Glasses of wine are raised again, and hundreds of eyes strain once again to catch the Rebbe’s eye. He peers into the crowd, nodding now to one person, now to another, while his lips whisper “L’chaim velivracha.” The people, meanwhile, continue singing, with the Rebbe often joining in or conducting the rhythm of the music. At those times, the song swells to a new intensity, and the song rises to heaven. Once again the Rebbe gives a signal visible only to the initiated. The congregation instantly falls silent, and the Rebbe continues to speak. All eyes are focused on him. The people listen with bated breath. Even after two, three, or four hours, these thousands of people, many standing on their feet throughout (including some who have only enough room for one leg), drink in his words as if he has only been speaking for a minute.

Each word uttered by the Rebbe is imbued with profound meaning. Even the tiniest nuance is important. Does everyone understand his discourse? Hardly. Certainly a few gifted yeshiva students and venerable Torah scholars under­stand everything. Many of those present follow the essence of his speech; some grasp certain elements only; and some understand nothing – nothing at all. However, they too lis­ten and concentrate as if comprehending every word. The atmosphere of holiness and spiritual elation holds them en­thralled. Each interpretation contains inexhaustible depth, and each person understands it in accordance with his abili­ties and level of knowledge.

Everyone who has had the privilege of attending a farbrengen – even gentiles – immediately senses that this place is unique, sacred, a world far removed from every­thing on the outside, beyond the walls of “Seven-Seventy.” This world resounds with G*d’s living words, which are the highest reality. Thus gaining entry into this world can be a vital step in one’s life. Even if his reason did not understand a single word, his heart can feel that he was exactly where he should be.

The Rebbe does not rely on techniques commonly used by other speakers. He very rarely raises his voice or gesticulates to emphasize his thoughts. Throughout the en­tire farbrengen, the Rebbe’s hands remain under the table (except for the moments when he claps to encourage the singers). However, the Rebbe’s face and eyes speak vol­umes to all those present at the farbrengen. The famous art­ist, Hendel Liberman, of blessed memory, whose works are permeated with the magical fairy tale mood of a Jewish shtetl, frequented the farbrengens even though, by his own admission, he could not understand a word of what was be­ing said. “I learn from the Rebbe’s face,” he would say. “I study his face all the time, and that is my school.”

The Rebbe can speak for up to five hours without tir­ing, barely touching any food or drink. He teaches for the entire duration of the farbrengen, interrupted only by inter­vals of singing, yet he does not show the slightest sign of tiredness. His voice, like an inexhaustible spring, remains fresh and pure.

All of the Rebbe’s farbrengens held on weekdays are recorded and published in the form of collected speeches or separate brochures. On Shabbat and holidays, when it is forbidden to record, several men stand close to the Rebbe and focus all their attention on his speech. They are the chozrim (the “repeaters”), who have exceptional memories. During the brief interludes of singing, the chozrimmentally repeat everything the Rebbe said. Their job is to memorize the speeches that the Rebbe makes on Shabbat. At the end of Shabbat, they reconstruct the entire speech on paper ­word for word!

A perfect system is in place to ensure quick, precise reproduction of the Rebbe’ s discourses. People record the Rebbe’s speeches, translate them into different languages, print and distribute them throughout the world. This process is accomplished with truly staggering speed. For example, a discourse delivered by the Rebbe on the day before Yom Kippur is published before the holiday actually starts!

Every farbrengen is stamped with the seal of holi­ness, but farbrengens held on memorable dates in the Chas­sidic calendar are the holy of holies! People converge from every comer of the world to take part in such a farbrengen. On those days, headphones provide simultaneous translation into many languages for those who do not understand Yid­dish. The Rebbe’ s speech may be heard in Hebrew, English, French, Spanish and Russian. These farbrengens start at nine-thirty p.m., but three hours earlier the hall is already so packed that it seems impossible to enter, yet people continue to pour in. The women’s section is also filled to bursting. People’s hearts overflow with festive elation and the sense of holiness, while the mixture of voices exchanging whis­pers in different languages brings home the true meaning of the phrase from psalms, shevet achim gam yachad (“brethren dwelling together in unity.”). The farbrengen continues far into the night, but it never occurs to anyone to look at a watch. In addition to discussing various topics re­lated to the Torah, the Rebbe uses the farbrengen to issue practical instructions that are immediately circulated to his Chassidim throughout the world. For example, during one farbrengen the Rebbe talked about the importance of attach­ing kosher mezuzahson the doors of all maternity wards in American hospitals, since Jewish women also give birth in those hospitals, and even one Jewish birth a year justifies installing the mezuzahs. Several hours later, groups of Lubavitcher Chassidim were already touring the hospitals and attaching mezuzahs wherever they were missing, as well as checking those already in place.

Though the Rebbe rarely raises his voice, there are a few exceptions: the Rebbe becomes very emotional when speaking about the galut. “How long?” he cries with tears in his eyes. “How long shall we live in exile, while Mashiach tarries?” This sends a message to every Jew that he or she is personally responsible for hastening the arrival of Mashiach by intense Torah study and observance of the command­ments, particularly the one that requires loving the people of Israel and striving to attain complete unity among all Jews. The Rebbe reiterates this theme tirelessly at every farbren­gen, time after time, week after week. Again and again, he stresses the point that every individual Jew has the potential to hasten the coming of Mashiach.

The Rebbe also uses farbrengens to express his views on various Jewish issues, both global and local. The far­brengens form one of the major links in the chain that ties the Rebbe to his Chassidim and the rest of the world. It is no wonder, therefore, that a Chabadnik will unhesitatingly abandon all his plans, no matter how important, so as not to miss a farbrengen. People are willing to incur huge debts and travel from the end of the world to visit the Rebbe. Here they receive their spiritual nourishment; here they find the meaning of their entire existence.

Chabadniks living in Israel have particularly distinct memories of farbrengens devoted to events that took place in Israel at various historical crossroads. No one is likely to forget the farbrengen held on the eve of the Six Day War. Some of the yeshiva students who had come from abroad to study in Israel were set to leave the country as soon as it be­came clear that war was about to break out. In the course of the farbrengen, the Rebbe instructed all of his students in Israel to stay put, predicting that the Jewish people would achieve a brilliant lightning victory, and that the students were not in any danger.

Another memorable farbrengen was devoted to pas­sages from the Book of Esther. With extraordinary emotion, the Rebbe quoted the following words: “For the fear of the Jews fell upon all people,” and “no man could withstand them.” Then he fell into a long silence before he continued his discourse. Later it was discovered that just as the Rebbe was citing these passages from the Book of Esther, Palestin­ian terrorists were attempting to hijack an Israeli plane.

The farbrengens were not always the mass event that they are now. When the Rebbe’s “court” was significantly smaller, and the number of farbrengen participants was lim­ited to a smaller circle, the Rebbe was able to address each participant in person, not only mentally but also physically. A man named Abraham Herzman used to attend farbren­gens despite the fact that he kept his store open on Shabbat. The Rebbe was aware of that, and from time to time tried to persuade him to stop violating Shabbat. The Rebbe voiced his objections in Italian, which was this man’s mother tongue, incomprehensible to most of the congregants. One Shabbat, the shop owner’s resistance finally melted; he came up to the dais, took out the keys to his store, and said with tears in his eyes, “Rebbe, here are the keys to my store. From now on they are yours.” The Rebbe took the keys, his face lit by the special smile that can only be imagined by those who have seen the Rebbe in person. Then he handed the keys back to the man and said, “The store is yours, but only six days a week.” From that day onward, Abraham Herzman has been meticulous in his Shabbat observance.

Until 1977, the Rebbe received people privately in his study. These meetings are called yechidut – a private audi­ence. Several times a week, between eight p.m. and four in the morning, the Rebbe managed to receive an average of fifty people. The wait for yechidut could last for months. Among those who came for yechidut with the Rebbe were presidents of Israel, heads of the Israeli government, top military officials, ministers, Knesset members, senators from various countries, poets, writers, journalists, and of course plain, ordinary Jews, known in Hebrew as amcha. Quite a few gentiles had private meetings with the Rebbe also.

To prepare for yechidut with the Rebbe, a Chabadnik would go to the mikveh, put on a gartel, study the Rebbe’s writings, and fast all day. Upon entering the room where the audience was held, the Chassid would not shake the Rebbe’ s hand, so as not to reduce this momentous event to the level of a simple meeting between two Jews. Throughout the conversation, the visitor would remain standing out of re­spect for the Rebbe, as well as to emphasize the special sig­nificance and holiness of the occasion.

Many of those who had the privilege of a private au­dience with the Rebbe testify that the meeting marked a turning point in their lives. Within minutes, the Rebbe was able to break through the outer shell and penetrate the in­nermost worlds, make an acute diagnosis of the person’s mental and spiritual state, and propose a solution. People say that even many years after the yechidut they still re­member every fact, every small detail of that encounter, re­alizing again and again that every word spoken by the Rebbe remains in effect for years. The Rebbe’s counsel serves as a compass that guides one’s entire life.

Many people have described their feelings during their yechidut. Eli Wiesel, a Nobel Prize winning writer, said about his meeting, “Never in my life have I seen such an expressive face, such eyes. They radiate a kind of stem, stimulating and at the same time calming and comforting force. They are imbued with iron willpower. For a fleeting moment, you are afraid – there is a feeling that his look can annihilate. Yet you immediately feel that this look supports and uplifts you. And what inconsolable sorrow it contains! Many years have passed since my first visit to the Rebbe, and yet I still have a feeling that these eyes follow me every step of the way, and read my innermost thoughts.”

The Rebbe received guests from every part of the world, from all strata of society, and every field of en­deavor. All of them acknowledged the immeasurable great­ness of this man. The Rebbe never differentiated between “ordinary Jews” and dignitaries. An “ordinary Jew” might spend half an hour with the Rebbe, while some important figure or tycoon might be given to understand that the audi­ence is over after a mere minute. The Rebbe always gave his full attention to any problem brought to him. He empathized with his visitor, shared in his suffering and felt his pain. Poor Jews would complain about their difficulties finding matches for their daughters, while Israeli prime ministers discussed the problems facing the State of Israel. From the time that Menachem Mendel became the Rebbe he never set foot outside New York (not counting a half-day trip to a summer camp for children of Lubavitcher Chassidim). Knowing this, visitors were astonished by the Rebbe’ s knowledge of every possible subject. The Rebbe is famous for his ability to talk to each person on his own level, using specialized language, discussing physics with physicists, lit­erature with writers, painting with artists, military strategy with army officers, business with economists, displaying professional expertise and full knowledge of recent devel­opments in the area under discussion.

One diplomat recounted that the Rebbe analyzed a situation as if he had access to the latest secret service intel­ligence reports. A famous nuclear scientist writes, “The Rebbe’s knowledge in the field of nuclear physics is so pro­found that one might think he was a physics professor at Princeton University.”

Israeli Brigadier-General Ran Peker was astonished when he was asked by the Rebbe why Israeli warplanes had bombed Syrian airfields from a certain angle rather than an­other. The Rebbe was of the opinion that the chosen bomb­ing angle was incorrect, and the second-in-command of Is­rael’s Air Force had no choice but to agree.

A famous newly observant professor of microbiology once delivered to the Rebbe, at his request, forty volumes (!) of scientific reports commissioned by the American government space agency in connection with the moon landing. The professor was convinced that the Rebbe would not have the time to read through all that extensive research. How­ever, several months later, during another yechidut, the pro­fessor was astounded when the Rebbe casually pointed out a serious contradiction between a conclusion reached in Vol­ume 18 and another one in Volume 38.

A professor of physical engineering told the Rebbe about a certain scientific invention and the highly complex computations that would result in a pilot device based on that invention. The professor presented the Rebbe with a se­ries of typical numbers obtained in the course of the re­search. The Rebbe instantly noted that two of the numbers were mutually exclusive. The professor objected that all the calculations had been done on the large university super­computers, and that the program had been designed in ac­cordance with the latest infallible theories. The Rebbe smiled and said that, despite his enormous respect for the experts, he insists that the two numbers were mutually in­consistent. As a result, an entire team of scientists began to search for the error, and it took two years until a fault was discovered in one of the formulas entered in the program.

How can one explain these unique abilities possessed by the Rebbe? Can there even be a rational, logical explana­tion? We will probably never know for certain. Certainly, the Rebbe’s secular knowledge – extensive as it may be ­does not explain his intuitive ability to answer questions in almost any field. Obviously, art, economics, and physics have not been the Rebbe’s top priorities. The Rebbe was truly concerned with one thing only: bringing Jews closer to Judaism, the Torah, and the Creator. The Book of Mishlei says, “In all thy ways know Him.” Accordingly, the Rebbe believes that if knowledge of science, literature, art, or any other secular field will help and/or unite the Jews, that knowledge should be used.

Tales of the miraculous deeds performed by the Rebbe and his predecessors are passed down through the generations by word of mouth. Chassidim draw on these tales for encouragement and inspiration, and come away charged with even greater devotion to their teachers. The stories recounted in this chapter were told first-hand, and constitute but a small fraction of the Chassidic legacy. Find­ing a rational explanation for these narratives is impossible. Chassidim will tell you that the Rebbe is an extraordinary person, and that the Almighty Himself speaks through his lips and directs his actions. People who do not believe in supernatural, divinely inspired powers can only wonder at these stories and spread their hands in a gesture of helpless­ness and inability to find a satisfactory explanation.

In the Davydov family in Jerusalem, the tension is palpable. The seventy-six year old father of the family is in the hospital, diagnosed with cardiac failure. Bustling doc­tors surround his bed. According to them, there is no hope for recovery: “His days are numbered.” The Davydov fam­ily summons top Israeli physicians~ they invite some medi­cal luminary from London. After every possible test and analysis, the doctors unanimously agree: the only chance of saving the patient is immediate surgery.

The family members ask, “Will the surgery save him?” The doctors reply, “The chance is slim, but it is his only chance. The patient must be readied for surgery at once.” “Wait a minute,” says Eitan, one of the man’s five sons. “We must ask the Rebbe.” “There is no time for idle questions,” the doctors object. “Time is running out, every minute counts.” “This will not take long,” says Eitan. The doctors sigh. Eitan ignores them. A few minutes later, he returns. “We left a message with the Rebbe’s office. We will wait for the answer.” The head surgeon tries to control himself, but his face shows that he is losing his patience. “How long are you going to wait?” he asks. “I don’t know,” answers Eitan. “As long as it takes.” Here the doctors’ pa­tience comes to an end. “Don’t you realize that you are playing with your father’s life?” They try to coerce the fam­ily. “How can we assume responsibility for the patient’s condition when a Rebbe from New York makes our deci­sions for us?” The tension is at the breaking point. The mother begs, “Let’s give our consent to the operation.” Two of the sons begin to waver, but Eitan is adamant. “We will wait,” he insists.

Finally the answer arrives. “The Rebbe thinks that surgery is out of the question. It is too dangerous. The pa­tient will recover in a few days.”

The doctors are outraged. “Well, it’s your decision!” they say. Only one of them is unable to restrain himself, “You are out of your mind! Your Rebbe is sitting in New York, and he is supposed to decide the fate of a patient whom he has never even seen? I don’t know what your Rebbe has told you, but I think you are all mad!”

The family members heard him out and stuck to their decision. The Davydovs, Jews from Bukhara, are not Chabadniks. However, since establishing a connection with the Rebbe, they do not take a single important step in their lives without consulting him first. They were troubled by what the doctors had told them, but there was nothing to be done. The doctors went back to their work, while the family re­mained at the unconscious patient’s bedside. All they could do was sit and wait for the Rebbe’s prediction to come true. From time to time, the doctors would pass by the bed and shake their heads in dismay. They saw no hope for recovery.

Four days later, Issachar Davydov opened his eyes and asked for a glass of water, sounding like any ordinary, tired person asking for a small favor. Then it turned out that he was hungry as well, and food was brought to him. A few more days went by, and Issachar returned to his home in Je­rusalem. He resumed his regular routine of getting up at five in the morning, taking a few kilometer walk to the Wailing Wall, saying the morning prayers, and coming back home for breakfast. He is now over eighty, yet he maintains the same daily routine. It is easy to guess the feelings that fill his children’s hearts to overflowing.

In remote Russia, a girl by the name of Rivka became gravely ill with muscular dystrophy, a progressive, debilitat­ing, and practically incurable disease. The patient gradually loses control over his muscles, eventually succumbing to total paralysis. Researchers are still in the dark as to the mechanism by which this disease chooses its victims.

In desperation, the girl’s parents consulted top physi­cians, but none of them had encouraging news. For years the girl underwent treatments in various medical institutions, but to no avail. The disease was taking its course.

The parents sent the Rebbe a letter in which they poured out all their pain. Two months later came the reply:

“Do not worry. The girl will recover.” “Recover?” The doc­tor smiled when told about the Rebbe’s reply. “I have never seen this happen in my entire practice. If I were you, I would not harbor any illusions. I feel that it is time for you to know the real situation. I hate to disillusion you, but the truth must be told. Believe me, the girl’s condition is hope­less.”

Indeed, the patient’s condition continued to deterio­rate. Eventually, the despairing parents took the girl home and began to wait and pray for the Rebbe’s prophecy to come true. What happened next cannot be viewed as any­thing but a miracle. The girl, who was nineteen by that time, suddenly got up and started walking. In the space of a single day – in fact a single instant – the disease retreated and van­ished without a trace. To this day, Rivka is a happy and healthy young woman.

How did this happen? Could the Rebbe have known something the doctors did not know? Maybe he had prayed for Rivka? How could he have been so certain that the girl would recover? This is something we do not know, and probably never will. Yet the fact remains…

For many years, Mrs. G. from Antwerp suffered from obesity, which led to serious complications. One of her friends advised her to undergo surgery to shorten her intes­tine. That way, explained the friend, she would easily and quickly lose a great deal of weight.

Mrs. G., who would never take an important step without consulting the Rebbe, wrote him a letter describing the situation in detail. After several months had gone by without a reply, Mrs. G. wrote another letter. Once again, it went unanswered. Mrs. G. was very surprised. What was wrong? After all, until then the Rebbe had always answered her letters, yet now, when she needed his advice so badly, he seemed to have forgotten her!

In the meantime, giving up on receiving an answer from the Rebbe, Mrs. G. decided to forego the surgery and went on a stringent diet instead. Within several months, she lost twenty kilograms, and the question of surgery became irrelevant.

Several years later, when Mrs. G. visited the Rebbe, their conversation began in a most unexpected way. “So,” said the Rebbe as soon as she walked into his office, “you have managed to lose weight without dangerous surgery.” At first Mrs. G. did not even know what he was referring to. It took several minutes for the Rebbe’s words to finally sink in!

As we have said, these are but a few examples out of the hundreds of stories we have heard. They defy any ra­tional explanation, yet this does not make them any less fac­tual.

* * *

The following four stories illustrate the inconceivable power of the Rebbe’s blessing.

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Greenwald tells the first story.
My father, Rabbi Abraham Tzvi Greenwald, was born in Lodz in 1912. When he was eight years old, his father passed away, and his mother was left to care for seven small children. My father was the eldest; his mother, anxious to provide him with a proper Jewish education, sent him to live with her cousin, Rabbi Menachem Zemba. A famous Torah sage, Rabbi Menachem devoted a great deal of time to studying Torah with my father.

In 1929 the “Great Wedding” took place in Warsaw: Chaya Mushka, the daughter of the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, was marrying Rabbi Men­achem Mendel Schneerson, the future Lubavitcher Rebbe. My father, who was almost seventeen at the time, had the privilege of attending the wedding, which he referred to as a “powerful spiritual charge,” since the greatest Chassidic leaders in Poland were present at the event.

On the morning after the wedding he had the honor of meeting the groom in person. Rabbi Menachem Zemba, my father’s uncle and mentor, told him that he was going to visit the groom, and that his nephew was welcome to join him if he wished. Naturally, my father agreed. He does not remember the conversation that took place between these two great Torah scholars, but the end of their meeting re­mained etched in his memory. Before ending the conversa­tion, Rabbi Menachem Mendel turned to my father and said, “In a few days, it will be Chanukah. Do you know why many Chassidic synagogues celebrate the fifth night of Chanukah as a special occasion?”

Rabbi Zemba didn’t know, so Rabbi Schneerson ex­plained. “The fifth night of Chanukah never falls on Shab­bat, a fact that symbolizes great spiritual darkness. How­ever, the light of the fifth Chanukah candle is capable of banishing all darkness. The duty of every Jew, wherever he may be – whether in Warsaw or in London – is to ‘shed his light’ even in the deepest darkness.” After that, my father and Rabbi Zemba said goodbye to Rabbi Schneerson and left the hotel.

Ten years passed. In 1939, when the Second World War broke out, my father lived through all the horrors of the Holocaust. His wife and five little children were murdered before his very eyes. He himself survived the death camps only by the mercy of the Almighty. The experience left him a broken man spiritually and physically. After the war, my father spent about two years in camps for displaced persons, trying to locate surviving relatives, until it became clear that they had all perished.

In 1948, my father immigrated to Philadelphia. His uncle, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Greenwald, who had left for America before my father was born, welcomed him with open arms, and did everything possible to ease his anguish.

Time passed, dulling the pain somewhat. My father realized that he could not continue living in the past, and it was time to start a new life. He met my mother in Toronto, where they decided to marry. Prior to the wedding, my fa­ther went to New York for a blessing from Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe.

The years of suffering had left their imprint on Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak. He was ill and had difficulty speaking as a result of a stroke. One of the Chassidic elders had to explain what the Rebbe was saying. When the Rebbe was told that my father had survived the war and the Holocaust, but had lost his entire family, the Rebbe wept, blessed my father, and wished him a long and happy life. Before he left, my father mentioned that he had had the privilege of attending the wedding of the Rebbe’s daughter in Warsaw twenty years earlier. The Rebbe’s eyes brightened. “In that case,” he said to my father, “you should pay a visit to my son-in-law, Menachem Mendel. His study is one floor down.”

My father went downstairs and knocked on the study door. Rabbi Menachem Mendel recognized him at once, de­spite the twenty years that had passed since their first meet­ing. He asked my father a question about the fate of his un­cle, Rabbi Menachem Zemba; he knew that father’s uncle had perished in the Warsaw ghetto, but he wanted to hear the details. After my father told him all he knew, Rabbi Menachem Mendel said, “Since my father-in-law sent you to me, I have to share words of Torah with you. It is now the month of Kislev. Chanukah is drawing closer. In many Chassidic synagogues, the fifth night of Chanukah is cele­brated as a special holiday. You see, the fact that the fifth night of Chanukah never falls on Shabbat symbolizes great spiritual darkness. The light of the fifth Chanukah candle is capable of banishing any darkness. The duty of every Jew, wherever he may be – whether in New York or London – is to ‘shed his light’ even in the deepest darkness.”

My father was astounded: the Rebbe had repeated, virtually word for word, what he had told him during their first meeting twenty years earlier!

After his marriage, my father worked for some time as rabbi and teacher at the Adat Israel synagogue in Wash­ington Heights. After my sister and I were born, our family moved to Toronto, where the leadership of the local Chassi­dic community invited my father to assume a position as rabbi and teacher.

My wedding was to take place in the winter of 1969. Even though our family was not Lubavitch, my father sug­gested that I should definitely visit the Lubavitcher Rebbe before the wedding to receive his blessing, as my father had done in his time. I gladly agreed.

However, arranging a visit with the Rebbe was far from an easy matter. My father contacted the Rebbe’s secre­tary by phone, and explained that we could not wait for sev­eral months. Eventually, the secretary agreed to let us come without waiting our turn, but on one condition: only a bless­ing, and no discussions!

I do not recall the exact time when we entered the Rebbe’s study. I do remember that it was in the early hours of the morning, just before dawn. I was seeing the Rebbe for the first time in my life. His face, particularly his eyes, made an unforgettable impression on me.

My father held out a note, as was customary, listing my name, the bride’s name, and a request for a blessing. The Rebbe took the note from my father’s hand and, before unfolding it, smiled at him and said, “It has not even been twenty years since you came here before your wedding. I am sure you recall that my father-in-law sent you to me.”

Father was amazed by the Rebbe’s attention and his astonishing memory. At that moment, the secretary knocked on the door to remind us that we should hurry up. The Rebbe, however, gestured as if to say “Never mind,” and then unfolded the note. After reading it, the Rebbe immedi­ately gave his blessing – first to me, then to my father ­wishing us long and happy lives. “As you rejoiced at my wedding,” added the Rebbe, “so may the Almighty grant you the happiness of rejoicing at the weddings of your grandchildren.”

The Rebbe’s words moved my father to tears. Before we left the study, my father gathered his courage and in­quired whether he could ask the Rebbe an important ques­tion. “Since my father-in-law once directed you to me,” smiled the Rebbe, “I am obliged to answer all your ques­tions.”

My father told the Rebbe that in Toronto, where we were living at the time, he often heard members of the local non-Chassidic community expressing their opinion that the Lubavitcher Chassidim were making a mistake by reaching out to non-religious Jews.

“I do not believe rumors and gossip,” said my father, “but the things I hear about Lubavitcher Chassidim sow seeds of doubt and conflict in my heart. King David said, ‘Do I not hate, Oh G*d, those who hate thee, and do I not strive with those who rise up against thee?’ So why do Lubavitcher Chassidim go out of their way to find a com­mon language with those who rebel against the Almighty and the Torah?” My father hastened to add that he had no intention to offend or criticize anyone; all he wanted was to find out the truth so as to tell others afterward.

“Tell me,” replied the Rebbe, “how would your ‘su­per-religious’ neighbor react if his own daughter, G*d for­bid, joined bad company and moved away from Judaism? Would he try to persuade her to return to Torah and the commandments, or would he say that ‘those who hate G*d will be hated?’ Would he claim that since it is forbidden to look for a common language with sinners, he should break off all contact with her?”

Without waiting for an answer, the Rebbe continued, “Of course, he could reply with the verse, ‘Thou shalt not hide thyself from thine own flesh.’ However, we should keep in mind,” here the Rebbe’s face became very serious ­he even pounded on the table, “that to the Almighty, every Jew is as important as the daughter is to her father! Every Jew is His flesh, from which He cannot hide Himself!”

Then the Rebbe gave us a long piercing look, and said, “I should conclude with a blessing. Chassidic commu­nities have a time-honored tradition of celebrating the fifth night of Chanukah as a special holiday. You see, the fact that the fifth night of Chanukah never falls on Shabbat symbolizes great spiritual darkness. The light of the fifth Cha­nukah candle is capable of banishing any darkness. This is the duty of every Jew, wherever he is – whether in Toronto or London. Every Jew is a fragment of G*d above. With the light of his soul, he is capable of lighting the darkest path and reawakening the soul of another Jew – even someone who is far removed from Torah and the commandments.”

My father was stunned. The entire way home, all he could do was keep repeating three words: “This is incredi­ble! This is incredible!”

Ten years passed.

In the winter of 1979, a few days before Chanukah, we flew to England to attend my younger brother’s wedding in London. On the way, I noticed that my father was deep in thought and was apparently troubled by something. I ques­tioned him about it, but he kept silent. Only after persistent attempts on my part did my father finally divulge the reason for his unease.

Shortly before our flight, my father had been visited by one of our neighbors – a respected member of the local non-Chassidic community. Literally wracked by sobs, the man cried to my father, “I would have never told anyone what I am about to tell, but I hope you will be able to help in some way. My daughter has run away. I think she had been intending to do so for a long time, but she kept her plans so carefully hidden that her mother and I were totally in the dark. Two weeks ago, the unthinkable happened: she flew to London together with her gentile friend. Since that day,” the distraught father continued, “our home has been sunk in mourning, as if in a perpetual Tish’a B’Av. We have relatives in London, but they can do nothing to help – they do not even know where to start looking for my daughter.” That was why he had come to my father. “Perhaps, while in London, could you look around? Hopefully the Almighty in His mercy will help. Who knows, perhaps you will succeed in finding our daughter and saving her from disaster.”

My father was the man’s close friend, and he was shocked by the story. Of course, I too could not remain in­different, and began to think of some way I could be of help.

We arrived in London and celebrated my brother’s wedding, which was a truly joyous occasion. On the first evening after the wedding, my father told the father of the bride about his neighbor’s predicament, and asked whether he could give him some advice. The bride’s father said that even though he himself could hardly be of help, he did have a friend, a Lubavitcher Chassid, who had rescued Jewish souls on more than one occasion. The Chassid’s name was Rabbi Abraham Yitzchak Glick, and he was an emissary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. If anyone could undertake this diffi­cult task, he was the man to do it.

That same evening, my father phoned Rabbi Glick, describing the situation and explaining that there was no time to lose. Without hesitation, Rabbi Glick asked for the phone number of the girl’s parents; they might provide some additional details that could help the search. He prom­ised to do whatever he could, and said that as soon as he found something he would immediately contact us.

We do not know where he looked and whom he talked to. Ten days later there was a telephone call from Rabbi Glick. He told us he had a pleasant surprise for us. My father hurried off to his house. As he walked into the living room, he saw a weeping girl he recognized immedi­ately. Rabbi Glick had actually managed to locate her and persuade her to go back to her parents. At the entrance to the living room, my father noticed a Chanukah menorah. He took a closer look, and almost fainted! Five Chanukah can­dles were burning with a steady flame.

Father stared at the candles as he recalled the words spoken by the Rebbe fifty, thirty and ten years earlier: “The light of the fifth Chanukah candle is capable of banishing any darkness … The duty of every Jew, wherever he is ­whether in Warsaw or London … New York or London … Toronto or London … is to shed his light even in the deepest darkness … How would your ‘super-religious’ neighbor re­act if his own daughter, G*d forbid, joined bad company and moved away from Judaism? To the Almighty, every Jew is as important as the only daughter is to her father!”

My father, convinced that after what had transpired it was his spiritual duty to meet with the Rebbe, tried to ar­range for a meeting. In those years it was extremely difficult to obtain an audience with the Rebbe, yet my father did suc­ceed in seeing the Rebbe a year later, in the month of Tishrei. A group of visitors had signed up to meet the Rebbe during the High Holy Days, and my father joined that group.

He was so overwhelmed by emotion that he could not utter a word. Finally, after managing to mutter a few sen­tences, father burst into tears. The Rebbe looked at him and said, “My father-in-law has foreseen a great deal…”

The story does not end there. In 1989, on the 14th of Kislev, my eldest son got married. My father passed away after the wedding. The Rebbe’s blessing that my father would rejoice at his grandchildren’s wedding came true. It came true exactly sixty years after the “Great Wedding” in Warsaw, exactly sixty years after their first meeting.

* * *

Here is another story, told by an Israeli from Bnei Brak, who, for a number of reasons, chooses not to divulge his name.

I was born in Paris forty-five years ago. I was an only child born to parents who were no longer young. Shortly af­ter I was born we moved to Jerusalem. Even when I was a child, I sensed that there was something mysterious about my birth, even though my parents never talked about it. Among my early childhood memories I have a clear recol­lection of a special sense of spirituality, devotion and rever­ence with which my father led the Passover Seder. Father would listen attentively to my every question, and try to an­swer slowly and thoroughly, focusing on the smallest detail.

Shortly before my marriage, when I was twenty-four, my father told me that during the war, they had escaped from Poland to Russia. Moving from one place to another, they eventually ended up in Tashkent. The city was a melt­ing pot of refugees, among them a large group of Lubavitcher Chassidim. My father spoke about them with great respect, admiring their selflessness, their willingness to help others, their great determination to provide children with a Jewish education.

By the time the war ended, my father had already turned fifty, while my mother was close to forty. They had been married for almost twenty years, yet they still had no children. They relocated to Paris, where they encountered many refugees like themselves, among them those same Lubavitcher Chassidim they had befriended in Tashkent. One day, shortly after my parents arrived in Paris, one of the Chassidim told my father that an honored guest was ex­pected in Paris: Rabbi Menachem Mendel, the son-in-law of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe. He was coming from the States to meet his mother, Reb­betzin Chana, who had left Russia, to take her to New York.

My father met Rabbi Menachem Mendel on several occasions, during which they discussed Torah issues. “These conversations,” my father told me, “gave me great pleasure.” Their first meeting took place shortly before Pesach. When Rabbi Menachem Mendel inquired about my father’s family, my father tearfully explained that he was childless after twenty years of marriage. Then Rabbi Men­achem Mendel took father’s hand in his own and said firmly, “With G*d’s help, by next Pesach you will have been able to fulfill the commandment ‘Tell it [the Hag­gadah] to your son.”

I was born nine months later. When my father re­vealed to me the secret of my birth, I realized why Pesach was such a special time for my parents.

I got married. I had children. Years went by, and my daughter grew up. It was time to find her a match. Before long, she was betrothed to a yeshiva student from Lake­wood, New Jersey. A few years later, we received the happy news: my daughter was expecting a child. Shortly before Pesach, our entire family flew to Lakewood to help the young couple prepare for Pesach, and to spend the holiday with them. I asked my son-in-law whether he knew when and how I could see the Lubavitcher Rebbe. He told me that one could stand in line to receive a dollar for charity from the Rebbe’s hands, and to hear his blessing. That evening, I arranged a trip to New York.

On the Sunday before Pesach, as we arrived in Crown Heights and neared “Seven-Seventy,” I was amazed to see a line of thousands waiting for their chance to meet the Rebbe. My son and I joined the line. During the five hours in which we patiently waited our turn, I told my son the mi­raculous story of my birth. He was very moved by my story, and told me that now he understood my determination to see the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

It was almost five o’clock when we reached the table where the Rebbe was handing out the dollar bills. I could finally see the Rebbe up close. I was deeply impressed by the Rebbe’s face, filled with majesty and dignity, and amazed at his alertness despite the many hours of standing on his feet.

The line was moving very quickly. I had not planned to say anything; I did not even know what to say. I only wanted to see the Rebbe, and I wanted the Rebbe to see me.

Our turn came. My son stood before me. The Rebbe handed him a dollar and said, “Brachah ve’hatzlachah,” (“Blessing and success”). Then he asked him in Yiddish, “Are you ready to ask the Four Questions?” (referring to the four questions children traditionally ask during the Seder). My son replied, “Yes, I am.” The Rebbe smiled and handed him another dollar. “This is for the Four Questions,” he said.

Suddenly he gave me a penetrating look, smiled, and said, “And for the commandment of ‘Tell it to your son … ‘”

I have absolutely no recollection of what happened later. All I know is that I regained my senses when I was al­ready outside. I was brimming with feelings. Later I was told that I had remained frozen in front of the Rebbe until I was ushered out of the building.

* * *

Rabbi Chaim Gutnick tells this next story.

A wealthy family – mother, father and daughter ­lived in Ballarat, near Melbourne, Australia. The parents loved the daughter dearly, and never refused her anything. She attended university, where she excelled in her studies; every Sunday, like many girls her age, she visited the local Catholic convent.

One day, in the municipal library, the girl stumbled across a book in a black cover containing photographs of famished, despondent human beings. The girl started read­ing the book, and discovered something hitherto unknown to her – the Holocaust and its six million Jewish victims. She read with increasing incredulity and shock. “Can it be,” she kept asking herself, “that human beings are capable of such brutality?” She took the book home, where she read it over and over again, and each chapter stunned and horrified her. Anguish and pity for the remote and unfamiliar Jewish people filled her heart and mind. She was tormented by dis­turbing emotions, thinking day and night about what she had read.

Her parents noticed the change that had come over their daughter. Unable to help her, they took her to a doctor. “A strange form of mental disorder,” was the diagnosis. “There is no medicine for what ails your daughter.” The parents heard the doctor’s opinion without uttering a word.

One day the girl saw an article about the Lubavitcher Rebbe in a local newspaper. The article described the Rebbe as the leader of the people of Israel, whose counsel and blessing are sought by people from every comer of the world. The girl decided to write a letter to the Rebbe. In the letter she wrote that, despite being a devout Christian, she felt profound sympathy for the Jewish people, who had suf­fered so terribly during the Second World War. She also de­scribed the attraction she felt to the Jewish people, and the way these thoughts and emotions had affected her mental state. She concluded by asking whether the Rebbe could help her come to terms with these feelings.

The Rebbe’s reply was not long in coming: “Talk to Rabbi Chaim Gutnick.”

Rabbi Gutnick’s activities were well known through­out Australia, and finding him was easy. The first religious Jew the girl asked knew Rabbi Gutnick’s whereabouts and told her how to get there.

When the girl arrived in Melbourne and approached the rabbi’s house, she suddenly began to have second thoughts about her actions. “Will he receive me? Does he know about me? Has he spoken to the Lubavitcher Rebbe? Will he even want to talk to me when he finds out that I am Christian?” These and other questions kept running through her head.

Suddenly a man opened the door to the house. “Are you looking for someone?” he inquired.

The girl explained that she was trying to find Rabbi Chaim Gutnick, and that she urgently needed to talk to him. Rabbi Gutnick smiled and invited her in.

He listened to the girl’s story, read the Rebbe’s reply, paused to consider the matter, and then asked a few ques­tions about her parents, where they were from, and their oc­cupations. The picture remained as hazy as ever. When the girl left the rabbi’s house, she was even more confused and disoriented than before.

Several days later, Rabbi Gutnick received a letter from the Rebbe regarding an earlier correspondence, but the postscript at the end struck his eye: “Whatever happened with the Jewish girl from Ballarat?” Rabbi Gutnick was stunned. After rereading the letter and failing to discern any hidden meaning in the Rebbe’s words, Rabbi Gutnick im­mediately got ready for a trip to investigate the matter.

Arriving in Ballarat, Rabbi Gutnick located the girl’s house and rang the doorbell. The parents were surprised by this unexpected visit.

“This is strange,” said the surprised father after listen­ing to the rabbi’s story. “Very strange. We belong to the Catholic Church and have no connection to Judaism. Our daughter is obsessed by a crazy idea. This is very troubling, but what can we do?”

This ended the conversation. Rabbi Gutnick returned to Melbourne, but the Rebbe’s words kept running through his mind.

Several more days went by. Rabbi Gutnick, who had continued his inquiries about the girl’s family, found out that the girl had been hospitalized. Her condition was quickly deteriorating, and in the doctors’ opinion, she did not have much longer to live.

Before setting out for Ballarat once again, Rabbi Gut­nick asked his friend Rabbi Zalman Serebryanski, dean of the Lubavitch Rabbinical College in Melbourne, to accom­pany him. Rabbi Serebryanski was astounded. “What?” he exclaimed. “You want me, an old Jew, to visit some Catho­lic girl?”Rabbi Gutnick silently showed him the Rebbe’s letter, and Rabbi Serebryanski immediately changed his mind.

When they came to the hospital, the girl’s parents were already there. The parents greeted the two rabbis very warmly. During the ensuing conversation, the girl’s mother suddenly told Rabbi Gutnick that she wished to speak to him in private.

“At that moment,” Rabbi Gutnick would recount later, “I knew that the mystery was about to be cleared up.”

Out in the corridor, the mother said that were it not for her daughter’s condition, she would never reveal her se­cret. Then she burst into tears and told her story. She had been raised in an Orthodox Jewish home in England. As a young girl, she had ran away from home and moved to Aus­tralia, where she abandoned Judaism entirely, converted to Catholicism, and married a Catholic.

“I love my daughter,” she concluded, “and I will not stand in her way if she decides to return to Judaism.”

“You must tell all this to your daughter!” exclaimed Rabbi Gutnick. “Immediately! This may very well save her life!”

“But my husband…

“I will talk to him myself,” said Rabbi Gutnick. He told the woman to send her husband out to the corridor and to stay in the room with her daughter.

After their conversation, when the girl’s father, ac­companied by Rabbi Gutnick, walked back into the hospital room, he saw his daughter packing her belongings. Her eyes were shining. “Let’s go home!” she said to her father. “I feel wonderful!”

Rabbis Gutnick and Serebryanski helped the girl inte­grate into Melbourne’s Lubavitch community, where she was able to receive a Jewish education. Today she is a teacher in a Lubavitch school, and her children are attending a Tomchei Temimim yeshiva.

However, Rabbi Gutnick was still bothered by that postscript in the Rebbe’s letter. At his next meeting with the Rebbe, he mustered his courage to ask the Rebbe how he had known that the girl was Jewish. The Rebbe replied with a smile: “The letter that she sent me could only have been written by a Jewish girl.”

* * *

Rabbi David Shoichet from Toronto tells this last story.

“In 1978, I was invited to give a lecture entitled ‘The commandment of charity and its relationship to the festival of Purim,’ at a conference of Christian priests and monks, to be held in Buffalo. I was at a loss whether to accept the invi­tation. How would Jews and gentiles react to an Orthodox rabbi appearing at an official forum of Christian priests? On the other hand, if I declined the offer, would it cause even greater harm by presenting Judaism in a negative light?

“After several days of being plagued by doubts, I naturally decided to seek the Rebbe’s advice. I called the of­fice, described the matter to Rabbi Hodakov, the Rebbe’s personal secretary, and asked him to relay my question to the Rebbe. Shortly afterwards, Rabbi Hodakov called back. ‘The Rebbe is asking about the nature of this conference. Will it involve polemics, or will it simply focus on the vari­ous aspects of charity, with you setting out the Jewish ap­proach to this issue?’

“From what I understand,” I replied, “I am expected to simply deliver a lecture about Judaism’s position on char­ity. I don’t believe that the conference will include debates and religious discussions.”

“Shortly, Rabbi Hodakov phoned again to inform me of the Rebbe’s advice: I was to accept the invitation to de­liver my lecture at the conference. Since Jews would also participate in the conference, it was preferable that they hear a lecture based on the genuine Jewish approach to the issue from an Orthodox rabbi.

“Rabbi Hodakov had an additional suggestion from the Rebbe. ‘Since you are going to talk about the com­mandment of charity in Judaism, you should emphasize the subject of ‘secret charity,’ and use as illustration the story of the famous seventeenth century rabbi, Yom Tov Lipman Heller (chief rabbi of Prague and author of the book Tosfot Yom Tov), and the secret philanthropist from Prague. This story reflects the enormous importance of the command­ment of charity in general, but it also highlights the desir­ability of keeping secret the identities of both the one who gives and the one who receives charity.’

“I felt as if a huge stone had rolled off my heart. The Rebbe had not only dispelled all my misgivings, but also provided me with a clear plan of action. I had a feeling that the Rebbe stood behind me, guiding and encouraging me, and this filled me with joy and inspiration.”

This is the story that the Rebbe was referring to.

At the very edge of the Prague ghetto stood a luxurious house that belonged to Pinchas, the richest man in the community. However, the opulence of the house inspired hatred rather than admiration; passing the house, people would turn away and clench their fists. It seemed that they had a good reason for doing so.

No one was sure how this rich man had come by his wealth. However, the entire city knew that if a poor man or someone collecting donations for the needy knocked on the door of his house, he was in­variably met with a cold, indifferent look and a harsh refusal. A petitioner could expect nothing but humilia­tion there. The entire city called the owner of this mansion a miser. Whenever someone said the word “miser,” everyone knew that he was taking about Pin­chas the rich man.

When Pinchas died, the city’s residents could not hide their joy. “Did you hear the news?” people asked one another in synagogues, in the markets and in the streets. “Pinchas has died. That miser is dead, gone to the next world, leaving all his money here! They say that he will come back one day to take it with him.”

Pinchas the miser was buried next to the fence of the old cemetery, among all sorts of disreputable individuals, as far away as possible from those poor Jews who had died because he had refused to help them.

Barely a week after the death of Pinchas the mi­ser, Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman, the chief rabbi of Pra­gue, was besieged by the needy. People who had managed to sustain their families for years, now stood before the city’s rabbi with lowered heads. “It has been days since we had any food to give our chil­dren … We are on the brink of starvation…”

“How did you manage to survive until now? What happened during the last few days?” asked Rabbi Lipman in surprise.

“Praise G*d, we managed somehow. The shop­keepers would sell to us on credit and never remind us about repaying our debts. The butchers, fishmongers and bakers too. In the last few days, none of them is willing to sell on credit. Everyone is demanding that we pay on the spot, and in cash.”

The rabbi summoned the shopkeepers, butchers, fishmongers and bakers. “What has changed over these last few days? Why have you stopped selling to the needy on credit?”

The merchants cast down their eyes and kept silent.

“I order you to tell me the truth, the entire truth!” shouted the rabbi, who rarely raised his voice.

“Our esteemed rabbi, may the Lord grant him a long life,” began a shopkeeper by the name of Meir. “We are not to blame. We were not the ones … “Meir sadly hung his head, shifting from one foot to the other.

“It was… Pinchas the miser. Every Sunday, he would come in and payoff the debts of the poor. His money was behind it all, but he made us swear that we would never reveal this secret. .. It is only because our esteemed rabbi, may the Almighty bless him, has or­dered us that we…”

Silence fell on the room. Rabbi Yom Tov Lip­man turned pale; his hands were visibly shaking. He became lost in deep thought. The merchants, careful not to make any noise, quickly filed out of the room and dispersed in silence.

As soon as they left, others came in – those in charge of the community’s charitable institutions, col­lecting dowry money for needy brides, taking care of widows and orphans, organizing funerals for the poor, and assisting the sick. Even before they opened their mouths to speak, Rabbi Lipman silently nodded and gave them an understanding look.

“The cashbox is empty,” whispered Rabbi Yitz­chak, who was responsible for charitable work in the community. “There is no money left, not even for ba­sic necessities like firewood… and winter is almost here.”

These people, responsible for providing aid for the needy, quickly realized that nothing would be the same again – now that Pinch as the miser had died. Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman convened a large meeting. A huge crowd, almost the entire community, filled the synagogue, looking up at the rabbi with a question in their eyes.

“Now we all know the truth,” said Rabbi Lip­man. “Rav Pinchas, the tzaddik, has left the world, leaving hundreds of destitute families without their generous benefactor. Only now, after his death, have we become aware of his charitable deeds, or rather a fraction of his charitable deeds.” The rabbi burst into loud sobs. Then he controlled his feelings and contin­ued. “Why didn’t we realize that we had a tzaddik in our midst? How could we have treated him with such contempt? We have committed grave sins against this man, both when he was alive and after his death.”

The people filling the synagogue wept.

After the meeting, Rabbi Lipman summoned the members of the burial society, and asked them to bury him – when his time came – next to the righteous Rav Pinchas. “I know that many people will wish to be buried next to me, and thus the area next to the fence will become the most prestigious section of the cemetery. In this way, we shall honor Rav Pinchas, the tzaddik.”

“So,” continued Rabbi Shoichet, “I attended the con­ference in Buffalo. The enormous auditorium was com­pletely quiet. Hundreds of Christian priests and monks lis­tened to my story – the story about Jewish charity – with in­tense concentration. When I finished, the audience burst into thunderous applause. It was as if the listeners had been sud­denly transported from the old Jewish cemetery in Prague back to the present reality.

“After the lecture, a young monk approached me. His smooth, well-eared-for face contrasted sharply with the guarded look in his eyes. Glancing around, he asked me in a hushed voice when the story I had just related took place. I told him that it happened about three and a half centuries ago. In agitation, the monk thanked me and returned to his seat.

“That evening, as soon as I entered my hotel room, there was a knock on the door. I opened it and saw that same young monk. He gave me an embarrassed smile. ‘Please forgive me, esteemed Rabbi, but do you think you could tell me that story again? The one you told at the con­ference today?’

“Assuming that he had missed certain details, I retold the story. The monk listened very carefully and appeared quite excited. When I finished, he asked me to tell the story once again. I began to suspect that he was not completely in his right mind.

“However, his puzzling interest had aroused my curi­osity, and I inquired why he was so interested in hearing the story in such detail. The monk smiled in dismay and, after a brief pause, said, ‘I believe that I am a descendant of that rich man from Prague. ‘

“Now I was almost sure that this young man was mentally deranged. However, a moment later he began to tell his story.”

At the beginning of World War II, after the Germans had invaded Poland, somehow my mother managed to escape the inferno. She made it to Am­sterdam, where she married a gentile, a Catholic. I was brought up in a devout Catholic home, and had no inkling that my mother was Jewish.

My parents sent me to boarding school in a monastery, where I spent many years. Later, I became a pastor in a local Catholic church.

Mother told me her life story only a short time before her death. “I am a Jew,” she said. “I swore to your father that I would never tell you this, but now I feel that it is my duty to do so. According to Jewish laws, the son of a Jewish mother is a Jew. That makes you a Jew.”

Mother told me about our family history, men­tioning that we descended from a very rich man who had been renowned for his charitable deeds and the help he had provided for many years to the poor in his town. “In acknowledgement of his virtue,” my mother added, “a sage, the former rabbi of Prague, was buried next to his grave.”

A few days later, my mother passed away. I re­turned to my daily routine and put her story out of my mind.

When I was invited to this conference, I saw that a rabbi was scheduled to deliver a lecture present­ing the Jewish viewpoint on charity. I thought to my­self, “What can he possibly say about charity? After all, everyone already knows that helping the needy is important and commendable.”

However, the lecturer – you, that is – presented a completely new aspect of this subject – secret char­ity. I must admit that you have done it with great competence. Your lecture has given me a chance to peek into another world. As to your tale of the rich man and the rabbi, I do believe that this rich man is my ancestor.

“The story told by the young monk left me aston­ished, unable to decide how much of it was true and how much fantasy. Soon after my return from the conference, I forgot all about that encounter.

“Seven years later, in 1985, I happened to be visiting Israel. While in Jerusalem, naturally I went to the Wailing Wall. As I was about to leave, a Chassid came up to me. A small beard framed his refined features. ‘Good evening, Rabbi Shoichet!’ the stranger said. I was peering into his face in a vain attempt to remember who he was.

“I beg your pardon,” I finally said, “but I cannot place you. Have we met before?”

“Of course you cannot place me,” replied the Chassid. “The last time we spoke, I looked very different.”

“The stranger took me aside, heaved a deep sigh, and said, ‘You must remember that young monk who pestered you with questions about the rich man from Prague at the conference in Buffalo.’

“I felt a shiver down my spine. Had I heard him right? I took a closer look at the man – and the features of the young monk began to show through his face. Yes, it was the same man, no doubt about it.

“I was struck speechless. Suddenly feeling weak, I sat down. The Chassid was crumpling a handkerchief in his hand. After a minute’s silence, he began to speak…”

As you may recall, my mother, before she died, had admitted her Jewish identity to me. However, many years went by without my attaching any signifi­cance to my Jewish origins. I was living my former life, and would have probably continued to do so if not for the conference where you gave that lecture about “secret charity” and the rich man from Prague. As soon as you began your story, I knew it sounded familiar, but the reason escaped me. At the time, I thought it might have been something I had read in a book. The more the story progressed, the more famil­iar it got. I was ransacking my memory, trying to grasp the vague recollection associated with the story.

Those were difficult moments for me – very difficult moments. I sensed that the story had some powerful and elusive connection to my own life. There was a moment when I thought my head was about to burst. Suddenly, in an instant, the fog cleared – I remembered everything! The protagonist of your story was that same famous and venerated ancestor mentioned by my mother before her death.

My heart had become a jumble of recollections coming to the surface. The many questions that had plagued me for years suddenly found their answers. When my mother had disclosed my Jewish origins to me, I had not attached any importance to that fact. However, your story made it patently clear to me that I was part of the Jewish people. I was very anxious and felt compelled to come to your hotel and hear the story once again. To make doubly sure that there was no misunderstanding, I approached you to clarify some details in the story; perhaps they would jog my memory.

After that conference, I knew no rest. I began to study everything that had any connection to your story: the history of Prague’s Jewish community, bi­ographies of the city’s rabbi and of the rich man next to whose grave he was buried. After investing a great deal of effort, I traveled to Prague, and there, in the old Jewish cemetery, I located, after a long search, the grave site of Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman Heller, which was adjacent to the grave of my ancestor.

Upon my return, I packed my belongings and moved to another city where no one knew me. There I embarked on serious study of the Jewish religion, laws and customs. Some time later, I came to Israel, abandoned my former way of life, and began to keep the Torah and the commandments – adopting the Chassidic lifestyle, as you can see.

“The Chassid lapsed into silence. He was visibly agi­tated by reliving his past. ‘This is the first time I have told this to anyone,’ he confided in a half-whisper. ‘I recognized you right away. Your face has been in my mind’s eye since the day I first saw you at that conference. I owe you a great deal…”

Rabbi Shoichet concludes his story, “I was astonished at the mysterious workings of Divine Providence. Later, an­other piece was added to the puzzle when I found out that I am a descendant of Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman Heller! Heaven must have wanted to arrange destiny so that a descendant of Rabbi Lipman brought a descendant of Pinchas the benefac­tor back to the Jewish people.”

All that remains is to be amazed at the way the Lubavitcher Rebbe had foreseen this turn of events! After all, he had obviously known that a Jew clad in a monk’s black cassock would be present at the conference – and that the story about “secret charity” would be the catalyst that would bring that Jewish monk back to the Jewish people.

The Rebbe′s Teachings

Can a single chapter even begin to describe the entire Chabad philosophy? No book today provides a systematic outline of the basic teachings espoused by Chabad Chassi­dism. A physics professor and baal teshuvah has this to say:

“In 1964, when I was still taking my first steps on the path to Judaism, I tried to master the basics of Chassidism. Once I told my teacher that I was extremely surprised to find out that Chassidic books were nothing like the aca­demic textbooks I was used to. In physics, for example, the textbooks set forth the foundations of the science, present­ing the information in a detailed and orderly fashion. They begin by defining the main concepts and terms, and then go on to describe the basic laws. This is followed by practical applications, and so on. As a result, after studying such a textbook, even a mediocre student will have a basic under­standing of the subject. The same is true for other sciences. Why, then, is there no systematic textbook on Chassidism? My teacher replied that I was not the first to ask this ques­tion. One of the previous Lubavitcher Rebbes was asked about this; his reply was that Chassidism is not solely a the­ory or a system of views and opinions. Chassidism cannot be understood and studied only through textbooks and only by means of logical thinking. Chassidism must be embraced with one’s heart and soul. Talking to a Rebbe, or at least a mentor – an elderly Chassid seasoned by many years of the Chassidic way of life – is indispensable. Farbrengens are certainly the most reliable way to study Chassidism. How­ever, a farbrengen has nothing in common with a university lecture. A farbrengen is like music that resounds through and beyond the words uttered by the Rebbe. This music en­ters and elevates the soul, and purifies and sharpens the mind. Learning to observe the commandments with joy and devotion is equally impossible through books. Chassidism, in fact Judaism in general, must be lived. Only then can one hope to one day attain an understanding that will open the gates of the mind in a way that no systematic textbook ever could. That is why books on Chassidism are so different from academic textbooks.”

The Tanya is the cornerstone of Chabad philosophy. Though it is physically small, it is unequaled in the depth of its insights into the physical and spiritual spheres of Jewish life.

Discourses by the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, on Chabad philosophy and its significance in our time comprise hundreds of volumes. The Rebbe is the seventh leader in a chain that began with the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman. Each Rebbe contributed his share to the treasury of Chabad thought. Countless books and hun­dreds of thousands of pages are devoted to discourses, talks, letters, replies to questions, and commentaries.

Like the Baal Shem Tov, Chabad philosophy made no fundamental changes in Judaism; all it did was shift the em­phasis and raise certain concepts to a higher level of significance. It has absorbed the incalculable treasures of Kabbal­istic works – the Zohar, the teachings of the Holy Ari, the manuscripts of Chaim Vital and others – presenting these pearls of wisdom in a form that can be easily understood not only by gifted and learned sages, but also by ordinary Jews.

The wisdom of the Kabbalah, coupled with the teach­ings of the Baal Shem Tov, formed the foundation on which the Alter Rebbe built his philosophy. Subsequently, each Rebbe in the Chabad dynasty enriched and developed this philosophy. Chassidism is the “wine of Torah,” an extension of Torat haNistar “the hidden Torah,” though everything in Chassidism is rooted in the revealed Torah – the Tanach and the words of the Talmudic sages. The phrase “wine of To­rah” alludes to the fact that, just as wine enriches the meal, Chassidism provides an added, fuller relish for Torah study. The difference is so great that the student is often aston­ished: how did he study without this new taste?

The most serious and complex issues of Chassidism are explored in the ma’amarim – the Rebbes’ discourses during farbrengens. These discourses are delivered in a par­ticular style marked by a distinctive chanting intonation. Recent discourses have been recorded and circulated both in manuscript and printed form.

The Rebbe’s ma’amar is a highly elaborate composi­tion incomprehensible to someone unfamiliar with its style, structure and special concepts. The discourse usually begins with one or more quotes from the Tanach or the Talmud, which are then analyzed and interpreted from the point of view of Chassidism. A person capable of appreciating the beauty of abstract thought and the gift of conducting a complex and elegant logical analysis is certain to derive great intellectual pleasure from studying these discourses. The main virtue of the discourse is the revelation of hidden meanings concealed in the holy books, revealing an abstract, comprehensive and harmonious picture of the Creator and His creation. In the process, the reader begins to understand that the created world cannot exist by itself; if at times we perceive it as self-sufficient that is only because the mate­rial shell keeps us from discerning the all-powerful Creator, the inexhaustible source of life. The reader also begins to understand the role assigned in this world to the Jews, who have an animal, earthly soul, and also a divine spark of G*d sent from above. The ma’amarim also contains practical in­structions designed to ensure that Jews perform their divine mission to the fullest extent possible.

In addition to the ma’amar, which is an in-depth analysis of a given topic that requires prior preparation to be understood, the farbrengen often includes one or more si­chot – talks whose style and framework are much more ac­cessible to the uninitiated. However, the sichot also touch upon profound and complex issues.

Chabad requires its followers to invest major effort in Chochmah (Wisdom), Binah (Understanding), and Da’at (Knowledge) – the three tenets of Chabad-Lubavitch phi­losophy – in an attempt to understand the infinite Creator to the extent that limited human reason is capable of such un­derstanding. Only deep Torah study can bring us to recog­nize G*d’s presence in the entire created universe, which He rules by means of Torah. Both the base material world and the loftiest spiritual realms are only reflections of G*dliness. At the same time, the G*dly soul granted to the Jews is a particle of G*d Himself. The realization that only G*d truly exists, while the manifest material world is merely His re­flection (ziv haShechinah), infuses us with love and fear of G*d. The principle of “wisdom-understanding-knowledge” requires us to predicate our activities on reason rather than emotion. This sums up the meaning of one of the tenets of Chabad philosophy: “The mind rules the heart.” At the same time, however, we must not rely on our own reason, which is limited, changeable, and susceptible to error. Thus, when reason clashes with the substance of Torah (whether Writ­ten, Oral, or as taught by the Rebbe), we should rely on faith.

The existence of providential, unlimited divine super­vision and guidance is another tenet in Chabad philosophy. Everything that happens in the world, down to the tiniest de­tail, is under G*d’s constant care. A leaf will not fall from the tree without G*d’s will.

The mission entrusted to Jews in this world is to lift G*d’s creation to a higher level, to infuse the material world with spirituality, to disseminate the divine light of Torah. They should persist in this task until the arrival of Mashiach, when “all those living upon the earth will know G*d,” and His providence will become tangible.

This mission is a great blessing, and those who carry it are assured of a sense of joy and profound satisfaction, even in purely human terms. Those who opt for this course are healthy people, both physically and spiritually. These are creative people, caring for their fellow humans, raising happy families. In these turbulent and uncertain times, times of many questions and no clear answers, this is a straight, clearly defined path leading to prosperity and joy. The world was created according to Torah, and worldly exis­tence is based on its commandments. Thus, anything that is done according to Torah and its commandments is positive and conforms to the divine plan; all that contradicts Torah is doomed to failure from the outset. Even if the going is diffi­cult at times, even if occasionally it seems to our misguided reason that reality contradicts the Torah, a Jew’s every ac­tion must conform to the precepts of Torah. In all he does, the Rebbe follows the Alter Rebbe’s instructions that “a Jew must keep pace with the times,” meaning that every action on any given day must be in accord with the weekly Torah section read on that day.

As long as Mashiach still tarries, as long as the major­ity of world Jewry faces the threat of assimilation, as long as most of the Jewish children in Israel and throughout the world receive an education far removed from Torah and the commandments, the Chabad movement’s efforts are largely aimed at preserving the Jewish people and preparing the world for the imminent arrival of Mashiach.

One of the lynchpins of Chabad philosophy is the concept of ufaratztah – “and you shall spread.” This concept is derived from when the Lord says to our patriarch Avra­ham, “And thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south.” Lubavitcher Chas­sidim use the expression “to engage in ufaratztah,” i.e., to spread the message of Torah among the public, in schools, in markets and city squares, in universities, the army, and even prisons – wherever they may find a Jewish soul that has strayed from the path. Their mission is to rise above mundane existence, to spare no effort, to use every means at their disposal – without exceeding the limits set by Torah, of course – to return each and every Jew to Judaism!

The desire to be constantly in the center of life’s whirlpool is highly typical of Chabad. This approach is not new; the Baal Shem Tov urged us to gather the sparks of ho­liness scattered throughout the world. He taught that no mat­ter where we happen to be, we Jews must remember that nothing happens by chance, and that the Almighty has brought us there to enable us to fulfill our divine mission. It is the obligation of every Jew to try to understand what that mission is in that particular place, and to make every effort to fulfill it. Everything that we Jews experience has the po­tential to fortify faith and ennoble our actions. That is the most straightforward interpretation of the phrase “In all thy ways acknowledge Him.”

Moreover, according to Chabad philosophy the base physical world we inhabit is but the dwelling of the Al­mighty. That is why it is so important to illuminate, sanc­tify, and ennoble every comer of this world. This should be done through Torah study and prayer, but most importantly, through observing the commandments and performing good deeds. However, even if a person has already reached a cer­tain level of Torah knowledge, and continues to delve deeper into Torah, studying day and night and observing every commandment, this is still not enough. If that person fails to share those spiritual riches with other Jews, and does not introduce them to Torah and its commandments, such a person is called “a tzaddik in a fur coat,” who sits through the cold winter wrapped in a fur coat, and a heart indifferent to others’ cold. A true tzaddik goes to the woods through snow and cold, without fear of wild animals or robbers, chops firewood and lights the stove to provide warmth for those who are powerless to provide heat for themselves.

These teachings and these principles have been passed down from Rebbe to Rebbe through the generations, each one adding something unique to Chabad philosophy, adapting it to fit the demands of the time. The present Rebbe, for example, devotes special attention to the issue of the relationship between Torah and science.

The Rebbe’s teachings always encourage the positive aspects of a person or an entire society, and downplay the negative qualities. For example, in teshuvah, the return to one’s roots, to one’s innermost essence and mission, empha­sis is always placed on “doing good,” while the notion of “refraining from evil” is considered self evident. Of course, the Rebbe always points out that teshuvah has two facets: repentance for the past, and desire for the present and future good. However, the latter is undoubtedly more important. The Rebbe frequently explains that a criminal can certainly repent every time he commits a crime, but that in itself does not bring him any closer to teshuvah. On the other hand, a Jew who makes a conscious decision to do good and acts on this decision is thereby doing teshuvah, even without feeling strong enough remorse about the past.

Perhaps most importantly, when the Rebbe talks about the lengthy galut, he certainly refers to the dark as­pects and the unbearable hardships of exile. At the same time, he almost never mentions the fact that this exile is vis­ited upon us as punishment for our transgressions and our ancestors’. Instead, he invariably describes the exile as a pe­riod of preparation for goulash that prepares the world for re­demption, purifying the universe, “filtering” and “disinfect­ing” it as it were, ennobling the material world and intensi­fying Jewish efforts to hasten the arrival of Mashiach.

The Rebbe never tires of repeating that G*d’s provi­dence over every creature is absolute and simple. Each Jew should know that the Almighty rules everything (except, of course, those actions in which the Jew is given the freedom of choice). The Almighty supervises every tiny action in the universe. The Rebbe often quotes a passage from the Jerusa­lem Talmud: “He believes in the One who is the ‘Life of all Worlds’ – and SOWS.”I4 A gentile sows only because his an­cestors have done so, and because everyone else does, and empirical experience shows that “you reap what you sow.” A Jew, on the other hand, sows and waits for the harvest not because he believes in the natural lifecycle, but rather be­cause he has faith in the help of the Creator, the Master of the Universe.

The Zohar says that Rabbi Yesah-Sabah prayed to the Lord to send him food even when the table had already been set, and he had already washed his hands and was ready to sit down at the table. The Baal Shem Tov, in his philoso­phy of Permanent Creation, follows this same approach. According to the Baal Shem Tov, the world is constantly renewed and recreated at every given moment in time. Without the Lord’s will, the food waiting on the table would disappear in a twinkling of an eye, along with the rest of the world.

This is all related to the idea that “Torah preceded the world,” since the Almighty created the world based on the Torah “blueprint.” “He looked into Torah and created the world.” There is no doubt that the entire world, down to the tiniest detail, originates from the holy Torah.

Two fundamental truths are at the root of Chabad teachings. First, reason must predominate in our striving to understand the Almighty, as much as possible. Second, hu­manity and human reason are insignificant in relation to the Almighty, so, regardless of the degree of understanding, worship of G*d cannot be guided by reason; it must be based on sincere and selfless faith. On one hand, sages deeply versed in Torah, Kabbalah and Chassidism use their reason to attain the highest levels, surpassing even the wis­dom of the sages of the Talmud. On the other hand, a Jew cannot serve G*d by relying on his own reason, for reason is limited, fallible and inconstant, whereas the Torah is eternal and immutable. Ultimately, human reason is incapable of fully comprehending the infinite Creator.

Jews can maintain their connection with G*d and walk on the path of the Almighty with complete conviction only through absolute faith, which transcends reason. This explains, for example, one of the inner meanings of Jewish circumcision. Ishmael was circumcised when he was thir­teen years old, when he already possessed the mental capac­ity to understand what was being done, and could consent to the ritual. Such a covenant, hinged on reason, cannot be ab­solute, since if the person changes his mind, he might break the covenant.

Our patriarch Yitzchak, on the other hand, was cir­cumcised on the eighth day of his life, without being asked for his opinion. This illustrates the boundless devotion of Jewish faith, in which actions are performed without ques­tions or misgivings. Every Jewish boy, by undergoing the ritual of circumcision, thereby enters into a covenant with the Almighty – and the covenant is eternal.

Similarly, one of the first things we teach a child is the verse, “Moshe bequeathed us the Torah, the legacy of the sons of Jacob,,,18 and explain that Moshe’s Torah is the entire Torah, which includes the Written Torah, the Oral Torah, and many other revealed and hidden layers of knowledge. How can a small child be expected to under­stand all this? That is the crux of the matter: a small child and a learned adult both have the same potential ability to comprehend the Torah in its infinite entirety. It is wrong to think that a child can be content with half-truths, with an “abridged” Torah. Far from it! The Torah belongs to babies (including “imprisoned babies,” i.e., adults, such as Soviet Jewry, who, due to circumstances beyond their control, were unable to study Torah) to the same extent that it be­longs to learned adults well versed in Torah.

This concept underlies the Rebbe’s attitude to educa­tion. The Rebbe repeatedly states that love for the Jewish people is more than simply one of the 613 commandments, or even one of the most important of them. It is infinitely more than that. Without love for the Jewish people, for each and every Jew, it is impossible to either understand or ob­serve the Torah and its commandments. This key element is expounded by the Alter Rebbe in Chapter 32 of Tanya: every Jew has a holy soul, “a particle of G*d sent from above;” thus love for one’s people is natural in a Jew who realizes that the soul takes precedence over the body. He loves his neighbor as himself precisely because they both share that “particle of G*d.” Love for one’s neighbor is merely another form of love for G*d, for the particle of G*d carried within. Only when the body is considered predomi­nant do distinctions arise between “me” and “you” – and that, G*d forbid, may lead from love to its opposite.

The Rebbe teaches that in order for the Jewish people to prosper and to triumph over its enemies, the Jewish worldview must be based on simple faith and unconditional devotion to the will of the Almighty, regardless of whether the human mind accepts or fails to accept, understands or fails to understand the demands placed on man by G*d.

For example, the Rebbe analyzes a Torah passage in the portion B’Shalach that recounts how, shortly after the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, Pharaoh regretted his decision to set them free. Gathering his elite troops, he raced after the Israelites, catching up with them at the shore of the sea. Trapped between the Egyptian army and the sea, the dismayed Israelites began to propose various ideas for solv­ing their predicament. Some believed that it would be best to return to Egypt; others preferred to fight the Egyptians. Moshe began to pray, beseeching G*d to spare His people. It would seem that nothing could be more natural than pray­ing to G*d for deliverance, yet the Almighty spoke to Moshe, saying, “Why do you plead with me? Speak to the children of Israel, and get moving!”

The Rebbe explains that Moshe and the Jewish people knew full well that the Almighty had commanded them to journey to the desert, where they would be favored with the bestowal of the Torah. So what if the sea blocked their way? Obviously, they were to obey G*d’s commandment literally, and to move ahead no matter what, in absolute faith that the Almighty would certainly deliver His chosen people. In such a situation, the doubts and protestations of the limited human reason are of no importance. Indeed, as soon as Moshe, as instructed by G*d, held out his staff over the sea, as soon as Nachshon ben Aminadav, the leader of the tribe of Judah, brimming over with faith in G*d, leaped into the sea, the waters parted, enabling the children of Israel to walk across the sea bottom as if it were dry land.

The same theme of boundless faith, unconditional obedience and devotion to the Almighty and His declared will is presented in another dramatic situation in the Torah portion Va’era. The Almighty decides to test our patriarch Avraham by commanding him to sacrifice his son Yitz­chak. The patriarchs Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov are referred to in Kabbalah as a merkava (literally, a chariot, al­luding to the fact that the patriarchs used their G*d-given freedom of choice to subordinate their will completely to the Almighty, thereby becoming akin to a chariot, which is ab­solutely subordinate to the will of the rider).

For many long years, Avraham had dreamed that his wife Sarah would bear a son, but Sarah remained barren. Avraham continuously prayed to G*d, asking Him to bless him with an heir. Finally, when Avraham was ninety-nine years old, he was visited by angels who announced that Sarah would have a son in a year’s time. True enough, a miracle came to pass, and Yitzchak was born.

The Almighty repeatedly promised Avraham that He would give him the Land of Canaan as an everlasting pos­session, and that Yitzchak would be his heir, whose seed would be without number and favored by G*d, set apart among all nations. It is easy to imagine how infinitely pre­cious Yitzchak was to Avraham, and how Avraham’s heart trembled at the very thought of something happening to Yitzchak. So, when the Almighty decided to test Avraham, He spoke to him, saying: “Take your son, your only son Yitzchak, whom you love, and go to Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will show you.”

Any other man would succumb to despair, would beg G*d for mercy, would try everything in his power to change this terrible decree. Avraham, however, was not like other men. He rose at the crack of dawn, promptly saddled his ass, and loaded it with wood for the burnt offering. Taking two slaves and his son Yitzchak, he set out on his way. Accord­ing to a midrash, the Almighty set various obstacles on Avraham’s path – a high and steep mountain, a rushing stream, and so on. Anyone else in Avraham’ s place would have used these obstacles as an excuse to turn around and abandon his terrible mission, but Avraham was not like other men. Avraham hurried to carry out the will of the Al­mighty, knowing that what he was about to do would put an end to all of his joyous hopes concerning Yitzchak.

Jews recite the story of Avraham’s sacrifice of Yitz­chak in their daily morning prayer, and every Jew listening to the story is filled with trepidation at the magnitude of this unprecedented human drama.

How is it possible? How can the promises and cove­nants regarding Yitzchak, his countless descendants, and his inheriting the Land of Israel be reconciled with the com­mand to sacrifice Yitzchak? Far from complaining, Avra­ham does not even conceive of being dismayed by the seem­ingly irreconcilable contradiction. On the contrary, Avraham rejoiced in the knowledge that he could do G*d’s will. Avraham is confident that the Almighty acts with compas­sion and care, and that He will fulfill his promises. Nor does it make any difference that his limited human reason views this as an irreconcilable contradiction. Nothing can shake Avraham’s firm belief that the divine realm is ruled by absolute unity, free from contradictions or inconsistencies. In that realm, fire and water coexist without obliterating each other.

Events unfolded in this way until the moment Avra­ham raised the knife over the bound Yitzchak. Then the an­gel of G*d called to him, telling him that he had passed the test, ordering him not to lay his hand on Yitzchak, and reit­erating all the blessings and promises regarding the fruitful­ness and prosperity of his seed. This is the kind of faith, the kind of attitude to the commandments and covenants of the Almighty that the Rebbe teaches his Chassidim and all the Jews.

Another of the Rebbe’s teachings illustrates the pri­mary nature of the Torah and the secondary nature of the creation, based on two explanations for the fact that the fes­tival of Chanukah is celebrated for eight days. Following the victory of the Jewish rebels over the Hellenists, the Temple was purified, and olive oil to be used in the Temple’s seven branched candelabrum was ordered from the Galilee. At the time, it took eight days for the oil to be made and delivered to Jerusalem. Only a single cruse of oil undefiled by the Greeks was found at the Temple, enough for the seven branched candelabrum to burn for one day. However, the Almighty performed a miracle, and the oil burned for eight days – exactly enough time for the fresh oil to arrive from the Galilee. That is the reason we celebrate Chanukah for eight days. This explanation would seem to be completely in keeping with the views of the most orthodox Jew. The Rebbe, however, points out that according to a deeper inter­pretation, we cannot accept the idea that the duration of the holy festival of Chanukah was determined by the oil manu­facturing technology and the available means of transporta­tion for delivering the oil to Jerusalem. That the festival of Chanukah was to last for eight days, the Rebbe teaches, was laid down by the Almighty in the Torah even prior to the six days of Creation. The number eight is associated with the supernatural, the miraculous, for this number is higher by one than the number seven, which is symbolic of a series of natural phenomena and cycles (the seven days of the week, the seventh year of shmita, when the farmer rests and the land lies fallow). The fact that it required eight days for the oil to be made and delivered to the Jerusalem Temple is not the cause but rather the effect, the consequence of the divine plan according to which the festival of Chanukah was to last for eight days.

The Rebbe often quotes the Rambam, who says, “Jews must realize that the world is suspended in a state of equilibrium between good and evil, and that the command­ment that a person can perform at any given moment is ca­pable of tipping the scales to the side of good, and bringing about the immediate arrival of Mashiach. This enormous in­dividual responsibility for the fate of the entire world must guide each Jew in his everyday life.”

The Rebbe teaches that indifference is the worst en­emy of the Jewish people in general, and of every individual Jew. A Jew who relates warmly and lovingly to his Jewish­ness can easily be directed to the path of righteousness. A malicious hater of Torah and Judaism should not be regarded as a hopeless case; his emotions may be misleading him, but as long as he is not apathetic, there is still hope of setting him straight. However, it is extremely difficult for a person who is cold and indifferent to come to recognize G*d. The great harm that Amalek inflicted on the Jews dur­ing the Exodus is expressed in the phrase asher karcha bad­erech, “he made you cold on the way,” which means that Amalek succeeded in dampening the ardor of our souls.

The many hundreds of volumes of the Rebbe’ s dis­courses encompass a sea of fundamental ideas and concepts, commentaries, reflections and instructions. During the last three millennia, the Jewish people have produced their fair share of geniuses. These included brilliant scholars who shed light on the Torah, extraordinary minds, people who possessed great understanding of halachah and Kabbalah. Yet it would appear that there has never been a sage equal to the Rebbe, whose genius embraces every possible aspect of Torah, whose breadth of vision and unprecedented insight encompass the boundless treasures of Judaism to the fullest extent possible.

Unprecedented advances in science and technology are the hallmark of our age. This process was set in motion about two hundred fifty years ago; in the last hundred years it has reached staggering proportions, and has had a major impact on all mankind. Enormous progress has been made in theoretical and applied science, particularly in physics. Huge strides have been made in every area of technology, especially communications, transportation, and manufacture of new materials such as plastics. Atomic energy, space flight, the headlong development of computer technology, the Internet, and all sorts of sophisticated consumer devices have had a powerful impact on our human mentality, imbu­ing us with an exaggerated sense of our own power.

Despite all its positive aspects, the technical revolu­tion has led to ideological and spiritual decay, which mani­fests itself in many spheres, including the mass rejection of religion. Many try to rationalize their departure from Juda­ism by claiming, “The world has changed,” and “we are civi­lized, educated, enlightened people.” Even those responsible for the traditional Jewish education of the younger genera­tion are tom by conflicting opinions on this issue. Some try to “tailor” the religious outlook to fit the modem era, thereby distorting the fundamental principles of religion; others spurn scientific and technological progress, adhering to the old ways, trying to ignore all modem developments, thereby consigning Jews, particularly the young, to a state of denial, ignorance, and total powerlessness in the face of contemporary reality.

The Rebbe’s views on this issue are crystal-clear, and he does not miss an opportunity to express them during meetings with scientists and students, in letters, personal conversations, and farbrengens.

First of all, according to the Rebbe, Torah-observant Jews have nothing to fear from scientific and technological progress. After all, it is written in the Zohar that in the sixth century of the sixth millennium (i.e., during the period that began some two hundred fifty years ago), “the heavenly gates of supernal wisdom will be opened, as well as the springs of earthly wisdom.” This means that the unprece­dented advance in Torah learning – the revelation of hidden mysteries of “supernal wisdom” by Chassidic sages – will be accompanied by a parallel growth in “earthly wisdom,” or science. The Rebbe teaches us that science is in itself a neutral phenomenon – like everything created by G*d. Whether it is “good” or “evil” depends on the use made of scientific discoveries. The same applies to the modem ma­chinery and devices introduced as a result of scientific breakthroughs. The entire world was created “for Torah and for Israel.” “Everything that the Almighty created in His world, He created for His glory.” In other words, science and technology, like everything created by G*d, are but the means to a sacred end, and it is obvious that everything de­pends on how they are used by Jews. Naturally, the Al­mighty expects us to exercise our free will to choose what is virtuous and good.

For example, in one of his discourses the Rebbe touches on the discovery of electromagnetic waves and the invention of radio communications, pointing out that this invention can, and must, be used for the benefit of Torah study. First, radio can be used to disseminate Torah, with lessons, lectures and discussions broadcast to millions of Jews in every comer of the world. Secondly, the very fact that electromagnetic waves carrying the wisdom of Torah travel across enormous distances, not only across our planet but all the way into space, serves as a sort of tangible ex­pression of the ultimate purpose of creation. Indeed, the Rambam describes the messianic era by quoting the prophet Yeshayahu, “For the world will be filled with the knowl­edge of G*d.”

Finally, there is the more philosophical aspect: study of electric and magnetic fields has revealed a close inter­connection between these seemingly unrelated phenomena. In fact, they are one. By discovering the unity of creation, humanity achieves a deeper knowledge of the oneness of the Creator.

The Rebbe once told a scientist that there is no need to expound on the seeming contradictions between Torah and science to a Jew who was blessed by the Almighty with the priceless gift of “simple faith,” someone who has no doubts or dilemmas in this regard. However, a Jew who has lost his way in the modem world, who has accepted the popular view that alleges that science contradicts and totally invalidates Torah (thereby justifying his own departure from Torah and its commandments) is in dire need of help. In his case, the issue in hand must be thoroughly explained, using the entire gamut of available knowledge, both of Torah and Science.

As for the so-called “contradictions” between Torah and science, the Rebbe’s position is once again clear and straightforward. The crux of the Rebbe’s position may be summed up as follows: the Zoharsays that Torah preceded the world, and that the Almighty “looked into the Torah and created the world.” This means that G*d created the world with Torah as His “blueprint.” This implies that “creation,” i.e., the world and nature, cannot deviate from the divine “blueprint.” This position is fundamentally opposed to at­tempts to “tailor” the statements contained in Torah to fit the latest assertion made by scientists or reporters, “inter­preting” a certain scientific field. A vivid example of such “interpretation” is the attempt to construe the six days of Creation not as six literal, twenty-four hour days, but rather as six epochs, each one lasting for many millions of years, in accordance with theories from one hundred fifty years ago concerning the age of the universe, evolution, and so on. To counter these “scientists,” as well as those who main­tain that “the Torah is not a scientific work, and thus should not be expected to provide explanations for natural phenom­ena,” the Rebbe stresses that, being the “blueprint for the universe,” Torah has a direct bearing on each of its elements – every object and every phenomenon. Since the Almighty created – and permanently creates – the world and all its workings solely through Torah, all objects and phenomena owe their existence to Torah.

Scientific discoveries replace, and at times invalidate one another. The constant changes and leaps that character­ize the development of scientific theories are a distinguish­ing feature of science. Obviously, it is unthinkable that, in order to avoid “contradictions,” each new scientific “leap” should be accompanied by corresponding “leaps” in Torah interpretation! Torah is eternal and immutable. When a new theory seems to contradict the Torah, we should analyze the theory from the Torah standpoint, as well as determining the extent to which the theory conforms to science’s own crite­ria. Then we will certainly be able to both resolve the prob­lem and find an explanation for the apparent “inconsis­tency.” Moreover, as the Rebbe points out, one should never set a deadline for finding a solution, for such a deadline could force us to accept a solution at any cost within the ap­pointed time, and from there it is but a short step to falsify­ing facts. It is quite natural that we humans, finite beings with limited abilities, are not always able to find immediate answers to all our questions about the nature of the world created by the Almighty – who is infinite and limitless.

As for the true value and validity of scientific theo­ries, the Rebbe states that theories fall into several catego­ries. Some theories are concerned with natural phenomena and objects which the researcher can contact directly, or processes in which they can intervene in order to discover their concealed characteristics. For example, theories about the structure of matter and electromagnetic forces may be reliable, yet they do not reveal the absolute truth. The very nature of science is such that any scientific theory under­goes constant modification, as ongoing research discovers new characteristics and phenomena that not only deviate from the existing theory, but at times refute it altogether.

There is, however, another group of theories that deal with distant celestial bodies, such as stars and galaxies. In this case, even before developing a theory, the scientist must thoroughly investigate the nature of the signals received during observation of these distant objects. The findings of such experiments are open to various interpretations. The same may be said about the study of the tiniest elements that make up matter – the elementary particles – whose behavior cannot be observed directly. In that case, the observer can at least intervene in the process, something that cannot be said about stellar research. This type of theory is naturally less reliable and has less cognitive value.

Finally, some views aspire to the stature of theory, even though they should be rightfully considered conjec­tures or hypotheses at best. Attempts at theoretical recon­struction of natural processes that occurred in the very dis­tant past belong to this category. These include cosmogonic and geological “theories,” as well the evolutionary “theory” of the development of the animal kingdom. Proponents of these “theories” rely on our present knowledge of physical, chemical, and other natural phenomena to explain how the world came to be what it is today. The technique most commonly used in this type of research is extrapolation, i.e. intuitive extension of the known characteristics of a certain phenomenon beyond the temporal framework of direct ob­servation and measurement. Extrapolation has never been considered a precise scientific method, especially regarding the past, which cannot be revisited in order to subject the results of extrapolation to direct, objective testing.

The Rebbe emphasizes that the adherents of these “theories” do not find it necessary to inform their students that they are dealing with mere conjecture, which cannot be proven, verified, or even convincingly invalidated. Instead, they present these “theories” as established fact.

Many people readily accepted the theory of evolution for purely psychological reasons. Someone who forgot – or never knew – that the human mind cannot comprehend G*d presumes to form opinions about G*d’s ways by attributing to Him human qualities and limitations. Such thinking runs roughly as follows: “If I were creating the world I would have two possible ways – I could either create everything, from inert matter to living beings, down to the last detail, or I could create matter, time, and space, fix the laws of nature, and let the universe evolve on its own. I would definitely choose the latter. I would simply have no time in which to create all the trillions of creatures separately.” The person is not even aware that such thinking projects human limita­tions and human logic onto the Creator!

The Rebbe repeatedly stresses that when a commonly accepted concept regarding a specific natural phenomenon does not conform to the halachic description of that phe­nomenon, we should in no way view the halachah as alle­gorical. Thus, the Rebbe states that, for example, when the Tanach, the Talmud, or the Rambam asserts that the earth is the center of the universe, with the sun revolving around it, this should be understood literally. According to the scien­tific theories of a hundred years ago (Newton’s classical mechanics), such statements would have been laughable. Now, according to Einstein’s universally accepted theory of relativity, this view is absolutely plausible. Indeed, accord­ing to the general theory of relativity, it is impossible to de­termine conclusively which body revolves around which, or which one is actually moving and which is static. From the standpoint of science, the question is meaningless. Even some physicists, who are supposed to be experts, err on this issue. Views inculcated in childhood have such a deep effect on their perception that they invariably hold sway over their professional knowledge. They find it hard to accept the idea that in this day and age the concept of the earth standing still is perfectly compatible with science.

Incidentally, in recent years, a long time after the Rebbe first stated his opinion on the subject, astrophysicists have begun to base their research on the “anthropocentric principle,” according to which the earth is situated at the center, while the rest of the universe with its billions of stars creates the precise conditions that make human existence possible. Books on this subject have begun to emerge even in such strongholds of science (and atheism!) as Cambridge University.

The Rebbe attaches enormous importance to the fact that as early as the turn of the twentieth century, modem science rejected the Newtonian principle of absolute deter­minism, which had been commonly accepted in the past. According to that view, there is a direct connection between cause and effect, and by knowing the causes, one can accu­rately predict any given effect in advance. This approach eventually reached the point that the famous French scientist Pierre Simon Laplace announced that from a precise and comprehensive description of each atom in the universe, as well as its state at a given moment, he could infer the exact behavior of any object in the universe at each moment in the future. He believed that this power of foresight also extends to the conduct of any human being, in keeping with the Newtonian view that the laws of science may be used to ex­plain and predict the behavior not only of inert matter, but also of plants, animals, and even humans. Naturally, Laplace’s approach completely negated the concept of free­dom of choice depicted in Torah. Furthermore, this view set the ground for the denial of Divine Providence and G*d’s involvement in all that happens in the world, as well as dis­missing any possible effect of prayer and human actions on physical events.

As early as several decades ago, the Rebbe explained that quantum theory, by introducing the notion of inde­terminism into every area of science, had completely dis­credited Laplace’s idea. Quantum theory, which places ma­jor focus on the phenomenon of light, asserts that light is simultaneously a flow of minute particles – photons – and short electromagnetic waves. In other words, light has a dual nature. According to quantum theory, which is com­monly accepted today, duality characterizes all the particles that make up the universe – electrons, protons, neutrons, etc. This theory further states that it is impossible to simultane­ously measure the location and speed of a particle with any precision, and to predict the behavior of any given particle. The most we can do is establish the probability of its behav­ing in a certain way. Relatively recently, physicists began to realize that the behavior of a particle, and ultimately the very fact of its existence, depend on whether the observer possesses freedom of choice, and is thus not subject to the laws of nature. Significantly, the Rebbe constantly stresses that according to Torah, the testimony of eyewitnesses veri­fied and accepted by a rabbinical court not only influences halachic rulings, but also determines the behavior and prop­erties of physical objects. In other words, modem science is finally embracing views contained in Torah and recorded by Talmudic sages nearly two millennia ago.

The Rebbe also illustrates that one can reach scien­tific conclusions based on the words of Torah. This does not refer to hidden mysteries accessible only to the righteous blessed with divine, spiritual visionary gifts. In certain cases this path is available even to illiterate Jews. The Torah, as the Rebbe teaches, embraces the entire world, and certainly contains answers to all the questions that have to do with this world.

The following is a typical example of how the Rebbe resolves a complex scientific issue by relying on a straight­forward interpretation of Torah. One of the most frequently asked questions is whether intelligent beings exist elsewhere in the universe. The Rebbe’s reply is that according to To­rah, such beings do not exist. What distinguishes human be­ings from other creatures is that we have freedom of choice. At first glance, the idea of “freedom of choice” or “free will” seems to be contrary to such concepts as Permanent Creation (G*d’s ongoing recreation of the material world and all that it contains), Divine Providence, (G*d’s supervi­sion of the creation), and so on. However, G*d does not in­terfere with our free will. Freedom of choice is part of G*d’s master plan outlined in the Torah. Torah is above all a book of 613 commandments. These commandments can be relevant only to beings that are free to choose between performing them or, G*d forbid, rejecting them. Therefore bestowing the Torah is contingent upon granting free will. Thus if we assume that other intelligent beings exist in the universe, they too must have the Torah. It could not be a dif­ferent Torah, for our Torah is called Torat Emet – the “To­rah of Truth,,,40 and there can only be one truth. On the other hand, they cannot possibly have our Torah, for Torah was given to the Jewish people in the Sinai desert, and eve­rything that happened before and after this event is de­scribed in great detail in the Torah itself, with specific names, geographic locations, and so on. Our Torah would be totally unintelligible to alien beings. Therefore it follows that there cannot be any other intelligent beings similar to humans in the universe. On the other hand, the Torah does not rule out the possibility that other living beings exist in outer space.

The full scope of this topic cannot be covered in a few pages. Here we have only cited a few examples to illus­trate how the Rebbe appropriates scientists, and science it­self, to the service of G*d and to the cause of precipitating the time of Mashiach.

Over the last century, and particularly in recent dec­ades, scientific views in all the natural sciences have begun to converge with Torah-based philosophy. This phenome­non appears to be another harbinger of the imminent arrival and revelation of Mashiach! Indeed, only the Rebbe could have predicted that the rational sciences, which are based on “cold reason” and which had just recently denied the Torah and the Almighty, would recognize Him, and accept the ex­istence of the soul and a number of other basic concepts of Torah! It seems that over time scientific theories have changed and are gradually coming more into accord with Torah.

An increasing number of respectable academic bod­ies, including universities, are publishing scientific works dealing with issues that were, until recently, the exclusive domain of religious literature. The interaction between the human mind and the soul, freedom of choice, even resurrec­tion of the dead are examples. Popular magazines feature articles bearing titles such as “The Sciences Discover G*d!”

Advanced studies of the physiology of the human brain show have disproved the so-called “reductionist” ap­proach, which denies the existence of a soul and reduces man to a sophisticated machine that acts according to laws of nature. Thus, for instance, studies by Wilder Penfield in Montreal, Canada show that the brain functions as a com­puter, but the human mind, the self, is beyond the brain. It is amazing how Penfield, and other researchers, are coming to recognize the existence of the soul.

All together, we see that in our times not only are in­dividual scientists coming to believe in G*d, but entire sci­ences are becoming baalei teshuva – “returnees” to faith. The Rebbe sees in this return and recognition by science and scientists of the divine foundation of nature one more sign that we live in the age of Mashiach. Indeed, the Mashiach said that he would come when the Baal Shem Tov’s teach­ings “spread to the outside.” For centuries, science was the epitome of “outside” the Torah in general and Chassidism in particular. Now science recognizes G*d – the Creator!

The Rebbe advises those Chassidim who work in sci­ence to use every opportunity to spread recognition of the Almighty Creator of the universe. He emphasizes the vital need to acknowledge His Torah and commandments. On one occasion, the Rebbe received an expert in solar energy. In the course of the conversation, the scientist mentioned that he was about to attend a conference of Jewish religious scientists. The Rebbe told him, “Tell them that as an expert on solar energy, you propose that each and every Jew strive to emulate the sun. Why is the sun a symbol of good? After all, countless stars are larger and contain more energy than the sun, yet some of those stars are called ‘black holes’ be­cause their gravity is so strong that they devour everything around them, including light. Thus, when we look at such a star, we see nothing, and so it is called a ‘black hole.’ The sun, on the other hand, radiates light and warmth, sharing its riches with the whole world. This is how a Jew, who is com­manded to love each child of Israel, should live. Who would ever mention the sun if it only warmed itself, like a black hole?”

On another occasion, the Rebbe said, “A Jewish sci­entist should try to live and conduct himself so that others would describe him as a pious, Torah-observant Jew first and only then as a scientist, and never the other way around, as a great scientist who, incidentally, keeps Torah and the commandments.”

The Emissaries

The Chabad movement distinguishes itself from other trends in contemporary Judaism by its practical activities in hundreds of areas through hundreds of means. It is difficult, if not outright impossible, to decide which of these activities is the most important. However, if someone were to ask, “If you look at the sum total of Chabad activities and existing institutions, which of them is the most vivid reflection of the Chabad spirit and the most tangible embodiment of the Rebbe’s instructions?” we would answer without hesitation: the shluchim, or emissaries.

Who is a Chabad shaliach? A young man is studying at a yeshiva. In time, he marries. Later, with G*d’s help, the young couple has a baby. Then, a year after the wedding, the Rebbe’ s secretary summons him, and the young man knows that his time has come.

“Listen, Itzik (or Moshe, or Eliyahu), there is a little town in Chili called Surmalulu, which has a few hundred Jewish families in danger of total assimilation. If we con­tinue to sit idle, it won’t be long before these families are lost to our people. They will simply disappear – dissolve into the gentile population. So take your wife and son, go to Surmalulu, and get down to business. For how long? As you yourself know, our work is never done, so, until Mashiach comes. That will be all.”

“All? Hold on a minute. Where is this Surmalulu? How does one get there? Does the place have a synagogue?”

“No.”

“What about a mikveh?” “No mikveh.”

“A Talmud Torah?” “Of course not.”

“Can one obtain kosher food there?”

“You would have to go to the capital, three hundred kilometers away. There you can get kosher food.”

“Is there at least a minyan in Surmalulu?”

“Possibly on Yom Kippur, but even that is not cer­tain. This is where you come in,” explains the secretary. “You will open a Chabad house in Surmalulu, which will have a synagogue, a Talmud Torah, a mikveh, kosher food, everything. You will have to ensure that the Jews of Sur­malulu begin to pray and put on tefillin, that their children learn the holy language, and most importantly, that they have a house where they will be able to find out, perhaps for the first time in their lives, the meaning of love for the peo­ple of Israel. This will rekindle their Jewish spirit. This is your mission.”

“This is all very well, but I will need funds to perform this mission.”

“You will have to raise the funds by yourself, from private donors and various foundations.”

“But I will at least need some money to live on.”

“Well, during the first year we will pay you something for your living expenses, but after that you will have to earn your own living and raise the funds for running the synagogue, the educational institutions, and everything else you will have set up.”

“But they speak Spanish in Chili, and I don’t know a word of Spanish.”

“You will pick up some Spanish here – sign up for an intensive course, and the rest will come once you are there.”

Naturally, anyone else would tell the secretary, “Find another candidate. How can you possibly expect me to just throw everything to the winds and go to the middle of no­where at the other end of the world? If it were for a year or two, all right, fine, I might consider this suggestion, but a lifetime commitment? This is really too much!” This is how a polite man might answer. Someone less polite would sim­ply get up and leave. A Chabadnik who is entrusted with a task by the Rebbe himself is a different matter altogether. Such a person has been taught to sacrifice everything for the sake of serving G*d and helping his fellow Jews, as the Rebbe expects. In fact, he is prepared from birth for just such a moment, when he is finally called upon to fulfill his mission. When the moment finally comes, he is proud and happy to have been singled out; the only question he asks is “When?” Of course, he will discuss the matter with his wife, even though he knows in advance that she too will be filled with pride and joy at the turn of events.

Thousands of Chabad emissaries perform their mis­sion in every corner of the world: in Israel, the U.S., Mo­rocco, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, England, France, Hong Kong, Argentina, South Africa, Peru, Brazil, Ecuador, Columbia, Tunis, Belgium, Austria, and countless other countries, including remote locations in the former Soviet Union that were largely unheard of in America and Israel until the collapse of communism.

The shluchim are active in communities numbering thousands of Jews, as well as in towns that have several dozen Jewish families at most. In this, they follow the Rebbe’s teaching: “Every Jew is an entire world. It is our duty to care for each and every Jew. If a Jew becomes as­similated, G*d forbid, it will be on the conscience of every one of us.” The Rebbe also says, “No Jew is ever irretrieva­bly lost. Even someone who has become hopelessly alien­ated from Torah and commandments and seems to have to­tally abandoned our ancestral legacy still retains the divine spark deep inside his soul. It is our duty to rekindle that spark. There is no room for despair. There are no hopeless Jews, just as there are no limits to the devotion with which we must serve our cause.”

The Lubavitch movement has close to four thousand Chabad Houses throughout the world. In addition, Chabad runs special women’s organizations, and a worldwide chil­dren’s organization called “G*d’s Armies.” Each Chabad school, Talmud Torah, yeshiva, kollel, library and publish­ing house functions as a bulwark in the campaign to return Jews to Torah.

In the mid-1980’s, the Rebbe launched a campaign to make the home of every observant Jew into a true Chabad house – a focal point for bringing Jews together and return­ing them to Torah. As a result, there are tens of thousands of such Chabad “family homes” the world over.

An emissary has to surmount countless obstacles, one of which is financial. In order to fund his activities (includ­ing his own salary), the emissary requires a sizable budget. Where does he find the money? The emissary has to learn how to “activate” the people who are in the process of re­claiming their Jewish identity. These people, who have only recently been introduced to the world of Torah and Chassi­dism, are given the privilege of fulfilling a noble mission ­like the ancient tribe of Zevulun, whose financial acumen enabled the tribe of Issachar to devote itself to Torah study and worshipping G*d.

An emissary’s task is to rekindle the unquenchable fire of holiness. To do so, he must combine two almost ir­reconcilable qualities: practicality and spirituality. He must have the capacity to attract people of every sort, and the willingness to embrace life in all its aspects, including some he was probably totally unaware of while studying in ye­shiva. He has to become familiar with areas that have been completely beyond his ken until now: literature, art, busi­ness, economics, politics, social sciences, etc. Moreover, he must learn to retain his unique identity as a Chassid even after he enters the secular world. Otherwise he will never succeed in his endeavors.

Here, for example, is the story of Rabbi Mendel Lip­skar, the Rebbe’s emissary in South Africa.

“When I came to Johannesburg fifteen years ago, there were very few Chabadniks there, barely enough for a minyan. Upon arrival, I was miraculously appointed as rabbi in a small synagogue. The city had a well-organized Jewish community; however, it was not overly meticulous in the observance of commandments. No wonder that Jews were assimilating at a rapid pace, with mixed marriages becom­ing a common occurrence. My synagogue had a very small congregation. I contacted all the Jewish schools, and I began to teach Torah. Next I came to the local university and be­gan to organize Jewish students on campus. To my surprise, I received a warm welcome everywhere. Evidently the Jew­ish spirit had not yet been extinguished. At times it seemed that people were just waiting for someone to come and wake them up. Of course, this was far from easy. The process was very slow; many Jewish leaders viewed me with a great deal of skepticism. Some of them suspected that I was trying to replace them; the school principals were initially afraid that I was scheming to win over their students. Still, with G*d’s help, I managed to overcome every obstacle.”

The results speak for themselves. Fifteen years after Rabbi Mendel Lipskar started his activities, Johannesburg had four Chabad centers, a Jewish school attended by eight hundred students, a yeshiva, and a women’s college. Today, Johannesburg has rabbis, Torah scribes, kosher butchers, mohels – a vibrant, full-fledged Jewish community. The Lubavitcher Chassidim have their own newspaper, as well as a radio station that broadcasts one hour a week across South Africa. Naturally, Rabbi Mendel Lipskar is no longer alone; another twelve emissaries work side by side with him.

“What has helped me the most?” muses Rabbi Men­del. “Definitely the Rebbe’s advice and unflagging support. For example, we had a serious problem in South Africa: many Jews wanted to emigrate due to the tense relations between whites and blacks. However, the Rebbe’s instructions were emphatic: one does not leave the field of battle, which was South Africa in this case!”

With time, the Johannesburg success was echoed by the creation of a parallel Chabad “empire” in Cape Town, the second largest city in South Africa.

Each week, each shaliach writes a report for the Rebbe, describing all that has been done during the week. The letters report on the number of people attending the Jewish school in Casablanca, the amount of money needed to complete the construction of a Chabad house at the Uni­versity of Los Angeles, the progress of third-grade pupils in a Jewish school in Marseille, the shechita situation in Bo­gota, and thousands of other major and minor matters. There is something new every week. The Rebbe remembers every­thing, and sends his reply, offering advice and help with pressing problems.

One striking element that distinguishes Chabad from other large organizations is that the Rebbe receives his in­formation directly from his emissaries, and guides their ac­tivities just as directly, without intermediaries. Most other organizations are guided by an official hierarchy: the work­ers pass on information to their low ranking superiors who, in turn, process this information and pass it up the pyramid to the senior bosses, and so on up to the head of the entire organization. Instructions are transferred in the reverse or­der, from top to bottom following the same route. The Rebbe’s organization, on the other hand, has no middle management. The connection is direct: from the Chassid to the Rebbe, from the Rebbe back to the Chassid. This enables the Rebbe to stay attuned to the minutest details of the successes and problems of each community and each Jew. That caliber of leadership is certainly unique and unparal­leled.

Many interesting stories could be told about the Cha­bad houses in the cities of Southern and Southeastern Asia. These houses serve the flood of young Israeli men and women who, after their army service, head for Nepal, India, and other places in search of “exotic spirituality.” Many of them fall prey to gurus, Buddhist sects, and so on. The es­tablishment of Chabad houses in Thailand, Nepal, and later in India did a great deal to minimize the damage of this un­fortunate phenomenon. The houses run kosher restaurants and synagogues. Passover Seders for thousands are arranged out in the open. Suddenly a stray soul lost in an alien envi­ronment begins to feel the warmth of a Jewish home, and realizes that spirituality should be sought not in the Himala­yas but in Jerusalem, Hebron, Tiberias and Tzfat.

After the collapse of communism, Chabad houses be­gan to spring up like mushrooms in Dnepropetrovsk, Kazan, Orenburg, Krasnoyarsk, Khabarovsk, Irkutsk, and other cit­ies in the former Soviet Union.

Of course, hundreds of new Chabad houses open each year in the United States, particularly near universities at­tended by thousands of Jewish students.

Why do the Rebbe’s emissaries succeed where others have failed? Obviously the main reason for this success is their wholehearted dedication. They put their hearts and souls into the work they do for the good of the people of Is­rael. Most of them incur large debts in the process, yet this does not deter them from the task. The importance of the mission they have been entrusted with by the Rebbe fills their awareness to the extent that it does not even occur to them that what they are doing is something totally contrary to ordinary human logic. They are ready for anything, and they do not perceive their work as self-sacrifice. On the con­trary, they are convinced that they have earned a great privi­lege.

Hundreds of thousands of Jews lived in Paris follow­ing World War II, but only a few of them remained true to the Torah and the commandments. Even those who still re­tained some fear of G*d put Him aside, as it were, until more propitious times. Yet Paris, like any other place, had a handful of Chabad activists. Rabbi Mulya Azimov headed them. In 1963, he visited the Rebbe and received his bless­ing. At the very end of the audience, as Rabbi Mulya was heading for the door, the Rebbe suddenly said, “You are destined for great success, unprecedented success.” True enough, from that time on Rabbi Mulya has been blessed with incredible success. Through his efforts, thousands of Jews – previously secular in every respect – have been transformed into full-fledged Chassidim.

Initially, Rabbi Mulya acted alone. Later like-minded individuals joined, who, in turn, attracted others, eventually forming a core of fifteen people. This group accomplished a virtual revolution in the life of French Jewry. The Paris Jew­ish community not only did not disappear, it has been get­ting stronger with each passing year. Today Paris has restau­rants as kosher as the ones in Jerusalem. There are also schools that provide a full Jewish education. The parents studied in universities but after returning to a Torah­ observant lifestyle, they fully realize the crucial importance of religious education for their children.

Each week, hundreds of Torah lessons are taught on every level; a Jewish radio station broadcasts a daily three-hour lesson on Torah and Tanya, even though Jews who have not yet become observant run the station. Incidentally, all of the Rebbe’s farbrengens are broadcast on this same station, reaching three hundred thousand Jews throughout France.

In a remote provincial town in France, Rabbi Mulya Azimov managed to form a small community of several families that had become observant. There was a problem, however: Rabbi Mulya had urged them to take strict precau­tions to ensure that their children drank only kosher milk. (If a gentile milks a cow, the milk is considered kosher only if a Jew was present to observe the milking. Nowadays only deeply religious Jews, including Lubavitcher Chassidim, observe this law). The families objected to this stringency. It was impossible to obtain such milk in their town. The adults were willing to give up milk altogether, but how could they deprive the children of milk? Rabbi Mulya did not lecture them and did not make a problem out of the situation. Twice a week he set out from Paris, loaded with two large contain­ers of kosher milk, on a lengthy train journey to personally deliver this milk to the Jewish families. When the goal is plain and clearly defined, there are no insurmountable ob­stacles.

On the other side of the world, in Australia, Chabad emissaries headed by Rabbi Yitzchak Groner have established a “Jewish empire.” The beginning was slow. At times it seemed that Judaism was doomed to extinction in the land of the kangaroo. Yet the Rebbe’s emissaries persisted in their efforts; like soldiers bravely performing their duty, they tackled the difficult task at hand, and their eventual success exceeded all expectations. Today the country boasts yeshivot, mikvaot, synagogues, koliels,and Jewish schools for young and old.

In 1957, Rabbi Hershel Tzvi Gurman was sent to London as the Chabad emissary. Together with Rabbi Ben­zion Shem Tov, he purchased a house in the Stamford Hill neighborhood, which had a large Jewish population. They started with a minimum, opening a cheder for children and holding the minyan there. In 1959, Rabbi Nachman Sudak ­the Rebbe’s itinerant emissary – arrived in London. He opened a bookstore specializing in holy books, and began to teach. Rabbi Hershel Tzvi Gurman devoted himself to orga­nizing children’s summer camps.

In 1960, another emissary – Rabbi Faivush Fogel ­came to London. He began raising funds, and soon collected enough money to construct the building that presently houses a school for boys, a school for girls, a beit midrash, offices, and a gymnasium.

Another emissary, Rabbi Shmuel Lou, organized To­rah classes in the famous universities of Oxford and Cam­bridge. Obviously, the sight of bearded Jews wearing black Chassidic garb was highly unusual in these venerable insti­tutions. Still, it is an undisputable fact that Rabbi Shmuel succeeded in introducing Torah studies there.

At the same time, the women’s movement was gaining strength in England. The Chabad Women’s organization concentrated its efforts on children’s education, kashrut, and explaining the laws that pertain to the sacred institution of marriage and family life. Despite the challenge of raising many children (often ten or fifteen, and in a few cases even twenty), the women would not miss an opportunity to bring five or ten additional guests to their Shabbat or holiday ta­ble. The Chabad Women’s and Girls’ conventions are suf­fused with the spirit of ahavat Yisrael – unity, devotion to the Rebbe and Torah, and they give energy and motivation to the participants for many subsequent months. The high­light is, of course, the convention in Crown Heights, which includes a women’s farbrengen at “Seven-Seventy” dedi­cated to hearing Torah instruction from the Rebbe himself. The Rebbe emphasizes the sacred mission of the Jewish woman based on the fact that the Torah assigns greater re­sponsibility for educating the next generation to women than to men.

The Rebbe’s emissaries never wait for others to come to them asking for help in becoming Torah-observant Jews.

“We have to generate demand,” explains Rabbi Gur­man. “We actively reach out to lost Jews. In Chabad homes in London and Manchester you can find students who were recently inveterate drug addicts. Their parents had given up all hope – but we had not. On Friday afternoons, these ye­shivastudents go to the center of London to put tefillin on hundreds of tourists and businessmen.”

Today there is a dynamic and diverse Jewish life in London. Chabad houses are also operating in Manchester, Birmingham, and Glasgow, Scotland.

Every year, graduates of American Chabad yeshivot head for Eretz Yisrael both as immigrants and emissaries. They establish both new settlements and Chabad neighbor­hoods in existing cities. A Chabad neighborhood was set up in Tzfat, which is called by some the city of Kabbalah, or the city of the Holy Ari. Rabbi Aryeh Leib Kaplan founded that particular neighborhood in 1974. Today it boasts schools, cheders, kindergartens and mikvaot. Every year Rabbi Aryeh Leib Kaplan brings dozens of immigrant fami­lies from the United States to Tzfat; they settle in the city, and devote themselves to the welfare of the Jewish people in Tzfat and throughout the Land of Israel.

We have mentioned only a few of the large-scale en­deavors carried out by the Rebbe’ s emissaries, all of them crowned with unprecedented success. However, many lesser projects are being implemented in small communities, in cities with only forty or fifty Jewish families. These small communities are often doomed. With no rabbi, no syna­gogue, no mikveh, young Jews marry gentiles, and the community fades away within a short time. Unfortunately, this has been the fate of hundreds of Jewish communities in South America, the United States, and Europe.

This was the situation until recently. Now, however, the number of such tiny communities is growing each year. The Rebbe’s emissaries to these communities arrive with their families, with no money, bringing only the most basic household items. The young Chassid, accustomed to the hothouse atmosphere of a tightly knit Jewish community of Torah-observant Jews, suddenly finds himself transported to an environment that seems like a barren desert. There is no minyan, no mikveh, no synagogue, and it will probably be weeks until his family will obtain kosher meat.

With time, however, he succeeds in gathering a nu­cleus of people around himself, which will eventually be­come a full-fledged Chabad community. The community will grow and flourish, until yet another colored pin will ap­pear on the global map of Chabad communities.

This educational and organizational process involves, directly or indirectly, the emissary’s entire family. Chabad women and children are equal partners in the outreach proc­ess. They are role models, teachers, and emissaries in their own right, who share in the joy of accomplishment as they see the Jewish community grow.

This section cannot contain even a fraction of the amaz­ing and wonderful accounts that deserve to be told about the shluchim. For example, we could have recounted the story of Rabbi Shlomo Cunin who, during his twenty years in California, managed to transform a spiritual desert into a veritable fortress of Judaism. In the resort city of Miami, Rabbi Shalom Lipskar’s speaking and organizing abilities resulted in hundreds of lost young Jews embracing the To­rah and Jewish values. He also created a “correspondence yeshiva” for Jewish convicts incarcerated in local prisons.

Impressed by the astounding achievements of Cha­bad, other Jewish movements followed its example of spreading Torah among assimilated Jews, helping them re­claim their Jewish identity and embrace the Jewish faith. All of them make use of Chabad’s unique experience and meth­ods. However, there is a significant difference between Chabad emissaries and representatives of other movements. Chabad emissaries do not try to insulate the Jew from his accustomed environment. Their objective is to bring the Jew to change his way of life and thinking while remaining in his own surroundings. They do not try to uproot him from his native soil and replant him in a yeshiva or a religious neighborhood. In Chabad terminology, ufaratztah means to remain a Jew anywhere, without segregating or secluding oneself. In other movements, the return to Jewish faith is of­ten accompanied by changing jobs, breaking with friends and family, and abandoning one’s profession. Not so in Chabad, which brings Judaism to Jews whoever and wher­ever they are. Jewish commandments and customs must penetrate into his life until he becomes truly observant. As the Rebbe says to his emissaries, “Until Mashiach arrives, build a spiritual Jerusalem wherever you find yourself.”

Assimilation continues to deal terrible blows to the Jewish people. To our deepest regret, we lose dozens of Jewish families every hour, and the number of Jews is steadily decreasing. Without the Rebbe’s emissaries the pic­ture would be much more dismal. Thank G*d, their number increases from day to day. Nowadays, there is no place on the face of the earth, including the most remote comers of Siberia, which has not been reached by these emissaries. There is no doubt that the day is not far when the concerted efforts of the Rebbe’s emissaries will succeed in stemming and reversing the flood of assimilation.

The Rebbes Campaigns

A young Israeli writer related the following story.

Once, during the festival of Sukkot, I had to do a tour of reserve duty in Lebanon. Army service is not a pleasant experience under the best of circumstances, especially if it happens to be in Lebanon, let alone during Sukkot. My mind was back home, in a deco­rated sukkah, rejoicing with my family. Of course, our fortified position had a sukkah; we even had a set of the arba’ah minim that had been delivered together with the food supplies. Still, celebrating the holiday with an artillery unit deep in enemy territory is some­thing I would not wish on any Jew. Anyway, I was standing next to the tent, cleaning my gun for the in­spection. Suddenly I heard someone shout, “Look guys, a tank!” I lifted my eyes and looked around – no tank in sight. Yet the shouts went on: “A tank! A tank!” Suddenly I heard strains of Chassidic music. A minute later a civilian truck, decorated with posters that read, “And thou shalt spread abroad, to the east and to the west, and to the north, and to the south” rolled right inside our position. Its speakers were set at full volume. Three jovial, bearded men came out of the truck – and the next thing I knew they were mingling with the soldiers, putting yarmulkes on their heads, handing out the arba’ah minim, and urging everyone to recite the blessing.

I was amazed, first of all, by the fact that a ci­vilian truck had managed to pass through the army check-posts. After all, civilians were strictly forbidden to enter Lebanese territory! How, then, could this “tank” have made it to our position? What was even more amazing, however, was that my buddies were actually accepting the arba’ah minimand reciting the prayers. I had been doing reserve duty with these peo­ple for ten years and I knew every one of them. Whenever the subject came up, they would furiously attack anyone who tried to defend religion. “You reli­gious people are a pain in the neck!” they would shout indignantly. “Why is there no public transportation on Shabbat? Why are we coerced into undergoing reli­gious weddings and divorces? In fact, why are you always telling us how to live our lives? Leave us alone!” Every year we had the same stale arguments, which tired me to the point of nausea. Yet here they were, all the wranglers and yellers, the same ones who had always scorned anything to do with religion, standing and reciting a blessing over a palm branch!

Ten minutes later, apart from two men who had refused outright, everyone had performed the mitzvahof arba’ah minim. After the blessings, the Chassidim pulled us all into a circle, and we began to dance ­awkwardly at first, but soon enough we were dancing with abandon.

Later, I asked my commanding officer about this phenomenon. He was surprised. “How can you, a religious person, not know about this? Our guests are not just religious – they are Lubavitcher Chassidim! They can penetrate into any place, any army camp, any position, anywhere there are Jewish soldiers. They come bringing their tefillin, their songs, and their Rebbe. I am not sure what they are trying to achieve, but they are decent fellows.”

“These guys are special, not like the other reli­gious folks,” the soldiers told me when I asked them why they had suddenly agreed to recite the blessing over the arba’ah minim. “They come with a smile, and the most important thing is that they are sincere; you can see right away that they mean what they say. How can we refuse them? We may be secular, but we are still Jews.”

That was more or less the gist of the soldiers’ reactions.

This happened several years ago. Since then, I became interested in Chabad and the Rebbe, discover­ing some amazing things. I found out that the Chabad “motorized infantry units” operate throughout the world. The same “tanks” may be encountered in New York, Tel Aviv, Paris, Melbourne, London – anyplace where there are Jews. They leave their base camps in the morning, and return late at night. Along the way, they approach Jews, mostly in order to encourage them to put on tefillin. Accompanied by Chassidic music piped from the “tanks,” the “tank crew” hand out brochures among the passers-by. As a result, many Jews who lost their way suddenly regain their identity and return to their roots.”

The “tanks” encountered by this young writer are only part of the Chabad “army.” The Rebbe decided to es­tablish this “army” in 1967, in the wake of the Six Day War, when a wave of solidarity had washed over the Jewish world at the news of the liberation of Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria. The Rebbe instructed his followers to “go to the people” to try to translate this outpouring of emotion into the language of Jewish observance.

The most widespread and well known ‘campaign’ en­courages men to put on tefillin, thereby strengthening Jews confronted by enemies, as it is written: “And all the peoples of the earth shall see that the Lord’s name is nikra upon thee and they shall be afraid of thee.” Our sages explain that the word nikra can mean “called” or “read,” and that this passage refers to tefillin shel rosh – the tefillinwhich has G*d’s name written inside that is placed upon one’s head. (The other tefillin is placed on the arm.)

This gave rise to an unprecedented phenomenon: as a man is walking down the street minding his own business, two bearded Jews suddenly approach him asking, “Are you a Jew? Have you put on tefillintoday?” In the beginning, this seemed ludicrous. If someone wants to put on tefillin, he does not need these ‘preachers,’ and if he does not want to do it, what is the use of pestering him? Even if someone does agree to “do the favor” of putting on tefillin just to get rid of these persistent do-gooders, what is the point?

People who ask such questions simply do not under­stand the essence of Chabad philosophy. It boils down to the idea that every Jews possesses a G*dly soul sent from above. Even if a Jew has ceased to observe the command­ments, or does not believe in G*d, there is still a divine spark within, like it or not. The Jewish soul bestowed by G*d continues to glow within. Even if it is buried under the snowdrift of atheism, it still exists. That is why it is the sa­cred duty of every Jew who cares for other Jews to rekindle this spark and find a way to awaken the soul.

What actually transpires when a Chassid approaches a Jew walking along the street and urges him to put on te­fillin? It reminds him of his Jewish identity. Sometimes this reminder may irritate or even repulse the Jew; what is clear, however, is that it does not leave him indifferent. Even if the man reacts with anger (and this reaction does not happen often), the anger itself is an indication that the reminder has touched some hidden Jewish spark within his heart. If this Jew then agrees to put on tefillin, the hidden spark begins to awaken. Even if this awakening is a result of outside pres­sure and importunities, this does not diminish its impor­tance, for it leads to a crack in the hard shell the man has grown around his Jewish soul. For some, this may be the first huge stride on the way to Judaism. For others, it is but a tiny step, which at first appears to be devoid of any mean­ing. However, it only appears this way from the earthly per­spective, looking from the bottom up, so to speak. Performing even a single commandment is an event of truly cosmic proportions that opens the “heavenly gates” and affects the destiny of the entire world.

That is why the Chabad Chassidim, the Rebbe’s ‘sol­diers,’ never give up. They realize the full importance of their mission. Whether in Tel Aviv or New York, Australia or England, they reach out to the misled, apparently lost Jews, in an attempt to revive their Jewish spirit. At times they have to face insults and ridicule, but they do not take offense. For tens of thousands of Jews, this process of awakening is already underway; and the first step on the way to faith is tefillin. In some, it may simply arouse curios­ity; for others, it may trigger nostalgic memories of their parents’ home. What is important is that for countless Jews, the mitzvah of tefillin serves as the first step on their return to Judaism.

The ‘tefillin campaign’ is one of ten special ‘cam­paigns’ initiated by the Rebbe. Since this particular com­mandment applies only to Jewish males, the Rebbe also ini­tiated a campaign to encourage observance of the mitzvah of lighting the Shabbat candles – an obligation fulfilled mainly by women. The Rebbe stresses that Jewish girls who have not yet reached their bat mitzvah should also light candles, so that they will become accustomed to performing this commandment while young. On Friday afternoon, Chabad girls walk through city streets, distributing Shabbat candles and candleholders to Jewish women and girls. Usually the candles are accompanied by a booklet explaining the proper way to perform this mitzvah, and listing the times the can­dles should be lit so as not to desecrate Shabbat. Every week, huge posters are also displayed announcing the exact time when Shabbat starts.

Another campaign of global importance concerns the commandment of giving charity, or tzedakah.Here the Rebbe places special emphasis on children’s education. Even very young children should be taught to give tzedakah. (Incidentally, the Rebbe points out that “charity” is an inac­curate translation of the word tzedakah, which literally means an act of justice and righteousness. Everyone is obli­gated to give ten percent of his or her income, but those in­dividuals who have been blessed with more than others have the duty to share their abundance with the less fortunate. Many languages, inducing English, lack an appropriate term for this concept.) The Rebbe stresses that every Jew is required to fulfill this commandment. It does not matter how much you give; it can be as little as a single cent. What is important is not the amount, but the knowledge that you have given something, that you have thought about others, not only yourself, and that you have fulfilled the com­mandment. For that purpose, Chabad Chassidim have dis­tributed hundreds of thousands of charity boxes to private homes, synagogues, public institutions, and countless other places.

The fourth campaign is to persuade all Jews to attach a kosher mezuzah to the doorpost of every room in their homes. A mezuzah, symbol of the “Guardian of Jewish doors,” is a strip of parchment inscribed by hand with sec­tions of Torah, placed in a special case, and attached to the doorpost. During their many years of activity, Chabad Chas­sidim have examined millions of mezuzahs. There are countless stories about terrible calamities that visited people who later discovered that their homes lacked kosher mezu­zahs. As result of the Rebbe’s instructions, people now check their mezuzahsregularly, to make sure that only ko­sher mezuzahs are on the doors of Jewish homes. When Chabad Chassidim started the practice of examining mezu­zahs, they often had to contend with ridicule and lack of un­derstanding. “This is idolatry,” many people would say. “A piece of parchment can’t protect my home!” By now atti­tudes have changed, and the majority of Jews, even those who are completely secular, treat this subject with the re­spect it deserves. They understand that it is G*d who pro­tects their homes, and G*d who commanded us to put up the mezuzah, which represents G*d’s constant guardianship.

However, mezuzahs are not the only thing that must be kosher. As a result of the Rebbe’s kashrutcampaign, around the world, when Jews want to make their kitchens kosher, all they have to do is pick up the phone, call the nearest Chabad House, and within hours an entire team of Chassidim will arrive to “kosher” the kitchen, bringing all the necessary equipment.

The Rebbe also teaches that every Jewish family must learn to observe the laws of family purity. These sacred laws, which include directives for a monthly time of separa­tion between husband and wife, and mikveh, or ritual im­mersion in a special pool of “living waters,” sanctify the Jewish marriage, home and family, and bring holiness into the marital relationship.

The seventh campaign is a call for every Jew, child and adult, to buy a letter in a Torah scroll, thereby taking part in the writing of a scroll. During this campaign hun­dreds of Torah scrolls have been written, with every letter inscribed on behalf of a specific Jew. Therefore each scroll is the combined effort of as many as 600,000 Jews. The Rebbe also asked all Jewish families to have holy books on their shelves – at least the basic works, such as the Torah, the Siddur, and the Psalms, as well as Chassidic books, spe­cifically the Tanya and other Chabad books.

Children’s education and Torah study are equally im­portant issues. The entire history of the Jewish people testi­fies to the fact that without Jewish religious education we have no future. Unfortunately, today the majority of Jewish children receives no religious education, and faces the dan­ger of rapid assimilation. This accounts for Chabad’s inces­sant efforts to foster Jewish education.

Finally, campaign number ten, the last on our list but the first in importance – is encouraging ahavat Yisrael ­love for one’s fellow Jews. The Rebbe never tires of stress­ing the significance of the Torah’s precept to “love thy neighbor as you love thyself.” This applies to every Jew without exception, Torah-observant or mired in atheism, secular or religious, in Eretz Yisrael or in the Diaspora. We must love every Jew just for being a Jew. Thus a person who turns to Lubavitch Chassidim for help will never be asked about background or degree of observance. If there is a problem, Lubavitchers will do what they can to help, the way they would help themselves in a similar situation ­without asking questions. This is the meaning of the words “as you love thyself.”

The Rebbe has a unique attitude toward children. He often holds special farbrengens for children, and he empha­sizes the importance of educating children, starting from in­fancy. “The power of the feats to come is accumulated from infancy,” the Rebbe is wont to repeat. This means that the power and prosperity of the Jewish people is rooted in chil­dren’s study of the Torah and in their prayer. Every Sunday, the Rebbe gives dollar bills to hundreds of young children for them to give to charity to teach them the importance of tzedakah. Similarly, the Rebbe urges his emissaries to de­vote special attention to working with children. On the fes­tival of Lag Ba’Omer, every Chabad House hosts children’s festivities. In addition, the Rebbe selected twelve passages from Torah, the Talmud and the Tanya, and instructed his emissaries to make every effort to ensure that every Jewish child learns those passages by heart. He also founded “G*d’s Army” – a children’s organization with countless branches spread throughout the world.

A recent strong instruction from the Rebbe, though not a formal campaign, encourages every Jew to learn three chapters a day from Mishneh Torah – the code of laws compiled by the Rambam (Maimonides). Those unable to master all three chapters can limit themselves to one, or study the shorter Book of the Commandments by the Ram­bam.

In recent years, the Rebbe has been calling upon non­Jews to observe the “seven Noahide commandments,” – the laws which, according to Torah, are binding on non-Jews: the prohibitions against idolatry, incest, murder, theft, blas­phemy and eating live flesh, and the obligation to set up a court system and render just judgments. At the Rebbe’s initiative, a declaration was issued, signed by dozens of heads of state, including United States president Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, ap­pealing to the nations of the world to observe the seven Noahide commandments, thereby taking yet another step toward recognizing Torah and faith in the Creator.

During farbrengens, broadcast via cable TV, the Rebbe makes direct appeals to the American public, ex­plaining the meaning of the seven Noahide laws. The nu­merous Chabad emissaries also carry out these explanatory efforts. This is done through a wide variety of means: the “tanks,” the Chabad Houses, and most importantly, the thousands of Chassidim who toil day and night to fulfill the Rebbe’s instructions based on the central Chabad concept of ufaratztah.

This enormous worldwide network, designed to com­bat assimilation, spread the word of G*d, and achieve rec­ognition of G*d’s presence among all nations, is headed by a single individual – the greatest of Jews, the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Never before has the principle of ufaratztah been applied on such a gigantic scale.

Imagine a world in which there was no sense of right and wrong. Imagine a world without the concept of justice or system of law, without the family unit or moral and ethical values. Does it seem frightening? Perhaps a little too real? Such a society did once exist. Self-centered, grasping, cruel. A society set to self-destruct 4000 years ago, in the great flood.

Out of its demise, a new world was born beginning with Noah and his sons. G-d entrusted them with a Code of Life, a set of laws on which a new civilization could be built.

This code of seven fundamental laws is so far-reaching that it gives structure and scope to life for all time, guiding mankind to realize his highest potential as a being created in the image of G-d.

  1. BELIEF IN G-D Do
    Not Worship Idols

Man, a physically frail creature, is surrounded by forces of life and death far greater than he is. Confronted with the vastness of these universal forces, man might well try to ‘serve them’ in order to protect himself, and better his lot.

The essence of life, however, is to recognize the Supreme Being, who created the Universe – to believe in him and accept his laws with awe and love. We must remember that He is aware of all our deeds, rewarding good and punishing evil. We are dependent on him, and to him alone do we owe allegiance.

To imagine that there could be any other power that could protect us or provide for our needs, is not only foolish, but perverts the purpose of life, and, as history has shown, potentially unleashes untold forces of evil in ourselves, and in the world.

  1. RESPECT G-D AND PRAISE HlM
    Do Not Blaspheme His Name

When we feel disappointed with life, when things do not work out as we feel they should, how easy it is to point an accusing finger and blame … everyone … everything … even G-d.

Loyalty and trust are essential in life. To blame G-d, curse, or to curse others in his name, is an act of disloyalty – akin to treason. It is an act, which undermines the basis of all order and stability, on which a just society must stand.

G-d is certainly just, but a finite mind cannot comprehend G-d who is infinite.

  1. RESPECT HUMAN LIFE
    Do Not Murder

The record of man’s inhumanity to man begins with the story of Cain and Abel. Man is indeed his brother’s keeper.

The prohibition against manslaughter (including abortion) comes to protect man from the bestial tendency, which lies within him. Man the attacker, denies the sanctity of human life, and ulti­mately attacks G-d, who created us in his image.

  1. RESPECT THE FAMlLY

Do Not Commit Immoral Sexual Acts

The Bible states, “It is not good for man to be alone,” so G-d made a helpmate for Adam, and in marriage “He blessed them.”

In a wholesome family, man’s creativity finds meaningful expression. Wholesome families are the cornerstone of healthy communities, nations and societies.

Nations, which have condoned immorality -adultery, bestiality, sodomy, and incest -, have never lasted long. Sexual immorality is the sign of an inner decay, which spawns a ruthless society, bringing confusion into G-d’s life plan.

  1. RESPECT FOR OTHERS’ RIGHTS AND PROPERTY

Do Not Steal

Since our sustenance comes from G-d, we should seek to earn it honestly, with dignity, and not through false means.

To violate the property of others, by robbing or cheating, is a fundamental attack on their humanity. This breeds anarchy, plung­ing mankind into the depths of selfishness and cruelty. It was for this sin, above all, that the Flood was brought upon the world.

  1. CREATION OF A JUDICIAL SYSTEM
    Pursue Justice

A robust and healthy legal system, administering justice fairly, creates a society worthy of G-d’s blessing. Establishing a system of judges, courts, and officials to maintain and enforce the law is a far-reaching responsibility.

This precept translates the ideals of our personal life into a formal order for society at large. It is the extension and guarantee of all the preceding laws.

  1. RESPECT ALL CREATURES

Do Not Eat The Flesh Of An Animal While It Is Still Alive

G-d gave man “dominion over the fish of the sea, the fowl of the heaven, over the cattle, and over all of the earth.”

We are the caretakers of G-d’s creation. Ultimately our responsibility extends beyond our family, even beyond society, to include the world of nature.

Eating meat so fresh that the animal is still alive may be healthy, but it is cruel, even barbaric, displaying a decadent insensitivity to the pain of others. This law is the touchstone, if you will, that provides a measure of how well the other six laws are being observed.

* * *

The Sages teach that when a non-Jew keeps these laws because they are good and reasonable, he is considered wise. However if he observes because G-d commanded them to Moses at Sinai, he is considered saintly and earns himself eternal life in the world to come, with a spiritual reward comparable to that of a Jewish High Priest.

In addition, when man fulfills his potential, the whole of creation is nurtured and elevated to realize its goal. This transforms the world into a beautiful place where G-d will choose to dwell in a revealed way, very, very soon.

Universal Perfection

Unprecedented advances in science and technology are the hallmark of our age. This process was set in motion about two hundred fifty years ago; in the last hundred years it has reached staggering proportions, and has had a major impact on all mankind. Enormous progress has been made in theoretical and applied science, particularly in physics. Huge strides have been made in every area of technology, especially communications, transportation, and manufacture of new materials such as plastics. Atomic energy, space flight, the headlong development of computer technology, the Internet, and all sorts of sophisticated consumer devices have had a powerful impact on our human mentality, imbu­ing us with an exaggerated sense of our own power.

Despite all its positive aspects, the technical revolu­tion has led to ideological and spiritual decay, which mani­fests itself in many spheres, including the mass rejection of religion. Many try to rationalize their departure from Juda­ism by claiming, “The world has changed,” and “we are civi­lized, educated, enlightened people.” Even those responsible for the traditional Jewish education of the younger genera­tion are tom by conflicting opinions on this issue. Some try to “tailor” the religious outlook to fit the modem era, thereby distorting the fundamental principles of religion; others spurn scientific and technological progress, adhering to the old ways, trying to ignore all modem developments, thereby consigning Jews, particularly the young, to a state of denial, ignorance, and total powerlessness in the face of contemporary reality.

The Rebbe’s views on this issue are crystal-clear, and he does not miss an opportunity to express them during meetings with scientists and students, in letters, personal conversations, and farbrengens.

First of all, according to the Rebbe, Torah-observant Jews have nothing to fear from scientific and technological progress. After all, it is written in the Zohar that in the sixth century of the sixth millennium (i.e., during the period that began some two hundred fifty years ago), “the heavenly gates of supernal wisdom will be opened, as well as the springs of earthly wisdom.” This means that the unprece­dented advance in Torah learning – the revelation of hidden mysteries of “supernal wisdom” by Chassidic sages – will be accompanied by a parallel growth in “earthly wisdom,” or science. The Rebbe teaches us that science is in itself a neutral phenomenon – like everything created by G*d. Whether it is “good” or “evil” depends on the use made of scientific discoveries. The same applies to the modem ma­chinery and devices introduced as a result of scientific breakthroughs. The entire world was created “for Torah and for Israel.” “Everything that the Almighty created in His world, He created for His glory.” In other words, science and technology, like everything created by G*d, are but the means to a sacred end, and it is obvious that everything de­pends on how they are used by Jews. Naturally, the Al­mighty expects us to exercise our free will to choose what is virtuous and good.

For example, in one of his discourses the Rebbe touches on the discovery of electromagnetic waves and the invention of radio communications, pointing out that this invention can, and must, be used for the benefit of Torah study. First, radio can be used to disseminate Torah, with lessons, lectures and discussions broadcast to millions of Jews in every comer of the world. Secondly, the very fact that electromagnetic waves carrying the wisdom of Torah travel across enormous distances, not only across our planet but all the way into space, serves as a sort of tangible ex­pression of the ultimate purpose of creation. Indeed, the Rambam describes the messianic era by quoting the prophet Yeshayahu, “For the world will be filled with the knowl­edge of G*d.”

Finally, there is the more philosophical aspect: study of electric and magnetic fields has revealed a close inter­connection between these seemingly unrelated phenomena. In fact, they are one. By discovering the unity of creation, humanity achieves a deeper knowledge of the oneness of the Creator.

The Rebbe once told a scientist that there is no need to expound on the seeming contradictions between Torah and science to a Jew who was blessed by the Almighty with the priceless gift of “simple faith,” someone who has no doubts or dilemmas in this regard. However, a Jew who has lost his way in the modem world, who has accepted the popular view that alleges that science contradicts and totally invalidates Torah (thereby justifying his own departure from Torah and its commandments) is in dire need of help. In his case, the issue in hand must be thoroughly explained, using the entire gamut of available knowledge, both of Torah and Science.

As for the so-called “contradictions” between Torah and science, the Rebbe’s position is once again clear and straightforward. The crux of the Rebbe’s position may be summed up as follows: the Zoharsays that Torah preceded the world, and that the Almighty “looked into the Torah and created the world.” This means that G*d created the world with Torah as His “blueprint.” This implies that “creation,” i.e., the world and nature, cannot deviate from the divine “blueprint.” This position is fundamentally opposed to at­tempts to “tailor” the statements contained in Torah to fit the latest assertion made by scientists or reporters, “inter­preting” a certain scientific field. A vivid example of such “interpretation” is the attempt to construe the six days of Creation not as six literal, twenty-four hour days, but rather as six epochs, each one lasting for many millions of years, in accordance with theories from one hundred fifty years ago concerning the age of the universe, evolution, and so on. To counter these “scientists,” as well as those who main­tain that “the Torah is not a scientific work, and thus should not be expected to provide explanations for natural phenom­ena,” the Rebbe stresses that, being the “blueprint for the universe,” Torah has a direct bearing on each of its elements – every object and every phenomenon. Since the Almighty created – and permanently creates – the world and all its workings solely through Torah, all objects and phenomena owe their existence to Torah.

Scientific discoveries replace, and at times invalidate one another. The constant changes and leaps that character­ize the development of scientific theories are a distinguish­ing feature of science. Obviously, it is unthinkable that, in order to avoid “contradictions,” each new scientific “leap” should be accompanied by corresponding “leaps” in Torah interpretation! Torah is eternal and immutable. When a new theory seems to contradict the Torah, we should analyze the theory from the Torah standpoint, as well as determining the extent to which the theory conforms to science’s own crite­ria. Then we will certainly be able to both resolve the prob­lem and find an explanation for the apparent “inconsis­tency.” Moreover, as the Rebbe points out, one should never set a deadline for finding a solution, for such a deadline could force us to accept a solution at any cost within the ap­pointed time, and from there it is but a short step to falsify­ing facts. It is quite natural that we humans, finite beings with limited abilities, are not always able to find immediate answers to all our questions about the nature of the world created by the Almighty – who is infinite and limitless.

As for the true value and validity of scientific theo­ries, the Rebbe states that theories fall into several catego­ries. Some theories are concerned with natural phenomena and objects which the researcher can contact directly, or processes in which they can intervene in order to discover their concealed characteristics. For example, theories about the structure of matter and electromagnetic forces may be reliable, yet they do not reveal the absolute truth. The very nature of science is such that any scientific theory under­goes constant modification, as ongoing research discovers new characteristics and phenomena that not only deviate from the existing theory, but at times refute it altogether.

There is, however, another group of theories that deal with distant celestial bodies, such as stars and galaxies. In this case, even before developing a theory, the scientist must thoroughly investigate the nature of the signals received during observation of these distant objects. The findings of such experiments are open to various interpretations. The same may be said about the study of the tiniest elements that make up matter – the elementary particles – whose behavior cannot be observed directly. In that case, the observer can at least intervene in the process, something that cannot be said about stellar research. This type of theory is naturally less reliable and has less cognitive value.

Finally, some views aspire to the stature of theory, even though they should be rightfully considered conjec­tures or hypotheses at best. Attempts at theoretical recon­struction of natural processes that occurred in the very dis­tant past belong to this category. These include cosmogonic and geological “theories,” as well the evolutionary “theory” of the development of the animal kingdom. Proponents of these “theories” rely on our present knowledge of physical, chemical, and other natural phenomena to explain how the world came to be what it is today. The technique most commonly used in this type of research is extrapolation, i.e. intuitive extension of the known characteristics of a certain phenomenon beyond the temporal framework of direct ob­servation and measurement. Extrapolation has never been considered a precise scientific method, especially regarding the past, which cannot be revisited in order to subject the results of extrapolation to direct, objective testing.

The Rebbe emphasizes that the adherents of these “theories” do not find it necessary to inform their students that they are dealing with mere conjecture, which cannot be proven, verified, or even convincingly invalidated. Instead, they present these “theories” as established fact.

Many people readily accepted the theory of evolution for purely psychological reasons. Someone who forgot – or never knew – that the human mind cannot comprehend G*d presumes to form opinions about G*d’s ways by attributing to Him human qualities and limitations. Such thinking runs roughly as follows: “If I were creating the world I would have two possible ways – I could either create everything, from inert matter to living beings, down to the last detail, or I could create matter, time, and space, fix the laws of nature, and let the universe evolve on its own. I would definitely choose the latter. I would simply have no time in which to create all the trillions of creatures separately.” The person is not even aware that such thinking projects human limita­tions and human logic onto the Creator!

The Rebbe repeatedly stresses that when a commonly accepted concept regarding a specific natural phenomenon does not conform to the halachic description of that phe­nomenon, we should in no way view the halachah as alle­gorical. Thus, the Rebbe states that, for example, when the Tanach, the Talmud, or the Rambam asserts that the earth is the center of the universe, with the sun revolving around it, this should be understood literally. According to the scien­tific theories of a hundred years ago (Newton’s classical mechanics), such statements would have been laughable. Now, according to Einstein’s universally accepted theory of relativity, this view is absolutely plausible. Indeed, accord­ing to the general theory of relativity, it is impossible to de­termine conclusively which body revolves around which, or which one is actually moving and which is static. From the standpoint of science, the question is meaningless. Even some physicists, who are supposed to be experts, err on this issue. Views inculcated in childhood have such a deep effect on their perception that they invariably hold sway over their professional knowledge. They find it hard to accept the idea that in this day and age the concept of the earth standing still is perfectly compatible with science.

Incidentally, in recent years, a long time after the Rebbe first stated his opinion on the subject, astrophysicists have begun to base their research on the “anthropocentric principle,” according to which the earth is situated at the center, while the rest of the universe with its billions of stars creates the precise conditions that make human existence possible. Books on this subject have begun to emerge even in such strongholds of science (and atheism!) as Cambridge University.

The Rebbe attaches enormous importance to the fact that as early as the turn of the twentieth century, modem science rejected the Newtonian principle of absolute deter­minism, which had been commonly accepted in the past. According to that view, there is a direct connection between cause and effect, and by knowing the causes, one can accu­rately predict any given effect in advance. This approach eventually reached the point that the famous French scientist Pierre Simon Laplace announced that from a precise and comprehensive description of each atom in the universe, as well as its state at a given moment, he could infer the exact behavior of any object in the universe at each moment in the future. He believed that this power of foresight also extends to the conduct of any human being, in keeping with the Newtonian view that the laws of science may be used to ex­plain and predict the behavior not only of inert matter, but also of plants, animals, and even humans. Naturally, Laplace’s approach completely negated the concept of free­dom of choice depicted in Torah. Furthermore, this view set the ground for the denial of Divine Providence and G*d’s involvement in all that happens in the world, as well as dis­missing any possible effect of prayer and human actions on physical events.

As early as several decades ago, the Rebbe explained that quantum theory, by introducing the notion of inde­terminism into every area of science, had completely dis­credited Laplace’s idea. Quantum theory, which places ma­jor focus on the phenomenon of light, asserts that light is simultaneously a flow of minute particles – photons – and short electromagnetic waves. In other words, light has a dual nature. According to quantum theory, which is com­monly accepted today, duality characterizes all the particles that make up the universe – electrons, protons, neutrons, etc. This theory further states that it is impossible to simultane­ously measure the location and speed of a particle with any precision, and to predict the behavior of any given particle. The most we can do is establish the probability of its behav­ing in a certain way. Relatively recently, physicists began to realize that the behavior of a particle, and ultimately the very fact of its existence, depend on whether the observer possesses freedom of choice, and is thus not subject to the laws of nature. Significantly, the Rebbe constantly stresses that according to Torah, the testimony of eyewitnesses veri­fied and accepted by a rabbinical court not only influences halachic rulings, but also determines the behavior and prop­erties of physical objects. In other words, modem science is finally embracing views contained in Torah and recorded by Talmudic sages nearly two millennia ago.

The Rebbe also illustrates that one can reach scien­tific conclusions based on the words of Torah. This does not refer to hidden mysteries accessible only to the righteous blessed with divine, spiritual visionary gifts. In certain cases this path is available even to illiterate Jews. The Torah, as the Rebbe teaches, embraces the entire world, and certainly contains answers to all the questions that have to do with this world.

The following is a typical example of how the Rebbe resolves a complex scientific issue by relying on a straight­forward interpretation of Torah. One of the most frequently asked questions is whether intelligent beings exist elsewhere in the universe. The Rebbe’s reply is that according to To­rah, such beings do not exist. What distinguishes human be­ings from other creatures is that we have freedom of choice. At first glance, the idea of “freedom of choice” or “free will” seems to be contrary to such concepts as Permanent Creation (G*d’s ongoing recreation of the material world and all that it contains), Divine Providence, (G*d’s supervi­sion of the creation), and so on. However, G*d does not in­terfere with our free will. Freedom of choice is part of G*d’s master plan outlined in the Torah. Torah is above all a book of 613 commandments. These commandments can be relevant only to beings that are free to choose between performing them or, G*d forbid, rejecting them. Therefore bestowing the Torah is contingent upon granting free will. Thus if we assume that other intelligent beings exist in the universe, they too must have the Torah. It could not be a dif­ferent Torah, for our Torah is called Torat Emet – the “To­rah of Truth,,,40 and there can only be one truth. On the other hand, they cannot possibly have our Torah, for Torah was given to the Jewish people in the Sinai desert, and eve­rything that happened before and after this event is de­scribed in great detail in the Torah itself, with specific names, geographic locations, and so on. Our Torah would be totally unintelligible to alien beings. Therefore it follows that there cannot be any other intelligent beings similar to humans in the universe. On the other hand, the Torah does not rule out the possibility that other living beings exist in outer space.

The full scope of this topic cannot be covered in a few pages. Here we have only cited a few examples to illus­trate how the Rebbe appropriates scientists, and science it­self, to the service of G*d and to the cause of precipitating the time of Mashiach.

Over the last century, and particularly in recent dec­ades, scientific views in all the natural sciences have begun to converge with Torah-based philosophy. This phenome­non appears to be another harbinger of the imminent arrival and revelation of Mashiach! Indeed, only the Rebbe could have predicted that the rational sciences, which are based on “cold reason” and which had just recently denied the Torah and the Almighty, would recognize Him, and accept the ex­istence of the soul and a number of other basic concepts of Torah! It seems that over time scientific theories have changed and are gradually coming more into accord with Torah.

An increasing number of respectable academic bod­ies, including universities, are publishing scientific works dealing with issues that were, until recently, the exclusive domain of religious literature. The interaction between the human mind and the soul, freedom of choice, even resurrec­tion of the dead are examples. Popular magazines feature articles bearing titles such as “The Sciences Discover G*d!”

Advanced studies of the physiology of the human brain show have disproved the so-called “reductionist” ap­proach, which denies the existence of a soul and reduces man to a sophisticated machine that acts according to laws of nature. Thus, for instance, studies by Wilder Penfield in Montreal, Canada show that the brain functions as a com­puter, but the human mind, the self, is beyond the brain. It is amazing how Penfield, and other researchers, are coming to recognize the existence of the soul.

All together, we see that in our times not only are in­dividual scientists coming to believe in G*d, but entire sci­ences are becoming baalei teshuva – “returnees” to faith. The Rebbe sees in this return and recognition by science and scientists of the divine foundation of nature one more sign that we live in the age of Mashiach. Indeed, the Mashiach said that he would come when the Baal Shem Tov’s teach­ings “spread to the outside.” For centuries, science was the epitome of “outside” the Torah in general and Chassidism in particular. Now science recognizes G*d – the Creator!

The Rebbe advises those Chassidim who work in sci­ence to use every opportunity to spread recognition of the Almighty Creator of the universe. He emphasizes the vital need to acknowledge His Torah and commandments. On one occasion, the Rebbe received an expert in solar energy. In the course of the conversation, the scientist mentioned that he was about to attend a conference of Jewish religious scientists. The Rebbe told him, “Tell them that as an expert on solar energy, you propose that each and every Jew strive to emulate the sun. Why is the sun a symbol of good? After all, countless stars are larger and contain more energy than the sun, yet some of those stars are called ‘black holes’ be­cause their gravity is so strong that they devour everything around them, including light. Thus, when we look at such a star, we see nothing, and so it is called a ‘black hole.’ The sun, on the other hand, radiates light and warmth, sharing its riches with the whole world. This is how a Jew, who is com­manded to love each child of Israel, should live. Who would ever mention the sun if it only warmed itself, like a black hole?”

On another occasion, the Rebbe said, “A Jewish sci­entist should try to live and conduct himself so that others would describe him as a pious, Torah-observant Jew first and only then as a scientist, and never the other way around, as a great scientist who, incidentally, keeps Torah and the commandments.”

For more about the Rebbe visit Therebbe.org

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