From a speech delivered to a gathering of American Friends of Lubavitch marking the Rebbe's 100th birthday, held at the Library of Congress, Washington D.C., March 11, 2002
We are celebrating 100 years since the birthday of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. One
hundred years is a long time. It is an interval that marks change in many ways.
It is a very significant number in Jewish lore, because 100 years marks a full
cycle of life. One hundred years also defines a unit of historical time
-- a century -- and I want to give it the recognition it deserves. I want to speak a little about that century, the century of the Rebbe.
The Rebbe's century was a time in which truly astounding things happened. The
world has changed more in this century than in the thousand years before,
perhaps even the two thousand years before. In the sphere of geopolitics, this
century witnessed numerous earth-shaking revolutions. Totalitarian dictatorships
in Russia, Germany, Italy, and Spain emerged and grew and achieved hegemony --
and all of them collapsed. The maps of the world changed tremendously over this
century -- Europe, Africa, and Asia changed their faces. Almost everywhere, so
much happened during this span of time, including two world wars that shattered
There were changes in the spheres of thought and knowledge. The new
disciplines of psychology and psychoanalysis made a lasting impact on our
general culture. Abstract art, new forms of literature and computerization
brought entirely new images and ideas into the human experience. Our new grasp
of biology has brought about a tremendous post-modernist shift in our
understanding of how we change and of the changes we generate. The theory of
relativity was a remarkable insight, changing the world's perception and
understanding of itself, a position from which it cannot return. It begat the
atom bomb, while our understanding of biology created genetic engineering. These
achievements, and so many others, hover over us as threats and as opportunities.
Taking a closer look at Jewish life, we also see great changes. Within this
century, Jewish life underwent three major transformations. The first unfolded
over an extended time, while its significance was not immediately evident right
away, but it was quite dramatic. Following an extended period in which the
Jewish people had been more or less religious, observant people, there began a
clear trend away from orthodoxy. By the end of World War I, most Jews were
non-observant. This is a huge change.
The second change was brought about by the Shoah, the Holocaust. The
Shoah murdered the core of Jewish life: men, women and children who were the
most vibrant, animated elements of the Jewish people. Six million of them -- or
more -- were killed.
And then there was the establishment of the state of Israel: another
unprecedented event, another tremendous change. All of these things represent
dramatic alterations in the history and life of the Jewish people; nothing like
them had happened in the previous thousand years.
So the political world changed, the intellectual world changed, and the
Jewish world changed.
The Rebbe did not just live in the century in which these events occurred.
The Rebbe participated, at various levels and in different ways, in many of
them. He survived the pogroms in Russia as a child, was a young man at the time
of the Russian Revolution, and escaped from Europe during the Nazi regime. His
knowledge and understanding of what was happening in the world were unique. One
must remember that the Rebbe could draw on vast stores of both spiritual and
scientific wisdom, on his mastery of physics, biology, literature, and human
nature. The Rebbe was a part of all those changes, and he was also a person who
created and worked within them. He lived through the most fascinating,
frightening and changeable time.
The Rebbe lived in the most difficult of times, yet he was always able to
forge ahead. The Rebbe was not just aware of many of these changes; he predicted
and warned against some of them.
But we must go one step further. Of course, the Rebbe was very aware of the
past -- his own past, the past of his people, and the past of humanity. But with
all that, he was never a man of the past; the Rebbe was always a man of the
future. If you read through his many writings, you will find hints here and
there about the past, but the focus and direction are on the future. He
sometimes spoke about what had happened, but more about what should
happen, what will happen. Some people looked at him as a symbol and a
picture of the glory of the Jewish past, but this is an error. In so many ways,
he was a man of the next century, a man who belonged far more to the future than
to the past. And that will explain what was so very important to the Rebbe in
his last years.
The Rebbe watched the world and saw and felt so much happening, so much
quivering and shaking all over the world, but he did not see these developments
as final effects; he saw them as preliminary tremors preceding a big upheaval.
The Rebbe saw all the change and distress throughout the century as labor pains
that herald an impending birth. And that was what The Rebbe had in mind when he
talked about Moshiach.
The Rebbe spoke about Moshiach because he saw all the past, the century he
lived through, as the preparatory rumblings before the occurrence of a huge
upheaval. This is what he tried to tell people. This is the message he tried to
communicate. As the years passed, he became more and more intense, more and more emphatic, about the idea that Moshiach was about to come. He saw it not only
through some heavenly vision; he perceived it in observing how the world was
moving, in the changes he had witnessed. He saw the movement, the suffering, and
the pain as presaging a major event, a major change, and that change is the
arrival of Moshiach.
Clearly, the coming of Moshiach is not a mere happening within the world; it
is far more important, far more profound. In the words of the prophets, Moshiach
signifies the end of days -- that is, the end of history. It marks the end of
ordinary days, and the beginning of a completely new era, an era so new that
nothing in the past is parallel to it. Moshiach will change history permanently,
change human life permanently, and usher in a future that will be very different
from the past.
The Rebbe was not just making conversation about Moshiach, and he was not
just talking about a prophecy that he wanted to preserve. The Rebbe spoke about
Moshiach because he understood that the coming of Moshiach is a process in which
we must be both active participants and passive beneficiaries. It is a dual
process, like birth, where you cannot specify what part comes from Above and
what part comes from the inner working of the human body.
This synthesis is what the Rebbe referred to when he spoke about Moshiach.
Therefore, the Rebbe did not see "Moshiach" as a mantra to say six
times or ten times a day to overcome difficult times. For the Rebbe, Moshiach
was something to work on, to deal with, to fight for. That is because we are
built and our history is built, from the very beginning, as the prelude toward
the end of days. We are not building up to the end of human life or to the end
of earthly existence, but to a tremendous change in all of that. So that is
something that we must not only speak about, but something for which we must
In this context, let me address the notion of the Rebbe's "legacy."
One should not use that word in talking about the Rebbe. The Rebbe did not leave
a legacy. The Rebbe left marching orders. This is an entirely different concept.
The Rebbe did not just leave a collection of books, videos, and speeches. He
left a task to be completed, and the books and other resources provide the
understanding that will enable people to carry it out.
I will try to outline some of the ideas that are in those orders, properly
and correctly, and render his lofty words in simple, down-to-earth
language. I believe that his is not just a personal interpretation, but is the
outlook of the official leadership of Chabad. I hope, also, that this
explication will be valuable for the Chabad movement, which, I believe, is
larger than its organization. And I hope that these words will go beyond that,
to reach the much wider community of all of those whom the Rebbe touched in one
way or another, and they will cause something of a shift.
When we speak about the coming of Moshiach, we speak about a mega-event, a
major phenomenon that changes everything. We may not be fully prepared and we
don't know the how, what, or when of this event, but we are talking about major
changes. One of the consequences of this statement is that, if we are expecting
things to change in a major way, we will have to make major changes, too. And
one of these changes is that we have to cast away a huge number of petty
quarrels and petty issues; insignificant clashes that are not just vicious and
unprofitable, but ludicrous.
Next to the truly momentous changes we are anticipating, all of our trivial
arguments shrink into trifles; our disputes are comic, not just painful. I am
not speaking about personal quarrels only, but about the whole notion of
political trappings that you deal with in this country and that we deal with in
Israel, my country. Many of the things that people fight about are the sheerest,
shallowest nonsense, especially if we compare these quarrels to the
establishment of an entirely different order. In that sense, whether Party A or
Party B will have a particular right or a particular authority seems ridiculous.
Who will remember all these foolish people who were fighting about such things?
When the tsunami is about to envelop the world, no one will remember if my shop
was on the west side of the street or the east side; everything will be moved.
So, the coming of Moshiach means, among other things, the casting away of
internal fights. We must talk to people about what Moshiach means. We must
abandon, for example, the Jewish interdenominational quarrels, many of which are
associated with small, short-term calculations and evaluations: What will be
better for my organization, for my little group, for my little thing in the next
two, three, or five years? How will I gain a little bit more support from this
rich man or the other rich man? How can I maneuver in another little way to be
written up in one newspaper or another? Again, compared to the big things, all
these are nonsensical.
It is even more important to talk about the future, what people are going to
do, when the time will come… and the time is coming, whether we want it or
not. The status quo will change, and all these petty issues will be wiped away.
That means, also, there are lots of things we must do. So what do we do?
Let me start by saying something about Israel. We are stuck in a very
unfortunate position. We try to move to the right, and the way is blocked. We
try to move to the left, and the way is blocked. We try to go forward, but we
cannot. We try to retreat, but we are cut off. So, we are surrounded and blocked
on every side. There is one direction, however, that is not closed: upward. That
route is still open, and we should try to move in that direction.
We should do it not just as a statement, as a slogan, but as a serious
practical move toward a different way of life. This does not mean "Let's
cast away all kinds of things we are dealing with and go and deal directly with
the Above." It does not mean being unearthly and forgetting to eat your
breakfast. (People won't forget that even in the World to Come). But we can put
our lives and our rational crises in perspective, and when we put them in
perspective, they will become very different, because our real notions should be
with the Above.
In a more concrete way, it means being genuinely concerned about, and working
for, every segment of society, not just in details, but in major areas of
society: addressing the rifts among ethnic groups and the growing gap between
the rich and the poor; making education (not just knowledge) a primary and
universal ambition, and bringing the whole country - not just a segment of it -
to an awareness of the Divine. It also means being careful not to use the
Almighty to achieve narrow benefits (even praiseworthy ones), but to remember
that all of us, right and left, are the people of G‑d.
In a more emphatic way, this is the direction and an order for the
Lubavitcher movement, a movement that has to continue to progress. So much has
been done; so much has been achieved. In some places, the achievements are
marvelous, unimaginable. In some places, it is like seeing the flowering of the
desert, where Jewish life seemed to be dead, and it has been revived.
But all that is not enough, by far not enough, because we are now talking
about a much bigger process. We cannot now stand still and gloat. It is true
that when one Jew puts on a pair of tefillin once in his lifetime, there is
a new light in the world. It is true that when a Jew eliminates one non-kosher
food from his diet, even though he is not abstaining from other non-kosher
things, this is a gain, an advance. But we now have to talk to people not only
about small changes, but about major changes, about transforming completely. We
have to face them; they have to see themselves as Jews. It is not easy to make
such changes; it is sometimes quite difficult to suggest them, but now is the
time to do it. We don't know when, in two years or ten years, but something
great is happening. And if we are to be prepared, then we have to tell people to
throw away all the nonsense, to stop indulging in things that are not important,
to start to go a different way. That means both those who dedicate their lives
to this work and those who are volunteers. That means speaking to those who are
here and to many more who are not.
We have to start talking now about changing, not just about turning,
but about returning on a big scale. "On a big scale", means that it is
not sufficient to make token gestures, for example, to say to an older man,
"Do me a favor and send your grandchild to study in cheder for two
hours." Rather, this is about reaching people in a deeper and more
meaningful way, getting them to change their lives, to set their priorities
where they should be set, and to put their efforts where they should be put,
because a time is coming when these are the things that will count, and
most of the rest will not matter at all. It will be a different reality; things
won't be the same. We have to tell people about it. We have to say it again and
again in a most emphatic way. This does not mean that we must invalidate what we
are doing; we must just work on a much grander scale. We have to act in a much
more urgent way. These ideas have to be expressed not only to individuals, but
also to organizations, to groups, to the Jewish community at large. We have to
repeat the call of the sixth Rebbe: "Teshuvah now -- redemption
now." Whatever has been done is not enough. It is never enough. It has to
be done ten times as much, if we want to be ready for the time.
There is something else we must say, something that has to do with our
attitude about the world. The Rebbe began, but we have to continue to say it,
not only to our own Jewish brothers and sisters, but to all of humanity: We have
to talk about what are called the Seven Noahide Commandments, the seven laws
that the Almighty gave Noah after the Flood. These commandments are for all
humanity, for every human being. We should speak about these commandments not
just to one individual, as if we were selling merchandise, but to all the peoples
and the nations of the world, so that we can change the world. Our goal is not
to give a compliment to the Rebbe. A new and different world will come in a short
time, and we have to address it. We have to tell people that a different time is
coming, a time when different things will count. We must get everyone to keep
the basic Noahide laws, the laws of nature and the laws of the Divine, and we
must bring the people together. This is what we have to tell individuals and
How can we do it? Because the Rebbe is behind us, in a sense doing and saying
these things. It means recognizing that now is the time to go to others and to
ourselves, and pay attention to the big things and the important things, and to
let the small details go.
Our sages tell us, in reading Genesis 49:33, that "Our father Jacob did
not die." The idea is that, as long as there are Jews in the world, the
seed of Jacob is alive, living within us. In everything we do in our lives, a
small minuscule part of him lives within us. We say in our prayers "David,
the King of Israel, is alive and enduring", which means the kingship of
David never died. Someone could kill the last Jewish king, but no one can
destroy the kingship of the Jewish people. The kingship is still alive, still
here. We may be downtrodden, we may be kicked, but the kingship of Israel
continues. In that sense, I would say that the Rebbe implanted his spirit in so
many people, that his dreams, his visions, his insight, and his tremendous
desire continue. If we sustain his utmost desire to bring about that big change,
then we can say that the Rebbe lives on. The Rebbe is here, when we are here and
we are doing all the things that he left in his marching orders. He said we
should advance. He said we should not walk, but we should run. We should attack.
He said we should go further.
We should do it, and we will do it.