On the occasion of his 70th birthday, the Rebbe received thousands of letters from well-wishers across the globe. Among these were several that suggested that perhaps it is time he considered "slowing down" and "taking it easy" after his many fruitful decades as a leader and activist.
The Rebbe's response was twofold. First, he announced that he is launching a campaign to open 71 new Chabad institutions in the course of the coming year. Then launched a blistering attack on the very concept of "retirement."
On that and on other occasions over the next ten years, the Rebbe spoke about the injustice, impracticability and downright folly in shutting out the elderly from the orbit of productive life. After decades of achievement, their knowledge and talent are suddenly deemed worthless; after decades of contributing to society, they are suddenly undeserving recipients, grateful for every time the younger generation takes off from work and play to drop by for a half-hour chat and the requisite Father's Day necktie.
On the surface, the modern-day attitude seems at least partly justified. Is it not a fact that a person physically weakens as he or she advances in years? But this, said the Rebbe, is precisely the point: How is a person's worth to be measured? If his physical strength has waned while his life experience, sagacity and insight have grown, is this an improvement or a decline?
"Indeed," said the Rebbe with a smile, "a twenty-year-old can dance the night away while his grandmother tires after a few minutes. But man was not created to dance for hours on end. Man was created to make life on earth purer, brighter and holier than it was before he came on the scene" -- something that an older person can achieve no less, and in certain ways much more, than a younger person.
But the Rebbe never criticized anything unless it was to propose a corrective course of action. In 1980 he established a global network of learning centers for retired persons. The study of Torah will give them a new lease on life, said the Rebbe. It will enlighten them to their true worth and potential, and transform them from futile has-beens into beacons of light for their families and communities. Retirement, if utilized properly, can be directed as the most potent force toward its ultimate eradication from the mind and life of man.
And how did the Rebbe celebrate his 80th birthday in 1982? He again called for a massive expansion of Chabad's activities in a farbrengen held in honor of the occasion. Upon the conclusion of the final segment of the six-hour address-which began at 9:30 pm following a full day's work -- the Rebbe personally distributed a gift to each of the 10,000 men, women and children present: a special edition of the Chassidic classic, the Tanya. The last participant received his Tanya at 6:15 am.