On the day of a person’s yahrzeit, we think about that person. But we are not just remembering—we are learning from his good deeds. This is especially true on a day like Yud Shevat, when we celebrate the yahrzeit of the Previous Rebbe.

The Previous Rebbe led a life of mesirus nefesh. Mesirus nefesh means “giving up one’s life.” Throughout our history, many people gave up their lives because of their Jewishness. But mesirus nefesh isn’t only actually giving up one’s life. Mesirus nefesh is also living our lives without thinking of ourselves, concentrating instead only on doing what HaShem wants.

Mesirus nefesh was the Previous Rebbe’s way of doing things wherever he was. First in Russia with tremendous mesirus nefesh, he spread Torah despite terrible hardships. He was arrested, imprisoned and beaten. And still he persisted. What’s more, he took upon himself the responsibility of sending others to spread Torah with mesirus nefesh.

After he was forced to leave Russia, he arrived in Poland. There, though the government did not interfere with the study of Torah, the Previous Rebbe also showed a great amount of mesirus nefesh in his work. He had to confront other Jewish leaders in Poland who did not agree with what he was doing.

“Why are you putting so much effort into setting up yeshivos in small towns scattered throughout Poland?” they argued. “It’s hard enough to support the big yeshivos that already exist in the main cities.” But the Previous Rebbe just continued his difficult work, making sure that Jews in the distant small towns would also have a Jewish education.

When he came to America because of World War II, the Previous Rebbe continued spreading Torah with mesirus nefesh.

But why did he need mesirus nefesh in America? America is a free country. Everyone can do as they please.

That’s true. But many Jews who came to America from Europe thought it would be a better idea not to show their Torah lifestyle too much. “America,” they said, “is different. Here we should look like everyone else.” So many people shaved their beards and hid their tzitzis.

The first thing the Previous Rebbe said when he arrived was: “America is not different!” With enormous mesirus nefesh, he persuaded Jews to keep the Torah and its mitzvos openly and proudly. That paved the way for America to become a land where Jews keep the Torah and its mitzvos with joy and pride.

(Adapted from Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XVIII, Parshas Chukas-Balak)