In Russia of the 1920s, when the iron talons of the Soviet regime were determined to tear apart the remaining vestiges of Soviet Judaism, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (1880–1950) was mercilessly brutalized and tortured for his “counter-revolutionary” activities—the creation of an underground network of yeshivahs, mikvahs and other banned Jewish institutions.

Time and again the rebbe was dragged into the interrogation room. In the dank darkness, where brutes and cutthroats were regularly brought to their knees, the rebbe openly defied these savages. It was on one such occasion that one of the rebbe’s interrogators pointed a revolver at the Rebbe and smirked: “This toy has a way of making people cooperate.”

Calmly the rebbe replied: “That toy is persuasive to one who has many gods and only one world; I have One G‑d and two worlds.”

“This toy has a way of making people cooperate . . .”How does having “One G‑d” empower an imprisoned rabbi to defy monsters? What can we learn from R. Yosef Yitzchak’s heroism to aid us in our personal battles? Where do we get the clarity to hold so strong to what we believe?

Try this experiment: What statement ends a discussion regarding the motive for odd, or even dangerous, behavior? What causes you to capitulate and say, “I get it, point made, actions justified, the end . . .”? Whatever that point is—that is your god (capital G or small g—depends on what “it” is).

To illustrate:

“Joe, why are you doing that? You could get hurt!” “Well, it’s fun!” If that’s it, if “fun” ends the line of inquiry, then “fun” is god, the determinant of Joe’s behavior.

“Jane, why are taking that job? It will sap all your energy.” “I’ll make a lot of money.” Money is Jane’s god.

David, why are you going home early? There’s work to be done!” “It’s Friday; G‑d said I have to stop working.” David spells G‑d with a capital G.

The Soviet brute assumes that life is god; threaten that, and all other considerations slither away. The rebbe counters: there is only One G‑d, only one reason to determine my behavior. Worlds I got plenty. If it means surrendering my soul, then you can have this world—it’s just a tool anyway!

We are blessed. Because of the iron will of those who preceded us, the Soviet Union has fallen, the revolver is holstered. We have new, less violent challenges. Yet they can be just as daunting.

What is our G‑d? What governs our behavior? What ends the conversation that explores our motives? Is it Oprah, the evening news or Wall Street? When there is only the world of the here-and-now, the tangible and the sensory, then anything that threatens to take that away becomes the engine that drives our choices.

The territory, bank account and social status they stripped from us never defined usThis is how Jews have habitually frustrated conquering nations. The vanquishers argue: “Come on, you lost, give up and acknowledge the superiority of your conquerors. Adopt our ways, language, culture, music and gods.” And yet the Jews don’t play by the rules. Despite defeat, we remain singularly focused on the One G‑d. What they can’t fathom is that the territory, the bank account or the social status they stripped from us never defined us; their loss is inconvenient, painful and vile, yet not the end of our identity. They were only accessories to who we are—worlds we have plenty; they were not who we are—we have only one G‑d.

When we study Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak’s example, we are inspired to awareness that G‑d is the only G‑d, while business opportunities and fashions are plentiful. G‑dliness is non-negotiable; neither the brutality of communism nor the glamour of capitalism can compel us otherwise.

The rebbe paved the way; it is ours to walk down the path to a world united under the rule of One G‑d!