When I say "genius," whose name do you think of? I've never gotten an answer other than Albert Einstein. The same with "psychology," — it's always Sigmund Freud. "International Politics" most often gets me Henry Kissinger. "Superhero" — Superman. "Rock Star" will likely be Elvis (depending on age). These names are more than names — they are icons of our society, keys to the way we perceive our world. Interestingly, so many of them are Jewish or creations of Jews.

Now, what happens when I get to a word that really matters to me? Personally, I could probably fare all right without a genius in my life. Same with all those other icons — even without the psychologist. But, if we'll speak honestly, one thing really matters to us. We all need meaning in our lives. To know what it's all about. How to live our lives with purpose.

So, if we approach the man or woman on the street and say, “Wisdom. Spiritual meaning and purpose. A mentor in life.” — who will that person think of?

Having tried it, the result often hails from Tibet. Sometimes Rome. They can't really tell you what this person has to say about life, but those are the accepted icons. I can tell you that it's a rare one who will mention a rabbi. This says something strange about our society. Something that's just not right.

The centennial year of the Lubavitcher Rebbe is a grand opportunity to rectify this situation. Here we have a wise tzaddik, a human being like any of us, who traveled the journey of 20th century Jewry, escaping the oppression of Stalinist Russia and the fury of Nazi Europe to start afresh in a New World. And from all this he found a deep and mystical, yet reasonable and practical path of wisdom to heal the souls of individuals and communities, to inspire and rebuild from the ashes, to embrace the new while holding fast to a rich legacy of the past, to forge ahead into a new era.

The Rebbe was able to transcend the barrier of time. He didn't see an era alien to Torah and Judaism. He saw new and exciting applications of an ancient wisdom. He never saw Judaism as something of the past, but as a vision of the future. Judaism, he said many times, is 3,300 years young.

It's often said that the Rebbe's accomplishments are of "Biblical proportions." Personally, I'd say that, in a way, they're even greater — for which biblical personality attained in his lifetime a scope of influence that encompassed the globe? What other Jewish leader would have thought to begin his leadership by sending a young family to Morocco to assist that community, another to Argentina, others to outlying communities throughout the U.S. and Canada, England, Australia, and, of course, Israel? By now, there are more than 4,000 such Chabad-Lubavitch shluchim families throughout the world, in the former Soviet Union, in Nepal, in China — wherever there are Jews.

I recently heard Senator Joe Lieberman speaking at a conference in Washington, DC. His words were that "the 20th century had no greater leader — certainly within the Jewish world — than the Lubavitcher Rebbe." Adin Steinsaltz, Elie Wiesel, Israel's Chief Rabbi Lau and Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the U.K., said much the same thing.

The teshuvah movement that began in the sixties, with young Jews returning en masse to their roots, was unforeseen by any sociologist. It was spearheaded by the Rebbe's calls for action. And when the walls came tumbling down in Eastern Europe, the Chabad-Lubavitch infrastructure was already in place to breathe life back into those communities. The face of world Jewry would certainly be very, very different if not for this one man.

The face would be different, and even more important, the spirit. Because, first and foremost, the Rebbe is a teacher, a mentor, a doctor of the soul. Not just for people in beards and long black coats, not just for Jews, but for all human beings. And these teachings are accessible after his passing, just as before. There is no reason why the man on the street should not associate the words "wisdom" and "spirituality" with the name of a rabbi, the Lubavitcher Rebbe. And one day, may it be very soon, it will be so.

A famous American author visited the Rebbe shortly after the Rebbe had assumed the leadership of Chabad-Lubavitch. As he left the Rebbe's office, the students of the yeshiva asked him for his thoughts. He responded to them in frustration, "You Lubavitchers are thieves! You take the Rebbe for your own! But the Rebbe is a rebbe of the entire world!"

For the first fifty years of the Rebbe's life, he belonged to himself. For the next fifty, he belonged to his Chassidim. And now, we must make him belong to the entire world. A world that desperately needs a Rebbe.