In the last century, Lubavitch underwent three challenges of faith. In Stalinist Russia, the Soviet authorities attempted to stamp out all religious activity. Other Torah leaders fled; many individuals made compromises and accepted the restrictions on Jewish education and observance imposed upon them by the Russians.

The Previous Rebbe, by contrast, spurred his chassidim to dedicate themselves to spreading Yiddishkeit among their own families and among others, despite all the persecution of the Soviet regime. And they prevailed. 50 and 60 years later, when the gates of the Iron Curtain sprang open, there emerged families of chassidim who had been raised in underground yeshivos and hundreds of baalei-teshuvah, young Russian Jews who had braved the dangers to identify with their heritage.

In 1940, when he arrived in the U.S., the Previous Rebbe faced the second challenge, declaring: “America is no different.”1 By and large, even the Orthodox community not to mention the average immigrant felt that it was necessary to make compromises and adapt Jewish observance to the prevailing norms in this country.

The Previous Rebbe differed. Physically broken, but spiritually strong, he set out to change the prevailing mindset. And he succeeded, setting up a network of educational institutions throughout the American Jewish community and altering the public conception of Jewish observance. In this manner, it was possible for the Torah community to establish roots on American soil.

Several years later, assimilation had begun to make major inroads in the Jewish community, as the openness of American society invited Jewish youth to participate. In accepting the offer, they sacrificed many elements of Jewish identity and observance.

While others bemoaned the fate of the Jewish community, the Rebbe raised his standard, stating that there was no need for Judaism to adopt a defensive position. On the contrary, there was a need for outreach, to extend a welcoming hand to Jewish youth from secular backgrounds who were searching for meaning and depth in their lives, showing them that these objectives could be satisfied within a Torah lifestyle. In doing so, he sparked the Teshuvah revolution that revitalized every element of Jewish life.

Why was it possible for Lubavitch and the Rebbeim to rise to these challenges? In his discussion of the concept of Elokus bipeshitus, the Rebbe cites2 the Nesi’ai Chabad, the Rebbeim , as personifications of these principles. “The Rebbeim,” he said, “had to labor and struggle to see the material dimensions of worldly experience.”

They looked at the world from G‑d’s perspective. Now from His standpoint, what is religious persecution in Russia? A cue that we must serve Him with mesirus nefesh, all-encompassing self-sacrifice. From His perspective, is it possible to consider that a move from one continent to another would result in a lessening of Jewish observance? And as He sees it, when the rigid barriers that separate some Jews from others are withdrawn, will there be any response other than a reawakening of Jewish identity and observance?

What is unique is that not only did the Rebbeim see things this way themselves, they were able to motivate others to adopt their perspective. In Russia and in America, many others began living differently to the extent of genuine self-sacrifice as a result of their contact with the Rebbeim. The truth the Rebbeim radiated resonated in the hearts of others and evoked a metamorphosis of the way they approached their lives.

It is related that once, a deranged person sounded a shofar in Tiberias where R. Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk was staying. Quickly, the rumor spread that Mashiach had come and the shofar blasts were announcing his coming. R. Menachem Mendel went out to the veranda, sniffed the air, and then told his followers that the rumor was unfounded. Mashiach was yet to arrive.

Chassidim ask: Why was it necessary for R. Menachem Mendel to go out to the veranda? Could he not have sniffed the air in his own dwelling? And they answer that in his dwelling, the atmosphere was Mashiach -like. His question was whether the world at large had begun to share this outlook.

The Rebbeim always looked at the world from the standpoint of Elokus bipeshitus. They communicated their message to chassidim who structured their lives around these principles. Now, however, the concept is being extended to further and further peripheries, as we anticipate and in this manner, precipitate the coming of the age when “the world will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d, as the waters cover the ocean bed.”3