Amid a sea of black hats and coats, more than 4,500 Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries who gathered in New York for the annual International Conference of Shluchim were told that the goal of spreading the light of Torah and the joys of Judaism throughout the world would be achieved by “harnessing the energy of our community members" to inspire others as they have been inspired.

On the first evening of the four-day convention, Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Maryland,wove together Talmudic quotes and personal experiences as he made the case for changing the entire world for the better.

“It is in our hands,” Kaplan said to those assembled at the Thursday evening general session. “When the Rebbe [Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory] spoke about reaching every single Jew in the 1950s and ’60s, there were a handful of Chabad emissaries sprinkled around the world. It didn’t seem plausible. Today, we are positioned to bring the light of Torah to every single Jewish man, woman and child.”

Kaplan cited the precedent of the Talmudic sage Rabbi Chiya, who wrote Torah scrolls and used them to teach children. Those children taught others, and Torah awareness spread. The effect was so far-reaching that the Talmud credits him with having preserved Torah tradition.

“In the same way, we cannot reverse the trend of Jewish disconnect by building buildings or membership,” he thundered. “By harnessing the energy of our community members, empowering them to reach out to others who will, in turn, affect even more people.”

Series of New Initiatives

To that end, he revealed that there would be a series of new initiatives giving shluchim tools to empower members of their communities to teach Torah and spread Judaism. The first project is a first-ever course on advanced Jewish concepts produced by the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute (JLI), specifically geared to be presented by laypeople.

A recurring refrain of Kaplan’s and of other speakers was the fact that this year will mark 20 years since the passing of the Rebbe.

The final speaker of the evening, Rabbi Yosef Chaim Kantor of Bangkok, Thailand, pointed out that in order to bring a message of inspiration to others, the shliach and his family must themselves be aflame with inspiration: “You must now look within yourself for the spark, and fan the flames into a roaring fire that will warm and illuminate your surroundings.”