When we hear that something horrible befell another individual, G‑d forbid, do we feel their pain? Or do we simply move on with life?

What is the first thing we do when we hear about a fatal accident, for example?

Most of us wonder: Where was it—near my house or child's school? Could the victim have been a family member or a friend?

When we hear that it was nowhere near anyone we know, we breathe a sigh of relief and continue with our day. Sure, we are saddened, but if our family and children are fine, life continues...

Rabbi Pinchas Menachem Alter, the previous Rebbe of the Gur chassidic dynasty, told me a story that happened in 1949:

One of the disciples of Rabbi Yisrael Alter of Gur, known as the "Beis Yisroel," was very wealthy and at one point lived in New Zealand due to his business dealings.

"What astounds me is what was on the Rebbe's mind for forty years—a mikvah in faraway New Zealand" Once, on a trip to New York to visit his daughter, he entered an elevator only to be greeted by a Jew who asked where he hailed from. He responded that he had just arrived from New Zealand.

The stranger asked him, "Is there is a mikvah (ritual bath) in New Zealand?" The wealthy man responded, "I am there for business, not a mikvah."

The stranger responded, "If a Jew finds himself somewhere, he must have a positive impact."

The elevator doors opened, both men exited and went their separate ways.

The wealthy man asked his daughter, who was waiting for him nearby, regarding the identity of the man who had rode in the elevator with him. She responded that he was Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the son-in-law of the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, who would later himself become Rebbe.

Over forty years passed, during which time the businessman had aged significantly. He had long since left New Zealand and he was, again, visiting his daughter in New York. He decided to go to the Lubavitcher Rebbe's Sunday dollar distribution.

When he greeted the Rebbe, the Rebbe asked, "Is there a mikvah already in New Zealand?"

The elderly man was clearly amazed.

"I asked him," the Rebbe of Gur continued, "'Tell me, what you were amazed by?'"

He responded that he was amazed by the Rebbe's memory; after all, forty years had elapsed since their elevator rendezvous!

"And I told him," the Rebbe of Gur concluded, "that was astounds me is what was on the Rebbe's mind for forty years—a mikvah in faraway New Zealand. And how bothered he was that there was none there..."

Make Here the Land of Israel

We are all connected, and it's in our power to positively influence the people we encounter "Make here the Land of Israel," several Chabad rebbes expressed.

What is the meaning of this statement? How can one take the land of Israel – its holiness and unique qualities – and mimic that atmosphere in the Diaspora?

To explain, we turn to a discussion on Jewish law. On Shabbat we refrain – by biblical injunction – from carrying in a public domain. The rabbis further applied this restriction to an area that Biblical law does not mandate, for it is not a "public domain," and that is an enclosed courtyard or neighborhood that contains multiple private dwellings. One may not carry between two private properties within this enclosure unless there is an eruv that "merges" the private properties. [For more on this topic, see Eruv.]

The eruv consists of a food substance, usually bread or matzah, placed in one of the homes within the enclosure—but jointly owned by all those who live within the eruv parameters, so they could all technically come and eat of that bread.

In this regard, there is seemingly a contradiction between the Jerusalem Talmud and the Babylonian Talmud. The Jerusalem Talmud says that one needs only to designate the food as the eruv; however, one does not need to actually make a transaction to transfer the food from the property of the individual providing it to the ownership of the public (i.e., all who live within the enclosure). The Babylonian Talmud says that one would need to make a transaction in order for the eruv to be effective.

The Rebbe explains1 that, in essence, there is no disagreement. For the Jerusalem Talmud, authored by Israeli sages, is referring to an eruv created in the Land of Israel; the Babylonian Talmud is referring to one outside of Israel.

The uniqueness of Israel is that it is natural for Jews to live there, and citizens feel an inborn attachment to each other. Outside of Israel, however, people are more preoccupied with their own lives, and feel less attached to their coreligionists.

The natural connection between Jews in Israel is reason why a transaction is not necessary for the eruv to take effect. However, outside of Israel, in order for unity, the merging of people's properties, to occur, one would need an actual transaction.

From this explanation, we might also understand the statement, "Make here the Land of Israel." This is a call for us to create in the Diaspora a unified atmosphere, a sense of belonging, that which exists naturally only in the Land of Israel.

Give What You Know to the Other

When the Rebbe would announce a new campaign, he would say, "When you meet someone on the street, share it with him." This is the essence of the Rebbe's message: what you know, share with others. We are all connected, and it's in our power to positively influence the people we encounter.

When you hear of a tragedy, try to generate compassion, and assist your fellow as much as you can.

When you know that someone near you is lacking in Jewish knowledge, try to reach out to him or her.

For, in essence, we are all one, like two hands on a single body.