Shortly after the Rebbe assumed leadership of the chassidic movement, Charles Raddock, a secular Jewish historian and journalist, asked him: “How can chassidismfunction on the heathen soil of my America?” and “What answers does chassidismhave for my own lost, ‘atomic’ generation?”

The Rebbe replied: “America is not lost. Americans sincerely crave to know, to learn. They are inquisitive. The American mind is simple, honest, and direct. This is good, tillable soil for chassidism, or for just plain Judaism.”

“Where a person starts is not important. Ideally, a person should fulfill all the responsibilities Judaism places upon him,” the Rebbe would often say. “But at the same time, we welcome doing even a part.”

And the Rebbe taught his followers to reach out and communicate with others, confident that the depth of awareness and spiritual consciousnessthe chassidic lifestyle spawned would have a message to which every Jew can relate.

Parshas Bereishis

This week’s Torah reading recounts the narrative of creation; how G‑d brought the world into being from absolute nothingness. This is not merely a story of the past. Firstly, on an mystic level, creation is a continuous process. Since the world was brought into being from absolute nothingness, nothingness is its true nature. The fact that it exists comes only as a result of G‑d’s kindness. He brings the entire cosmos into being every moment, and every moment of existence is a reenactment of the very first moment of creation.

But beyond the abstract, this concept provides a practical lesson in the personal world of every individual. Parshas Bereishis is an experience of renewal. Every person has the chance to recreate himself anew, to establish a new outlook on the way he approaches life experience. In that vein, our Rabbis said: “The stance which a person adopts on Shabbos Bereishis determines the manner in which he will proceed throughout the coming year.”

Our Sages teach: “G‑d looked into the Torah and created the world. Man looks into the Torah and maintains the world.” The Torah serves as the blueprint for creation; it is the treasure storefor the principles and patterns on which our existence is based. Similarly, in the personal sense, the Torah can provide us with guidelines for our individual process of renewal. Each one of us can use the Torah to help us redefine our existence and develop a new means of relating to our environment.

When we study a portion of the Torah’s wisdom, be it a law, a story, or a philosophical or ethical concept, we are not just collecting information. Instead, we are uniting our minds with G‑d’s wisdom. He is the author of those laws, stories, and concepts. Through this study, we are aligning our minds — and through them, our entire personalities — to function in accordance with G‑d’s wisdom and desires.

For learning brings about, and on a deeper level, is itselfa change in behavior. Just as learning to talk gives a child new tools for self-expression, learning such wisdom gives a person new tools for appreciating the nature of the world we live in and relating to the people and situations around him.

In this manner, studying the Torah gives a person the means to go beyond his individual subjectivity. He becomes less concerned with what he wants and what he thinks is correct, and instead, focuses on what is true. He begins defining the way he responds to others according to the objective standards that G‑d has laid down. Our own horizons of growth are limited, for on his own, a person is capable of seeing only so far. The study of the Torah opens us up to new vistas beyond our own conceptions and enables us to internalize these levels within our personalities.

Moreover, this study grants a person new vitality and energy that extends far beyond the intellect. G‑d has invested Himself in the Torah; therefore, when a person is studying the Torah, he is not merely establishing a connection with G‑d’s wisdom, he is establishing a bond with G‑d Himself. This taps an unlimited fountain of energy that enriches all of his activities and pursuits.

Looking to the Horizon

The world was created with a purpose, as our Sages say: “The world was created solely for Mashiach.” The reason G‑d brought our existence into being was so that mankind would live in the environment of knowledge, peace, and love that will characterize the era of Mashiach.

G‑d did not desire that this intent be achieved on His initiative alone. Instead, He wanted this intent to resonate within the world and entrusted that purpose to mankind, allowing it to assume the role of being G‑d’s partner in creation. Each one of us has to do his part to mold the world to conform with its intended purpose.

With patient love, G‑d is guiding mankind to the acceptance of this mission. Just as on a personal level He charts a course for each individual to achieve self-realization; so, too, the world at large is being led to the fulfillment of its ultimate intent, the era of Mashiach.

This, moreover, is not a dream for the distant future, but a contemporary reality. We each have the potential to experience a foretaste of this era in our present lives. As we do so, we hasten the realization of this intent in the world at large.