Passover is the birthday of the Jewish people, the holiday commemorating the emergence of our people as a nation. But in the days before Pesach, we mark another birthday that relates to the Jewish people as a whole. The 11th of Nissan, marks the birthday of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, R. Menachem M. Schneerson, and as the story to follow indicates, the Rebbe identified with every Jew and sought out both his physical and spiritual welfare.

There was a young Jewish man in Belgium who had enjoyed a relationship with a non-Jewish woman for several years and they planned to marry. He had pangs of conscience and went to see a Rabbi. The Rabbi told him how important it was to continue his link to our national heritage. He was impressed and broke off the relationship.

But the woman would not give up. The young man’s resolve was weak and soon he was back in the same situation again. But again, his conscience gnawed at him. He went to another Rabbi and that Rabbi told him how terrible intermarriage was for the household, how many divorces there were, etc. Again, the young man was impressed and broke off the relationship. But again, shortly afterwards, he went back to her.

The next time his conscience troubled him, he went to see a Lubavitch Rabbi. The Rabbi told him: “Listen, I personally cannot tell you anything that the other Rabbis didn’t tell you. But in a week I’m going to the Rebbe, why don’t you come with me and ask him.”

The young man agreed and went Sunday morning to receive a dollar from the Rebbe. After he described his situation to the Rebbe, the Rebbe responded: “I’m jealous of you.”

“What do you mean,” he replied. “Why should the Rebbe be jealous of me?”

“Every time a person is given a challenge,” the Rebbe explained, “it is because he is being given an opportunity to advance to a higher level. The extent of his advance depends on the seriousness of the challenge. G‑d judges each individual and sees whether he is capable of overcoming the challenge he is given. Now look at the challenge you face. That’s why I am jealous; I have never been given such a challenge.”

These words touched the young man’s heart and he ended his relationship with the woman forever.

Yud-Aleph (11th of) Nissan: The Rebbe’s Birthday

Whenever the Rebbe wrote public letters, he would address them “To all the sons and daughters of Israel, wherever they may be.” For did not see himself as addressing merely his own followers, but as reaching to the Jewish people as a whole.

To cite a parallel from the Torah: After Pharaoh’s unsettling dreams of the seven cows and the seven ears of grain, he turned to his advisers for an interpretation. They told him, for example, “You will father seven daughters, but then they will die.” Pharaoh rejected their explanations, but he readily accepted Yosef’s explanation. What was the difference?

The interpretations of his advisers were personal, relating to Pharaoh as an individual; Yosef’s interpretation touched upon the whole nation. Even Pharaoh understood that if G‑d sends a message to the leader of a people, it will not address a private matter, but will be of consequence to all the members of his nation. With concern for every member of our people as an individual and the entire nation as a collective, he has endowed us with a vision that lifts us beyond our narrow, personal identities and inspires depth, purpose and joy.

Looking to the Horizon

In one of his letters, the Rebbe writes that from childhood on, he had a vision of the era of Mashiach, how the Jewish people would be redeemed from exile and build a perfect society. From his assumption of the leadership of the Lubavitch movement in 1950 onward, he made that vision, not only his individual goal, but the goal of the movement, and indeed, of the Jewish people as a whole, stating: “We are in the midst of the period when the approaching footsteps of Mashiach can be heard. Indeed, we are at the conclusion of this period. Our task is to complete the process of drawing down the Divine Presence... so that it should rest within our lowly world.”

Year after year, the relevance of this goal became heightened. In the period before suffering the stroke from which he did not recover, the Rebbe gave the mission a sense of immediacy, declaring: Everyone should realize the uniqueness of the present time. We are on the verge of the dawning of an era of peace, prosperity, and knowledge to be introduced by the coming of Mashiach. Everyone can hasten the coming of this era by sharing this awareness with others and increasing their deeds of goodness and kindness.

On the Rebbe’s birthday, this goal becomes more cogent and powerful. The Redemption can be seen as an emerging reality that we can anticipate in our own lives and share with others.