Against the Backdrop of History

A meeting of chassidic Jewish educators and communal leaders was held in New York in 1944. They knew what was happening in Europe. They were aware of the challenges involved in building and expanding the infrastructure of Jewish observance, day-schools, and yeshivos in the US. Nevertheless, the mood of the meeting was upbeat. The speakers emphasized the warmth with which their efforts were received and the success they were able to achieve when they invested the necessary efforts in their work.

Towards the conclusion of the gathering, the Rebbe Rayatz, the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, spoke. He noted positively the exuberance and the confidence of the previous speakers, but also expressed the fear that it could lead to contentment. He spoke about the inner spiritual intent involved in the recitation of the Shema before retiring: that one should make an account of his deeds in the preceding day, focusing on how he can improve and enhance his conduct in the future.

To underscore his point, the Rebbe Rayatz told of a secret meeting held in Petersburg in the time of the Czar. At that time, new laws and regulations were being legislated against the Jewish people. His father, the Rebbe Rashab (the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe), together with other religious and communal leaders, met to formulate a plan to annul these decrees.

After the meeting, the Rebbe Rashab invited the participants for an informal get-together in his hotel room. He spoke about reciting the Shema before retiring and the introspective accounting that should accompany it. Not only was he speaking in theory, instead, he asked one of the communal leaders in attendance, a successful attorney whose practice centered on saving Jews from execution, what he thought about when reciting the Shema.

Trained in thinking on his feet, the attorney replied that he thought about how many Jewish lives he saved that day. The Rebbe Rashab responded that a better approach would be to think, not about how many Jews he had saved, but how many he could have saved. And the Rebbe continued, focusing on the details. “Take the number of hours — say three — that it took you to save one Jew, divide the day by them and ask yourself,” he told the lawyer, “am I using the day fully to accomplish my mission.”

The same approach, concluded the Rebbe Rayatz, should characterize the present meeting. Yes, the positive achievements should be celebrated, but they should whet the appetite for more and call attention to the greater mission that lies as of yet unfulfilled.

Passing the Baton to the Next Generation

As in other matters, the Rebbe Rayatz’s thirst to do more regardless of all factors, was continued by the Rebbe. In the early 1950’s, Rabbi Yitzchak Groner, the Rebbe’s shliach in Melbourne, Australia, wanted to give the Rebbe some satisfaction that his efforts were meeting with success. With that goal in mind, he had a wide-lens picture — at that time, a rather involved undertaking — taken of the 200+ girls enrolled in the Lubavitch school for girls and presented it to the Rebbe at their next meeting.

The Rebbe reacted with a quick smile and then turned business-like. Taken somewhat aback, Rabbi Groner asked the Rebbe if he was not happy with the picture.

“How many Jewish girls are there in Melbourne?”, the Rebbe asked. “Do you expect me to be happy when only about 200 are enrolled in your school?”

Nor was this approach reserved for the inner circle of his Lubavitch followers. Thus in the 1970’s, when after considerable effort, the leaders of New York’s Board of Jewish Education came to the Rebbe with the happy news that over half of the Jewish children in the Metropolitan area were receiving some form of Jewish education, the Rebbe answered simply: “And what about the other half?”

With infectious energy, the Rebbe would always ask for more. And those whose lives he touched were — and are — happy to give it, realizing that in doing so, they are connecting to a mission that is far larger than their individual selves.

To the Next Level

There are shluchim, Lubavitch emissaries, who are devoted 24/7 to spreading the Rebbe’s message. Nevertheless, the Rebbe would continually emphasize that every person is a shliach. The mission of spreading Jewish awareness and practice is not reserved for select professionals, but is the heritage of every Jewish man or woman. In that spirit was born the In Touch, a bi-weekly service that publicizes the Rebbe’s ideas. The In Touch began as a fax service, but to meet the challenge of continued innovation and expansion that the Rebbe calls for, we have recently upgraded to e-mail distribution.

The In Touch was built on the model of receiving so that one may give. Every recipient was asked — then to fax, now to forward the e-mail — to at least three friends and/or business associates. Over 15 years ago when we started, the approach of a Torah chain-letter was innovative. Now, it is commonplace. In the process, the In Touch family has grown — and is growing, continuing to bring the Rebbe’s ideas to ever-expanding audiences.

Keeping In Touch is a collection of the thoughts spread through these bi-weekly messages. If reading this book inspires you to want to become part of the In Touch family, send an e-mail to SichosInEnglish@gmail.com and we will happily include you on the list of recipients.

Maimonides writes that in the era of Mashiach, “The knowledge of G‑d will fill the world as the waters cover the ocean bed.” By continuing and advancing the ever-spreading flow of Jewish wisdom through all possible means, we can both anticipate and precipitate the advent of that future era. At the In Touch, weinvite you to join us in this mission.

Yossi Malamud
Editor of the In Touch

15 Elul, 5771

P.s. The mission of the In Touch was outlined in the Introduction and Publisher’s Foreword of previous volumes of Keeping In Touch. Because of their continued relevance, excerpts from them are reprinted here.