There are times when situations are difficult for us to understand. I am not speaking about complex abstractions, but rather real life situations, ones that we as contemporary Americans cannot possibly fathom.

For example, the 12th day of Tammuz, the anniversary of the release of the Rebbe Rayatz, the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, from prison and exile in Stalinist Russia. Only a miracle had saved the Rebbe from facing a firing squad. For what crime? For organizing a network of schools to teach Torah to Jewish children and encouraging parents to send their children there.

Not only did he confront danger himself, he encouraged others to do so. Unfortunately, not all of them were miraculously saved. Can you imagine how the Rebbe must have felt when after he sent a teacher to a community, that teacher was caught by the KGB and sent to Siberia (or worse), and the next day, he had to send another teacher who could face the same fate?

At present, we are not being asked for such demonstrations of faith and self-sacrifice. Indeed, having grown up in an environment of freedom and security, there is no way we can truly comprehend what happened then and to fathom that people once were challenged in such a trying manner. Why then do we tell these stories? So that when we are asked to confront the trials that we do face — for example, strictly adhering to the dietary laws, increasing our study of the Torah, or the like — we summon up the inner strength to rise to the challenge.

Why was the Rebbe Rayatz imprisoned? For spreading Torah and mitzvos and educating Jewish children. He and thousands of others risked — and in many cases, gave — their lives for these purposes. Their example poses a simple question to each one of us: Today, when the external challenges to Jewish life are nowhere near as great, are we exerting similar energies? Are we applying ourselves to these objectives with similar intensity?