The far-reaching social programs of the Lubavitcher Rebbe need no introduction. He has established a worldwide network of thousands of Jewish institutions, addressing the entire range of Jewish activities from cradle to old age, in thousands of towns throughout the world. What is less well known is that it is the Dirah Betachtonim theological system that provides the conceptual framework within which the Rebbe has seen his endeavors, and within which he has related their significance to his followers, and in which, in turn, they see their role and are motivated to act upon his directives. As they see it, the Rebbe’s followers are involved in a cosmic project, in the realization of Dirah Betachtonim.

The Rebbe pleads with anyone who will listen, to go out of his own corner and seek out Jews wherever they might be, even in the most remote corners of the world, to impress upon them the message of Judaism.

Now, in the past, the pervasive sentiment in religious circles was that to the extent possible one ought to remain within the confines of one’s shul, house of learning, and community. Here one is safe as a Jew. Here one is away from the turbulence of the alien world that can be distracting to the committed Jew. Here one can safely devote oneself to one’s Maker.

But in the eyes of Dirah Betachtonim all of this is misplaced. Firstly, the outside world is not viewed as a religious threat; to the contrary, precisely the world outside is the most fertile ground for spiritual activity. The more indifferent it is, the more G‑d forsaken (though of course not the more evil)—the greater the potential for Dirah Betachtonim. Metaphysically, not a greater absence of Divinity, but a greater purity of the Divine Essence, is to be found there. Nor are the shul and house of learning particular havens for spirituality. They are Divine solely in character, in quality—manifestations, not essence. Their primary value in the broader scheme of things is, in fact, as regrouping grounds, spiritual feeding and fueling stations, as it were, for a return to where the action really lies.

When the great Flood was about to begin, G‑d commanded Noah “Come in . . . to the ark!1” The Hebrew word for ark, tevah, can also be translated as word. The Ba’al Shem Tov, the founder of Chasidism, commented2: In order to avoid the turbulent “floodwaters” of life and society that threaten Jewish life, a Jew should heed G‑d’s command to Noah: he should enter into the word—absorb and engross himself in words of Torah and prayer. Now, later in the episode after the Flood had ended, we read that G‑d told Noah, “Go out of the tevah!”3 It is in fact specifically this command in its figurative sense that has been noted and particularly stressed by the Rebbe: Go out of the confines of the shul and house of learning and confront reality outside, and convert it into a dwelling place for G‑d.

On occasion, the Rebbe declared: “...go out!” To the uninitiated this seemed almost sacrilegious: Can one advocate leaving the arena of spiritual endeavor and going out to a spiritually adverse world? The considerate uninitiated might rationalize that this is a necessary evil, as it were, a call of the hour. The great upheavals of our times—philosophical, technological, social, the Holocaust—have left the future of Jewish life hanging precariously in the balance. Jews have scattered far and wide, and all too many have hardly the ability, or for that matter the interest, to establish those institutions which have guaranteed our continuity to this day. It is an et la’asot Lashem, a time demanding emergency measures! Emissaries must be sent out to reach geographically and spiritually remote Jews if Judaism is to survive. And in retrospect, after several decades of the Rebbe’s spiritual leadership, it can indeed be seen that countless Jewish institutions have been established thanks to precisely such endeavors; numerous towns and cities which would have fallen into total oblivion to the Jewish world now boast vibrant Jewish life.

This, in fact, was the way the Rebbe’s social programs were viewed by many, who naturally respected the Rebbe’s work but had not yet caught up with the conceptual shift of emphasis of the Rebbe’s profound Torah weltanschauung. For though the above portrayal of the Rebbe’s call is valid on a certain level, it becomes clear in light of all we have seen in this book, that from within the Rebbe’s own conceptual framework, reaching out is not just et la’asot Lashem but rather the zenith of man’s spiritual endeavor—the reaching towards Essence.

In this system, the traditional Chabad-Chasidic motto pnimiyut!, “inwardness!” is complemented by the pervasive motto Ufaratsta! “Spread out!” For ultimately of what value is inwardness? In the interior of one’s own spiritual person, whilst in the warm environment of shul or house of learning, one might cultivate great spiritual heights; one might meditate, pray, illuminate one’s soul with the splendor of G‑d. But all of this, as we now know, is merely splendor, not essence. Essence is to be sought specifically beyond man’s spiritual self, specifically at the furthest reaches.

Thus, as the Rebbe portrays it, the more geographically removed from religious centers, the more spiritually alienated a person may be—reaching him represents a greater height in Divine worship, more Dirah Betachtonim. Though what is involved is not deep Torah study, nor fervent prayer—as could have been the case inside the “ark”—nay, precisely because it is merely the performance of a physical mitzvah, such as binding leather hide to the arm4 — herein lies man’s greatest spiritual endeavor, the acme of his communion with G‑d.

And it is inspired by this encompassing goal that thousands of young men and women have left the “ark,” traveled far and wide, away from the spiritual centers of Judaism, enduring material and spiritual hardship—to make numerous dark indifferent corners of the world a Dirah Betachtonim. Thus, leading up to the ultimate global realization of Dirah Betachtonim at the end of time.