Taking his cue from Moses, the ultimate Jewish leader, the Rebbe also taught that it was the responsibility of Jewish leaders to maintain calm in the face of calamity.

When the new Jewish nation was advancing toward the Promised Land, Balak, king of Moab, heard about the approach of the Jewish army and began to panic and sow seeds of fear among his people:

Moab was very frightened of the [Jewish] people…so frightened that they “were disgusted with their own lives!” …Moab said to the elders of Midian: “Now the [Jewish] congregation will chew up our entire surroundings, as an ox chews up the greenery of the field!”1

Moses had faced a similar fear not long before this when he had to do battle with Og, king of Bashan: “Moses was afraid to wage war lest the merit of Abraham stand on Og’s behalf.”2 And yet, the Rebbe points out3 that although Moses was also afraid, his response was radically different. He assumed an air of tranquility and confidence, which spread throughout his people and helped them win the war.

In the winter of 1955, Yisroel Aryeh Dobruskin made his way from the yeshiva in Lod, Israel, to the vocational school in the village of Kfar Chabad, where he served as spiritual mentor. Tragically, he never arrived at his destination. A few days later, his body was found in a nearby orchard. He had been brutally murdered by Arab terrorists, who were lying in wait in the orchard.

Immediately upon hearing of the tragedy, the Rebbe sent a letter to Mr. Zalman Shazar (who would later become Israel’s third president), expressing his concern about the emotional and psychological impact the terrorist attack would likely have on local residents of Kfar Chabad. In the letter, he urged Shazar to take action that would calm the rampant fears and feelings of insecurity:

I just received the shocking news that one of our finest yeshiva students [studying] in our yeshiva in Lod was found murdered in the orchard near the library, may G‑d avenge his blood….

What urged me to write to you so soon is my concern about the profound and traumatic impact this tragic event will leave on the residents of the neighboring village of Kfar Chabad…and the negative consequences that might ensue as a result.

It is imperative that everything possible be done to bring a spirit of calm and security to the residents, which can be achieved through the involvement and efforts of the local agencies….

It seems to me that one of the ways to create a sense of stability and security would be to expand the number of residents living in the Kfar….

I would like to emphasize again that, in my opinion, if the residents of the Kfar would receive information that [governmental] efforts have begun to expand the population of the Kfar, a measure of calm, if only a small measure, will help to still their turbulent, fearful emotions.4

A year and a half later, the Rebbe acted on his own advice. Shortly after a terrorist attack on a school in Kfar Chabad (see chapters 12 and 14) that took the lives of five of its students, the Rebbe announced his intention to send a delegation “to show solidarity not just in pocket5 but in body.”6 Within the month, a group of rabbinical students were chosen for the mission, and they left within days of their appointment.

Nowhere was the Rebbe’s commitment to defusing frightening situations and spreading calm more evident than in his consistent message to Israeli citizens and world Jewry during the many tense periods when they faced grave danger. He was often the lone voice of calm and reassurance during periods of heightened panic and among a cacophony of frantic voices predicting doom.7

An example: On May 22, 1967, Egypt’s president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, declared the Straits of Tiran closed to all Israeli ships and to any foreign ships carrying strategic materials to the Jewish state in violation of international agreements, an act that constituted legal grounds to declare war. In the face of the growing fear that spread throughout Israel, the Rebbe sent an encouraging telegram the following day to the Chabad community in Israel, saying: “You have merited to be among thousands of Jews in the Holy Land, the land which G‑d’s eyes are constantly watching (Deuteronomy 11:12). Certainly the Lord of Israel will not slumber nor sleep…I am anticipating hearing good news quickly.”8

Over the coming weeks, the Rebbe wrote many such letters and made many public pronouncements to the same effect.

The uniqueness of the Rebbe’s message of reassurance during that terrifying period can be gleaned from the fact that it was featured in many of the major Israeli newspapers under the title, “Lubavitcher Rebbe Sends Letter of Encouragement.”9

Over the next few weeks, the rhetoric emanating out of the Arab world grew especially fierce, with Nasser proclaiming on May 27, “Our basic objective will be the destruction of Israel.”

Jews around the world were beginning to despair with each passing day and its accompanying bad news. More Arab governments were broadcasting their readiness to join in the war.

In a country in which a large portion of the population was comprised of survivors of the Holocaust, many felt that another Holocaust might be imminent. Rabbinic authorities, anticipating the possibility of horrific losses, prepared for the prospect of turning parks into giant cemeteries that could hold twenty-five thousand bodies or more.

Many foreign-born Jews used their non-Israeli passports to leave Israel for safer dwellings elsewhere. The Rebbe instructed his followers not to so. Throughout the terrifying three weeks that preceded the war, the Rebbe proclaimed again and again that Israel would emerge from the upcoming conflict with a great victory.

Perhaps the most significant speech of encouragement was the one the Rebbe delivered on May 28 at the 1967 Lag B’Omer parade in Crown Heights, just a week before the Six-Day War began.

Addressing more than twenty thousand people, the Rebbe spoke forcefully and passionately about the expected conflict in Israel. Without hesitation, he predicted yet again: “G‑d is guarding Israel and…the people of Israel will emerge from the current situation with remarkable success.”10

In Israel, a taped version of the Rebbe’s speech was broadcast on national radio, with simultaneous translation from Yiddish to Hebrew. One major newspaper headline quoted the Rebbe’s address, reading, “G‑d is already protecting the Holy Land, and salvation is near.” The news article spoke of the Rebbe’s displeasure with the overwrought atmosphere engulfing much of the country: “I am displeased with the exaggerations being disseminated and the panicking of the citizens in Israel.”11

Within two weeks, the Rebbe’s optimistic prediction of salvation came true, with Israel miraculously vanquishing its enemies in just six days! A country that had faced destruction had become universally recognized as the greatest military power in the Middle East.

In 1971, Rabbi Mordechai Piron succeeded Rabbi Shlomo Goren as chief rabbi of the IDF—a position he would hold two years later during the Yom Kippur War, when he had the dubious distinction of informing families that their loved ones had fallen and overseeing the burial of the many casualties. Reflecting on that dreadful loss of life, Piron has said he has never been fully joyful since then.

During the war, he recalled, “I kept a constant phone connection with the Rebbe through his secretariat. The Rebbe would encourage me. More than once I would receive a midnight call from the Rebbe telling us to be happy, as joy sweetens the most severe decrees. Given the terrible morale in the army—especially in the high command—the Rebbe’s words lightened our load…it gave me the feeling of someone placing his hand on my shoulders whispering, ‘Move on, don’t fall apart.’”12

The message about a leader’s responsibility to maintain tranquility applies to parents as well.

There was once a young girl from a very poor family who was having terrifying dreams. Her parents consulted a rabbi about this problem. He said: “The Sages say that we dream at night what we think about during the day. Ask your daughter what she is afraid of.”

When they asked her, she replied: “I often see how you both sit and worry over the poverty we live in. Of everything, I am most afraid of your fear.”13