In addition to being an example of a leader who took responsibility for his community and prompted other leaders to do the same, the Rebbe, by word and example, urged anyone in a position of influence to promote and inspire added mitzvah observance in the face of tragedy. In particular, when it came to catastrophes where individual safety and national security were compromised, the Rebbe promoted the observance of those mitzvot that possess special protective properties, like mezuzah and tefillin.

Just before the outbreak of the Six-Day War in 1967, when the people of Israel seemed in great peril in face of the murderous intentions and rhetoric of its hostile neighbors, the Rebbe initiated his famed “tefillin campaign.” Noting that the Sages of the Talmud attributed to tefillin the quality of protecting the people of Israel from their enemies,1 the Rebbe instructed his followers to make every effort to get as many Jews to fulfill this mitzvah. As a result of this campaign, hundreds of thousands of Jews donned tefillin, many for the first time in their lives.

In the months leading to the outbreak of the Yom Kippur war in 1974, the Rebbe urged that gatherings be arranged where Jewish children would recite words of Torah and pray, citing the verse from the book of Psalms that attributes the power to “annihilate the enemy and avenger” to the sacred word issuing from the mouths of children.2 During the war itself, the Rebbe urged Rabbi Piron to ensure that all army bases had kosher mezuzahs. Rabbi Piron issued an order that Chabad Chasidim were to be given full access to all installations, where they brought tefillin, words of faith, and messages of encouragement from the Rebbe.

In another example, in 1981, months before the Lebanon War, the Rebbe requested that a Torah scroll be written specifically for members of the IDF and their families. When the war actually broke out, the Rebbe conveyed to the Lubavitcher rabbis in Israel that they extend every effort to ensure that the Torah be completed as soon as possible. The Rebbe later commented that the expedited completion of the Torah scroll had a direct correlation to the safety and security of the soldiers who had fought in the war.3

Following the successful hostage-rescue mission undertaken by the IDF in July of 1976, after a plane carrying many Israeli passengers was hijacked and diverted to the Entebbe airport in Uganda, the Rebbe wrote the following pastoral letter to his followers around the world:

In view of the recent events—the hijacking and saving of the hostages held in Uganda and the subsequent attempt of the terrorists to perpetrate a vicious reprisal, G‑d forbid, in Kushta (Istanbul)….

It should be understood that these events are an indication that Jews must, at the earliest possible opportunity, strengthen all aspects of their security and defenses—first and foremost in their spiritual life, which is the channel to receive G‑d’s blessings as well in the physical aspect…to be protected and secured from enemies and spared any undesirable happenings, G‑d forbid….

The present situation calls for the protection of every Jewish home…G‑d has given our people a special gift wherewith to protect the home, namely, the mitzvah of mezuzah. Our Sages declare explicitly that “the home is protected by it (the mezuzah).”4

On May 15, 1974, three armed Palestinian terrorists entered Israel from Lebanon and attacked a van, killing two Israeli Arab women. They then entered an apartment building in the town of Ma’alot, where they killed a couple and their four-year-old son. From there, they headed for the Netiv Meir elementary school, where they took more than 115 people (105 of them children) hostage. The hostage-takers soon issued demands for the release of twenty-three Palestinian militants from Israeli prisons. On the second day of the standoff, a unit of the Golani Brigades stormed the building. During the takeover, the hostage-takers killed some of the children with grenades and automatic weapons. Ultimately, twenty-five hostages, including twenty-two children, were killed, and sixty-eight more were injured.

After a period of intense mourning, the Rebbe issued a call for action. He urged Jewish leaders to join a worldwide mezuzah campaign, aimed at securing every Jewish home with an extra measure of protection. The Rebbe clarified that:

This is not to say, heaven forbid, that a mezuzah-less home or an unkosher mezuzah is a cause of harm. Heaven forbid saying such a thing! However, like a helmet at war, a mezuzah adds protection to the “bullets” of life. If someone who wasn’t wearing a helmet was hit by a bullet, G‑d forbid, it’s the bullet, not the lack of helmet that harmed him. It’s just that were he wearing the helmet, catastrophe could have been averted.5