“In my capacity as Prime Minister, everyone I met wanted something of me. The Rebbe gave to me.”

—Menachem Begin, Prime Minister of Israel

It is a cardinal principle of Judaism that a Jew must be prepared for mesiras nefesh, to sacrifice everything for the sake of his Jewishness.

The Rebbe taught, however,A Jew must be prepared to sacrifice everything that in a deeper sense the ultimate mesiras nefesh is not just readiness to give up one’s life for the sake of G‑d. True self-sacrifice means to adopt a mindset and feeling of complete selflessness: to recognize one’s entire existence as being solely for the purpose that G‑d’s will be fulfilled

From this perspective, there is no difference between what appears to be a more prestigious role in the service of G‑d and a menial, seemingly lesser, function – they both bring about the fulfillment of G‑d’s desire. The Rebbe quoted the adage of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, “If we were commanded to chop wood that, too, would be our holy obligation and Divine service.”

For the Rebbe, this was a way of life – one he shared with us as well. He emphasized that when we study Torah and perform mitzvos, we need to bear in mind that we do so in order to fulfill the Almighty’s will – to make this world a suitable abode for G‑d. We are but conduits for G‑d’s will to be fulfilled.

Despite the loftiness of this idea, the Rebbe – by personal example – inspired and empowered his Shluchim (emissaries) and so many others to transcend their own selves through cultivating genuine disregard for material or even spiritual self-benefit.

In a rare letter written in 1949, the Rebbe writes: “I must emphasize that despite the aforementioned [urging you to be active in communal affairs], it remains now, just as it was when we met in person, that I myself take no pleasure in being involved with communal affairs….”

Abraham's Self-Sacrifice

Out of his boundless love for G‑d, Rabbi Akiva waited all his life for the opportunity to forfeit his life in order to sanctify G‑d’s name. He expressed joy as the Romans ruthlessly tortured him to death.

By contrast, Abraham did not seek to express his love for G‑d by sacrificing his life. Abraham’s goal was that G‑d’s will should be fulfilled. He did not seek martyrdom. If it would require self-sacrifice to serve G‑d’s will, so be it. But he did not actively seek martyrdom.

– Bosi L’gani 5711 (1950), the Rebbe’s first discourse

True Selflessness

“…The true servant of G‑d is so anxious to fulfill his mission every day and every minute that he is oblivious to the spiritual state of his mind and heart, and certainly to the subconscious of his soul. So when you ask him, ‘What is the spiritual condition that you desire?’ he cries out bitterly, ‘What desire? What delight? What love? What awe? I have been given a certain amount of days and I must stand guard that not one moment should go wasted ... how can I stop and think about my own spiritual achievements?’ He is so anxious about and immersed in fulfilling his mission that he does not think at all about his own spiritual status….”

– Lo Sihiyeh Mishakela 5712 (1952) a discourse by the Rebbe


Throughout the years of his leadership, the Rebbe demonstrated total disregard for his own physical and spiritual needs. As time went on he displayed increasingly greater levels of utter self-sacrifice.

Neither colds, chronicThe Rebbe demonstrated total disregard for his own physical and spiritual needs coughing, nor a massive heart attack in 1977 could preempt the Rebbe’s activity of farbrengens (marathon Chasidic gatherings), correspondence, and receiving visitors.

Rather than withdrawing as he advan­ced in age, the Rebbe initiated and undertook activities that were ever more physically and emotionally challenging.

In 1981, the Rebbe launched the Jewish children’s organization, Tzivos Hashem, and initiated numerous children’s programs. He personally edited some parts of the new organization’s magazine, and often spoke to the children, and attended their rallies and parades.

In 1986, the Rebbe began “giving dollars” – allocating precious time to tend to all types of people, in a simple and basic way. At least once a week, he would stand for hours on end, as thousands of men, women and children of all backgrounds filed past him to receive a blessing and a dollar to give to charity. Many of the visitors would seek his advice, on myriad issues, and the Rebbe would give each one his full attention.