Following the passing of his mother, a grief-stricken Mr. Charles Samuel Ramat came to see the Rebbe. Baring his soul, he shared, “Rebbe, I’m having a crisis of faith. I really do not believe. I love Judaism; I love a lot of the rituals, but they are not really part of my life.”

“If I ask you to do one thing without any precondition,” the Rebbe asked, “will you promise me you’ll do it?”

“Yes. Anything you ask me, I promise I’ll do it.”

“Will you and your wife agree to light Shabbat candles every Friday night?” the Rebbe asked.

“Yes.”

From that point on the Ramat family never missed a week of lighting candles to welcome Shabbat. As a result, Friday night gradually became sacrosanct for the family as a whole. Baking challah, welcoming guests, and sharing a meal all took on a special air in the holy glow of the candles.

Notably, the Rebbe asked Mr. Ramat to add something to his life, to do something new. On the surface, lighting Shabbat candles is a single, seemingly simple mitzvah, but for the Ramats it was life-changing. This weekly practice of coming together as a family for something sacred added a whole new layer of depth and meaning to their lives, while also exponentially enhancing their appreciation and connection to Judaism.

According to Mr. Ramat, a child of Holocaust survivors, this one small request of the Rebbe’s “kept my family on a Jewish path throughout our lives, and my daughters have followed suit.”1

Instead of dwelling on the areas of Jewish practice that were lacking in their lives, the Rebbe simply asked the Ramat family to add more light to their life. And that made all the difference.

The story above is indicative of the Rebbe’s approach to influencing people in a positive manner. Whether in relation to Jewish identity or observance, or ideological differences and disagreements, the Rebbe consistently chose to add more light and introduce more love to a given situation rather than struggling with the darkness head-on.

Whereas the message of many other religious leaders to non-religious Jews was that they must curtail certain behaviors, the Rebbe’s approach was different. He sought to inspire people to introduce new sparks of holiness into their lives, believing firmly that light begets more light.

This interpersonal aspect of the Rebbe’s Positivity Bias often yielded surprising, exponential results.

If You Grasp a Part, You Grasp the Whole

In 1958, Mr. Jacques Lipchitz, a well-known and influential modern artist and sculptor, came to see the Rebbe.

During their meeting, recalls Lipchitz, “I told him everything about my doings, about my sins; I’m not kosher, I do not pray, I do not go to synagogue. I even told him about my sculptures that were standing in churches.”

The Rebbe listened to everything the artist said and then made two requests: First, he asked Lipchitz to put on tefillin and pray every morning. Second, he urged him to marry his current wife according to Jewish law.

When Lipchitz emerged from the Rebbe’s office, he was clearly deeply moved by their exchange.

Years later, Lipchitz related in an interview that “a few days later [the Rebbe] sent a man with tefillin. Since then, I daven [pray] every morning. It is of great help to me. He really did something for me by advising me to do that….”

When asked why he felt it was so important for him to pray and put on tefillin every day, he said, “It puts me together with my people. I am with them. And I am near to my L‑rd, to the Almighty. I speak with Him… He gives me strength for the day…. It did something very important for me. I could not live anymore without it.”2

Here we see a man who had drifted from traditional Jewish life warmly embraced by the Rebbe, whose only request was that he add more light to his morning—which in turn illuminated his whole life.

Don’t Debate, Dance!

Chaim Cohen grew up as a staunchly Orthodox Jew. For many years he was even a member of the religious advocacy organization Agudat Yisroel.

However, for reasons unknown he began to break away, until at some point he left religious Judaism altogether. After a long and successful career as a judge, Cohen was eventually appointed to Israel’s Supreme Court, where, much to the consternation of the Orthodox establishment, he consistently used his position to push his secularizing agenda.

In fact, it was during this time that Chaim Cohen became infamous throughout the religious world, as he signed into law the proposal that one did not need to be halachically Jewish in order to qualify for the Law of Return, which grants any Jew from around the world automatic citizenship.

This was an issue that caused the Rebbe much pain, and he felt compelled to take a harder-line public stance than he was usually wont to do. The ripples of this conflict reverberated throughout Israel and the wider religious Jewish world.

Therefore, when Chaim Cohen arrived at the Central Lubavitch Synagogue at 770 Eastern Parkway during the celebration of Simchat Torah in 5736 (1975), you can imagine the shock of those gathered when the Rebbe decided to honor him with the recitation of a verse of the Atah Hareita prayer, as well as with holding a Torah during the Hakafot.

Not only were many of those present likely to be uncomfortable with extending such an olive branch to a professed enemy of the religious community, but the rest of the Orthodox establishment would certainly look upon this gesture with harsh judgment.

Nevertheless, the Rebbe applied his signature Positivity Bias and chose to respond to a difficult situation with love, and the commitment to always add more light no matter how dark the situation may appear on the surface.

Indeed, when his personal aide nervously asked the Rebbe how to handle the sensitive situation, the Rebbe responded forcefully: “A Jew is here with a desire to reconnect, and you don’t want to give him a Torah scroll?!”

And so give him a Torah they did! Following which the Rebbe encouraged the dancing of Mr. Cohen and the thousands in attendance for 45 minutes straight, with his spirited clapping and constant encouragement. Throughout the entire time the Rebbe kept his eyes locked on Judge Cohen, who tightly held and ecstatically danced with the Torah.

Years later, one of the Chabad shluchim in Manhattan met a very close friend of Judge Cohen and invited him to meet the Rebbe. The friend stubbornly refused, saying: “Ever since Chaim Cohen attended that Simchat Torah with the Rebbe he changed many of his views and opinions. I [for one] am not yet ready to change my opinions. Now I am the one who has to suffer as a result of Chaim Cohen’s Simchat Torah spent with the Rebbe!”3

In addition to religious matters, the Rebbe also applied this positive approach to influencing people or organizations who held different and even diametrically opposed points of view. As we will see in the following stories, the Rebbe’s spiritually-based strategy to spread light, love, truth, and peace in the world simply did not leave any room for running away, shutting down, or writing off any adversary or opponent.

A Lighthouse Shows the Way

A Jewish executive who ran a South African ad agency accepted the African National Congress as a client to help them project a better public image. One day, while visiting the ANC headquarters, he walked out of an elevator and was shocked to see a large poster of Yasser Arafat on the wall. Disturbed and disillusioned to learn of the ANC’s affiliation with terrorists, his friends advised him to ask the Rebbe for guidance.

“Although I have strong liberal and anti-Apartheid leanings, I feel like I’m working for the wrong people,” he wrote. “Should I continue to work for them or not?”

“Don’t stop,” the Rebbe replied. “To the contrary, continue working with them, but make every effort to influence them for the good.”4

In a place of darkness, we must become a beacon of light. If all good people were to abandon every space of conflict or challenging conversation, there would be no counterbalance to the prevailing negativity and chaos would reign. Cutting off contact almost never achieves the desired transformation of the “other side.” Isolating and alienating forces of darkness creates more fuel for those destructive fires to burn. Confronting darkness and reflecting light is the only way to reveal the truth—not by argument, but by shining example.

The Way to Someone Else’s Heart is Through Your Own Heart

Throughout his career as a well-known, politically-active and outspoken lawyer, author, and Harvard professor, Alan Dershowitz had numerous occasions to discuss with the Rebbe various issues and cases concerning the Jewish community.

One such correspondence provides another example of the Rebbe’s Positivity Bias as applied to dealing with people with whom one disagrees. In Dershowitz’s own words:5

“[A number of] years ago, I had the chutzpah—in the worst sense of the word—to write an arrogant letter to the Lubavitcher Rebbe. I had read in the newspaper that the Lubavitch movement was honoring Jesse Helms as part of the annual ‘Education Day’ gala, and there was no man in America I despised more than Jesse Helms. As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he absolutely stood for everything that I was opposed to in those days, including being strongly anti-Israel.

“I wrote a letter saying, in essence, ‘How can you honor a man who stands for everything that is opposed to Jewish values in America?’ And I received a letter back from the Rebbe, a very respectful letter; a letter that I cherish for its content.

“He lectured me, but in the nicest way, telling me that you never, ever give up on anybody. Today Jesse Helms may be against Israel, but tomorrow, if we know how to approach him and speak to him, maybe he will turn out to be a champion of Israel.

“At the end of the letter, the Rebbe included a very significant P.S. in which he explained his approach to influencing others for the good.

“He wrote that people—but especially politicians, who often act out of expediency more than conviction—should be engaged in a positive way. [In] that way, we can try to influence them.

“And I have to tell you, I had my doubts about it, but as they say, the rest is history.

“Although I still disagree with Jesse Helms on many issues, when it comes to Israel, he has become our champion.

“I believe that he became a champion of Israel because the Lubavitcher Rebbe understood something that most of us didn’t understand: How to communicate with people of different backgrounds and cultures in a way that lets the light in.”

Don’t Argue, Inspire!

Jewish youth in a certain community were being targeted aggressively by missionaries. A concerned community activist asked the Rebbe, “How should we approach the young Jews who have become involved with Christianity?”

The Rebbe responded, “Don’t argue with them about the claims of Christianity. Offer them something new to think about. Inspire them with the beauty and joy of Judaism that they have not yet had a chance to experience.”6

Don’t delegitimize. Open their eyes.

A Candle of Truth

On September 24, 2009, one day after Gaddafi and Ahmadinejad held court at the UN advocating hatred and lies about Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the UN and opened with a personal story from the podium.

In 1984, Netanyahu, then serving as Israel’s ambassador to the UN, was asked to meet with the Rebbe in Brooklyn. He came to 770 for the holiday of Simchat Torah, a night of spirited singing and dancing with the Torah. Thousands were gathered, waiting for the festivities to begin. As the Rebbe entered and took his place at the head of the gathering, Netanyahu was pushed to approach him. While the throngs of Chasidim waited impatiently, the Rebbe spoke candidly with Netanyahu about various matters and pressing concerns relating to Israel and the international community.

“The Rebbe told me, ‘You are going to a house of lies. Remember that in a hall of perfect darkness, if you light one small candle, its light will be seen from afar, by everyone. Your mission is to light a candle for truth and the Jewish People.’ This is what I have tried to do ever since. This is what we are all asked to do.”7

According to the Rebbe, we are here to light a candle of truth, every day and in every way.

Pray for Your Enemies to Change

It goes without saying that the Rebbe took matters of Israeli national security extremely seriously, meeting regularly with Israeli officials at the highest levels to address and solve security issues.

Additionally, the Rebbe was not against war when it was necessary for survival and protection. However, the Rebbe never condoned outright hatred of the other, even an enemy.

Based on his Positivity Bias, the Rebbe believed that there was always a good point within each and every person that, if connected to and supported, could illuminate even the darkest personalities and their perspectives.

In the midst of the bitter Lebanon War, which took place in the early 1980s, the Rebbe made a shocking statement to the effect of: You do not have to pray that the fighters and members of the PLO should die, pray instead that they should have a change of heart.

This radical approach to combative antagonists is a powerful, even challenging, expression of the Rebbe’s strategy of “fighting” darkness—not by stamping it out of existence, but by working to transform it into light; in this case, transforming sworn enemies into supportive allies.

This idea is actually rooted in ancient Jewish tradition.

The Talmud8 relates the story of R. Meir and his brilliant wife Beruriah: “There were certain lawless men in R. Meir’s vicinity who used to cause him constant suffering. In response he prayed that they should die. On hearing his prayer, Beruriah pointed out to her husband that undoubtedly his prayer was justified on the basis of the verse: Let sins cease.9 But, Beruriah argued, the verse does not say that sinners should cease; rather, it says Let sins cease. Furthermore, she argued, the verse goes on to say, and let the wicked be no more. Meaning that when sins have ceased from the world, there will no longer be any wicked men. Based on this, Beruriah suggested to her husband, he should pray that the sinners repent and then they will no longer be wicked.” The story concludes by stating that R. Meir acted on Beruriah’s advice and the lawless men did in fact repent.

The Rebbe elaborated:10

Yes, there are violent people and terrorists in the world. But there is nothing that says the only way to deal with them is through taking their lives. Even when we speak of “the enemy and the avenger,” our actions must be “to stop the enemy and the avenger.” Meaning, to stop and to annul the fact that he is an enemy and avenger. In the language of the Talmud, “The sins should cease—not the sinners themselves.” To the point that they will become our friends and assist us.

Each of the stories above demonstrates a consistent thread running through the Rebbe’s advice and interactions when confronted with adversarial people and perspectives.

If a person calls upon their own dark forces to combat the darkness of others, even if they win, they still remain in the dark. Abolishing negativity without introducing any positive alternative just creates a vacuum likely to be filled with even more ignorance and animosity.

Indeed, “A little bit of light dispels much darkness.”

Only through the introduction of light does darkness lose its dominion and a new day is able to shine. Put differently: The way to fight evil is through the process of illumination, not elimination.