“The Lubavitcher Rebbe undertook the most daring spiritual initiative ever… to search out every Jew in love as they were once hunted down in hate….”

—Dr. Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the UK

The Rebbe’s boundless love for all Jews was legendary. He would go to extraordinary lengths to help any Jew, spiritually or materially, regardless of location or spiritual status.

The pain of any Jew was his pain. The joy of a Jew was his joy.

InA Jew is a Jew, period his love for all Jews, the Rebbe did not distinguish between Chasidim and non-Chasidim, observant or non-observant. There were no labels. A Jew is a Jew, period. A “piece” of G‑d, placed in a body and planted in this world.

Scholar or layperson, college student or Chasid, happy or dejected, wealthy or destitute – all were welcome. All belonged. All were embraced.

The Rebbe’s smile would heal the aching heart. The Rebbe was always there, offering counsel and blessing, comfort and hope, and often material help
as well.

The Rebbe taught – through word and deed – that love for one’s fellow is not based on surface considerations like the other person’s social status, or even his personal piety. Such love is merely an appreciation of that specific quality and is thus limited and proportionate to its cause. Instead the Rebbe taught that Ahavas Yisrael is love for the Jew’s “essence,” the spark of G‑d that is equally present in every one of us. Only such love is truly unconditional.

It is this unconditional love that enables a person to reach past layers of personal shortcomings and quirks to tap into the core of another person.

And it is this personal love for every Jew that is conceivably at the core of the Rebbe’s intense desire to share with each and every Jew their inheritance and essence – affording them the study of Torah and offering them the means to experience a Jewish way of life.

No Small Jew

The only Jewish kid in his class, a seventh grader on the Caribbean island of Curaçao developed serious problems in school because of his minority religious status. Without prompting, the Rebbe surprised the tiny Jewish community of Curaçao by sending a pair of emissaries who helped out the family in their distress.

Deeply grateful, the boy’s father sent the Rebbe an emotional letter, thanking him for coming to the assistance of “a small Jew in Curaçao.”

The Rebbe replied:

“There is no such thing as ‘a small Jew’… a Jew must never underestimate his or her tremendous potential...”

Protesting a Slight to a Jew

“After the very long interval, I was pleased to receive your letter of June 17th, in which you write about your wedding…

“You write about meeting a Jew in the course of your travels who comes to the synagogue to help make up a minyan, yet at the same time reads the newspaper.

Everyone, of course, reacts to an experience in the way that is closest to him. Thus, for my part, I make the following two extreme observations. First, I see in it the extreme Jewish attachment which one finds in every Jew. For here is a person who has wandered off toThere is no such thing as a small Jew a remote part of the world, and has become so far removed, not only geographically, but also mentally and intellectually, as to have no concept of what prayer is or what a House of G‑d is, etc., yet one finds in him that Jewish spark, or as the Alter Rebbe, the founder of Chabad, expressed it in his Tanya – ‘The Divine soul which is truly a part of G‑d.’ This Divine soul, which is an inheritance of every Jew, seeks expression as best it can, and in the case of this particular Jew, it seeks expression in at least enabling other Jews to pray as a congregation; and he, therefore, goes out of his way to help them and at the same time be counted with them.

“My other observation, following from the above, is as follows: If, where the odds are so great against Jewish observance, a Jew can remain active and conscious of his Jewishness, it can easily be seen what great things could have been accomplished with this particular Jew if at the right time he would have received a proper education early in his life, or at least the proper spiritual guidance in his adult life. This consideration surely emphasizes the mutual responsibility which rests upon all Jews, and particularly on those who can help others …

“We must never despair of any Jew, and at the same time we must do all we can to take the fullest advantage of our capacities and abilities to strengthen the Jewish consciousness among all Jews with whom we come in contact. For one can never tell how far-reaching such influence can be….”

Like a Bee

As a bee finds sweetness in every flower, the Rebbe unearthed the idea of Ahavas Yisrael in every subject of the Torah. Two examples:

  1. The ritual of the Red Heifer contains a paradoxical law: the kohen (priest) who prepares the material for the purification of the impure individual becomes impure himself. The lesson here, says the Rebbe, is that sometimes one must be willing to sacrifice one’s own spiritual status in order to help cleanse another.
  2. The last verse of the Torah itemizes Moses’ praises. Surprisingly, the final praise, the very concluding words of the Torah, alludes to Moses’ breaking the tablets at Mount Sinai – seemingly a very negative act!

The Rebbe explains that for all of Moses’ qualities, this one was, in fact, his greatest.

Moses was the embodiment of Torah – it was his very being. Yet he was willing to break the Tablets – the “document” which was evidence of the covenant between G‑d and His people — to save those who had violated it by worshipping a golden calf. By breaking the Tablets – which were his very essence – Moses demonstrated unconditional love and a willingness to sacrifice himself, even for the idol worshippers among the Jewish People.

For the Rebbe, Ahavas Yisrael is
at the very core of the Torah itself. Thus, at every turn, every chapter, every word and every letter of the Torah bespeaks this underlying and all-pervasive truth.

The Man From Auschwitz

As the three of us were waiting for a cab at 1:00 AM, on Seventh Avenue in Manhattan, one finally pulled over and the cab driver said, “Where to, ladies?”

While we were driving, the driver, a man with a heavy accent, asked us, “Are you Jewish?” Reluctantly, we responded, “Yes.”

It was then that I noticed the name on his ID card: William Guttman.

Who was William Guttman, leisurely driving a cab through Manhattan on the night shift? Finally I asked him, as he had asked us, “Are you Jewish?”

“With a name like Guttman, what do you think?” The notion that we could have mistaken him for anything but a Jew seemed to stir up in him a distilled pride. “Where are you from?” I asked, figuring Russia, or perhaps Morocco.

“Auschwitz.”

William Guttman was a survivor.

“My parents lived in Budapest. I was four years old when they took us. My mother worked in the Frau Lager (women’s concentration camp), and then they put her in the gas chamber. My father died in the labor camp. I never really knew my parents. I don’t even know if I have brothers or sisters.”

“This is who I am,” he continuedHow does a Jew who survived Auschwitz think that he has mazel? in a matter-of-fact manner. “I went to an orphanage after the war, and the Red Cross brought me to America. I had no family when I came. I married an Israeli woman, but we were not religious. I don’t wear a yarmulke, and I work seven days a week to help my son become a doctor. He finishes medical school in two months.”

“You must be so proud of him.”

“Yes. I’m not religious. But I have a lot of mazel (luck).”

I wondered, how does a Jew who survived Auschwitz think that he has mazel? He then asked us, “Are your parents Chasidim?”

The Chasidim of our families got lost somewhere between the shtetl and suburbia a long, long time ago. But, we told William Guttman that we were Lubavitchers.

We asked him if he had heard of Lubavitch.

“Lubavitch, I know it well. I have a mazel’dike dollar from the Rebbe. He’s the best Rebbe in the whole world. I went to him, he gave me a dollar and told me that I’ll have mazel and my son will have hatzlocha (success). Everything since then is good. Everything for me since I spoke to the Rebbe is good. I wouldn’t give away my dollar, even if it was the last dollar I owned.”

There was a deep sincerity, a power of conviction, in the broken English that he stammered.

“The Rebbe spoke to me in Hungarian,” he claimed. “He was from Hungary, did you know?”

I was going to correct him and then thought better of it. The Rebbe was from Hungary to a Hungarian Jew. And from Brazil. And from Hong Kong. And from wherever the Jew whose eyes he looked into was from.

And again he repeated, “I’m not religious. And my wife is not religious,” he continued. “But when the Rebbe was in the hospital, she called there every day to see how he was doing. When he passed away, we cried for three days.”

“He is like a father to us….”