Free translation from a talk of the Rebbe, 10th of Shevat 5735 (1975). For the audio recording in the original Yiddish click here, (excerpt)

The individual mandate of social responsibility

It is expected of human beings to be socially responsible – not to think only of oneself, but to also deal with those around him. As Maimonides writes, "one should be aware of the power of a Mitzvah, to tilt the scale for the whole world and bring deliverance and redemption for everyone." Nor should one be content with a single Mitzvah.

G‑d provided man with years and talent, and "G‑d did not create anything in vain." He did not grant them to, G‑d forbid, remain unused, rather he intended that every moment of life, every opportunity be used to maximum benefit in our mission to increase peace in the world, beginning with Torah and Mitzvos and literally, with actual peace. We may not, therefore, be content with a single Mitzvah, G‑d forbid, but we must exploit every opportunity.

Everything in the created world is comprised of the specific and the general, just as Torah is comprised of generalities and specifics. Because "Torah is the blueprint for creation," the structure of society is rooted in the structure of Torah. There must be the general pursuit of justice and decency, and for Jews, spreading Yiddishkeit, beginning with oneself and one's immediate environment.

The Talmud tells us: "G‑d created the world for man to perfect". It is assumed that the task of completing G‑d's creation – the part He left for man to do – demands that, as the Talmud quotes, "man was born to toil." This task cannot be done half-heartedly. One must toil, and then he will succeed.

The task demands effort. To toil at making the world better means more than just resisting the undesirable ways of the world. Each person must be the one to change the negative behavior, making it better, nicer, higher and holier. As our Sages tell us, "if we toil in this task, it will bring success" – our efforts will bear fruit.

Concerning this mandate – to perfect the world – Turnus-Rufus asked Rabbi Akiva, the senior sage of the Talmud, "How can a human be so bold to change the world which was created by G‑d?"

The answer is that the world is, in fact, "G‑d's garden of delight," as quoted in the Maamar Basi L'Gani, but G‑d wants the Jew to take part in creation by "working and guarding" His garden. He wants us to complete what He intentionally left undone – "the north side of the world is not finished." We must develop and transform everything in the world that still lacks perfection and completion.

In light of the above, we can appreciate the need to toil – it is not sufficient to remain unaffected by bad influences, we must overcome the obstacles, transforming "darkness into light and bitterness into sweetness". We must take those elements in life that, at first, appear to be impediments and transform them that they themselves should be light and sweet and should even assist in illuminating the world.

Sovereignty and the prerequisites of leadership

To succeed in this, one must be above the worldly distractions of the physical and mundane. Then we will fulfill the mission to "fill the earth and conquer it," the mandate given to Adam to be transmitted to all his descendants – all mankind – that they should "conquer" the world. To conquer the world implies royalty; sovereignty, because true "conquering" is done by a king.

In other words, each human being is expected to become the "king," the master, of their domain, their home; to disregard any obstacle and make their home a dwelling for Him "I will dwell among them – within each and every one."

Those who, by Divine Providence, have an influence, not just on those close to them, but even over a whole city, would then become "masters" of the entire city. Those who can influence a whole nation, have the responsibility to influence and master the nation. Then there are individuals – one or two in every generation – who stand apart from the rest of the world. They are therefore able to illuminate the entire world.

So it is in the structure of government: To better effect their goals, people gather together, and unite as a club or an organization to represent a specific neighborhood. An individual is appointed to lead the group. The same occurs for an entire city, an entire party and then for the entire country.

Now, here is the true challenge: At first, a person is master only over himself, of his own domain. No one is born a leader or a king over others. This is achieved later in life. From the age of Bar Mitzvah, we are expected to rule over our "little city" – the microcosm. Not to be guided by the "foolish old king," the evil inclination, but to be the master and ruler of the body turning darkness into light; bitter into sweet.

When this same person becomes the "master," the leader, of his family, he or she is faced with the challenge to no longer fight for what is best for himself, at the expense of his family. Although he is accustomed to caring for himself, he must realize that he now has a greater responsibility. The majority, the family, comes before the individual –"the majority rules."

Consequently, should there be a conflict of interest, he must surrender his needs for the benefit of the family. Torah explains that in the end it will serve the needs of the individual as well.

So too, when he becomes a leader on a larger scale, he has to overcome the habit of representing the interests of the smaller group which he had once served; whose benefit he pursued diligently and sincerely. If he is later elected to a position of responsibility, to a body comprised of many groups, he has a unique test, and he is also given the ability to pass the test, to seek what is best for the collective group rather than his specific group.

He must, in fact, convince those around him that the majority rules. And so it is level after level, up to the position of a king, "who answers only to G‑d," as the Talmud describes it.

Although he may be "small in his own eyes," he must endeavor to be subservient to the needs of the people, although he may be unaccustomed to it. He can thus bring great benefit to all the citizens of the land. Because every election or appointment to office comes from above, if G‑d appointed him, He surely provides the strength to be able to fulfill this mission properly.