“The focus of all spiritual wisdom is to transform this world.” The Lubavitcher Rebbe

At the very beginning of creation, G‑d created the universe using the power of words, “And G‑d said, ‘Let there be ... and there was.’ ” Everything came to be as a consequence of words.

Perhaps our soul isI knew that words could have double meaning also given a voice in order to create, fix and improve the world by positive and intentional use of language. Envision every moment as a white piece of paper, waiting to be painted a vibrant and beautiful picture. Imagine words as colored pencils, creating a pattern, a painting of the moment. As with the colored pencils, we transform and shape our reality by defining it.

Since my childhood in the former Soviet Union, I knew that words could have double meaning, and that secrets could be hidden behind their facades. The oppression of the Soviet regime taught people to speak in codes because any verbal defiance of the government was severely punished. Words can be intricately woven to convey powerful concealed content.

After my family’s immigration to the United States in 1989, we were overwhelmed by our inability to communicate in the English language. As we tried to navigate this new country, the language barrier had a huge impact on us. Our inability to express our needs and thoughts separated us from the rest of society.

Doctors’ visits were most challenging and frustrating. Shortly after arriving in the United States, my 5-year-old brother became very sick. Our parents had difficulty understanding the bus routes and didn’t know how to reach the emergency clinic. We walked for an hour-and-a-half carrying my brother in the nearly 100-degree summer heat. When we finally arrived, we struggled to explain his situation, pointing to body parts and searching the dictionary for translations. I was so scared for my little brother. On the way back, we were shown the bus stop, and when we returned to our apartment, I cried for hours. We were so lost.

My parents, brother and I were “adopted” by a family of American Jews to provide guidance and assistance. I went to their house for dinner, and sitting across the table was a girl around my age. At 13, we were worlds apart, but we silently smiled at each other. She sat next to her confident English-speaking parents, and I sat near my immigrant mom and dad. This welcoming family tried to embrace us as fellow Jews, patiently searching my father’s dictionary. They were also Russian Jews whose ancestors came to Ellis Island 100 years ago, though this seemed irrelevant. I glanced in silence at unfamiliar Jewish artifacts, and when I pointed to a menorah and asked what it was, our hosts were genuinely surprised. These were not “Russian Jews,” I thought to myself, but I didn’t know enough English words to explain our differences.

We were the “children” of communism. The government deprived its citizens of faith, traditions and heritage. By the time I was born in 1976, the older generation that remembered our traditions passed away, leaving us with no one to ask. Anti-Semitism reminded Soviet Jews of our identity, but provided no reference point to our ideals and values.

Despite assimilation, Jewish families risked their safety, careers and reputation to have brief encounters with Jewish tradition. Every year, my parents would return home in the middle of the night with a pillowcase filled with strange pieces of crackers. People were secretly baking matzah for Passover, despite the tremendous risk. When I was 11, my parents allowed me to see and taste the secret content of the pillowcase. I tasted the tiny piece of matzah that my father called the “bread of the Jews.” We yearned for any bits and pieces of the Jewish narrative.

Many years later, I learned that my parents secretly fasted on Yom Kippur. As an observant Jewish woman, I felt overwhelmed with pride that I, just like that American teenage girl whose parents taught her about a menorah, was also continuing my family’s Yom Kippur tradition. While my parents knew almost nothing about the significance or meaning of the day, they nonetheless fasted in solidarity with the Jewish people.

The first religious guidance my family received was from Rabbi Avraham and Batsheva Shemtov in Philadelphia. Thirty years have passed since the day we met, yet my fondness for this inspiring family only grew with time.

During my latest visit with the Shemtovs, we reminisced about our visit to the Lubavitcher Rebbe in 1990. This was one of the most significant days of my life; the memory of meeting the Rebbe evokes powerful emotions. I feel like the Rebbe’s words are my guiding light, a missing link in my Jewish identity. His teachings resonate with me deeply and ignite the light inside my soul.

Rabbi Shemtov shared an incredibly profound memory of the Rebbe and the power of his words. While the Rebbe didn’t leave Chabad-Lubavitch headquarters in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., there was one exception. The Rebbe visited Camp Gan Israel in Swan Lake, N.Y., to emphasize that the vacation period should be used to solidify Jewish education.

After the Rebbe’s visit, parents were eager to find out what their children learned from such a memorable encounter. Rabbi Shemtov heard one of the fathers asking his son, “What new idea did the Rebbe teach you?”

The 11-year-old boy replied, “The Rebbe taught that Moshiach is coming.”

The father was taken aback, “I taught you this many times, and we discuss the idea of the Redemption over and over at home.”

Without blinking an eye, the boy replied, “Yes, but the Rebbe meant it.”

The Rebbe believed inThe idea of Redemption was not a theoretical concept his own words, thus the power of what he was saying reached the hearts of those who heard him speak. To the Rebbe, the idea of Redemption was not a theoretical concept. He taught that true liberation starts by bringing light into your own immediate world. Words that we say out loud paint a picture not just for ourselves, but for everyone who hears them.

We each possess a beautiful G‑dly spark inside of us. On good days, we feel it very strongly; at other times, we are drawn in doubt and confusion. Regardless of where we stand at any given moment, human beings are constantly painting that white piece of “paper” with purposeful reality. The power of speech entrusted to us by our Creator is a dynamic tool meant to bring light to all humanity and has the potential to illuminate the world with G‑dly consciousness.

The words that leave your mouths create and define the canvas of our reality. As the Rebbe taught, “we don’t see things the way they are, we see them the way we are.”