On the 3rd of Tammuz 5754 (12 June, 1994), the world caught its breath and shed a tear as it heard of the passing of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson. At that time, millions of people shared the same thought: “If there is anything I could do for the Rebbe, I would.”

In the period before suffering the stroke that led to his passing, the Rebbe said exactly what people should do for him: Everyone should realize the uniqueness of the present time. We are on the verge of the dawning of an era of peace, prosperity, and knowledge to be introduced by the coming of Mashiach. Everyone can hasten the coming of this era by sharing this awareness with others and increasing their deeds of goodness and kindness.

This spirit motivated a small group of people to begin a bi-weekly fax service sharing the Rebbe’s teachings with a cross-section of businessmen, legislators, professionals in the legal, medical, and entertainment fields. The over-whelming majority of the recipients did not identify as Lubavitcher chassidim. By and large, they were Jewish, but they were also contemporary Americans and they wanted to hear a message of ideals and values that both dimensions of their personality could accept with integrity. Moreover, some of the recipients were non-Jews, but they understood that moral principles and spiritual truths were important in molding the face of our society. We began sending a fax sheet called In Touch.

Why the name? Because the Rebbe was In Touch.

In the 80’s, the Rebbe spoke frequently on the subject of prayer in public school, explaining the contribution it would make to maintain the moral fiber of our children. Nor did the Rebbe remain content with words, efforts were launched to secure a constitutional amendment enabling such worship.

Many of the opponents to this campaign were Jewish. Once a Jewish communal leader from the opposing front attended a farbrengen, a public gathering, where the Rebbe spoke. At that gathering, the Rebbe also focused on the subject of prayer in schools. Afterwards, the communal leader explained that she had not changed her views on the subject. “Nevertheless,” she had to admit, “at the time the Rebbe was speaking, there was no possibility of rebuttal. Everything he said rang so true. It was as if there was no other way of looking at the situation.”

When listening to the Rebbe, you would always feel that this is something real, genuine. When he spoke, there was never any window dressing involved. He was focused, over-poweringly so. And his words made his listeners focused. They compelled you to look within, to concentrate on the very core of who you are and what you live for. He brought you In Touch.

There is a classic Chassidic narrative involving the Rebbe’s ancestor, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of the Chabad -Lubavitch Chassidic approach: When Rabbi Zalman began to spread Chassidism throughout Russia, the government thought he wanted to lead a revolution against the Czar, so Rabbi Zalman was arrested and held for questioning.

As the interrogation went on, many Russian officials were impressed by his wisdom, and arranged informal meetings with the prisoner. One of these officials, the Minister of Culture, was a learned man who had studied the Torah. He had a question.

“Why,” he asked, “when G‑d came to punish Adam after he ate from the Tree of Knowledge, did He ask him ‘Where are you?’ G‑d is omniscient. Why did He have to ask Adam where he was?”

Rabbi Zalman looked the minister in the eye and told him: “The Torah is eternal. G‑d’s question to Adam is addressed to every man, at every point in his life. At all times, G‑d is asking us: ‘Where are you? What are you doing to fulfill your purpose?’

“For example, you are so and so many years old [Rabbi Zalman mentioned the minister’s exact age, although he had no ordinary way of knowing it]. G‑d comes to you and asks: ‘Where are you in your mission in life? Do you know what you are expected to accomplish?’”

Deeply moved, the minister was very helpful in clearing the sage of the charges for which he had been arrested.

The Rebbe would tell this story often and ask people “Where are you?” And even when he did not tell the story, he was making that point. There was something powerfully pressing about him that made you feel both petty and important simultaneously. Petty, because you realized how shallow most of your ordinary concerns were. And important, because you felt the power of truth, and you felt that you could do something to make that truth heard more universally. He imparted a tremendous sense of the urgency of the moment, how every minute of time was a unique Divine gift to be used, not wasted.

By sharing his thoughts with others, we wanted to give our readers the opportunity to keep In Touch, to maintain the mindset which he engendered.

And this relates to the objective mentioned at that outset: making Mashiach’s coming a reality. Mashiach is going to be a human being. He will be heir to the virtues of Jewish monarchy, and will actualize these virtues in his own life, in both study and deed. Working inside out, he will spread these positive qualities, affecting first the Jewish people and then the world at large.

What lies at the heart of this dynamic? That man will come face to face with the spiritual purpose that lies at the core of his being and is his destiny. When one man, Mashiach, actualizes his spiritual potential and turns it outward, the effects will begin to snowball. And as more and more individuals begin to emphasize these values, society as a whole will change. For ultimately, what we are all looking for is a life filled with purposeful and meaningful achievement and satisfaction.

As each one of us becomes more In Touch, more aware of who he is and what the world is, his life will become an example that inspires others. And as they emulate his model, the chain will continue to spread. This dynamic will grow and expand until Mashiach “perfect[s] the entire world, [motivating all the nations] to serve G‑d together.”

Sichos In English

Crown Heights, New York
Erev Gimmel Tammuz, 5758