Yud Shevat (the tenth of the Hebrew month of Shvat) is the anniversary of the passing of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn. On the day of the passing of a righteous man, “all his effort... for which he toiled throughout his lifetime... becomes revealed and radiates downward.” As such, it is a time to focus on the spiritual message of the Previous Rebbe’s life, and his unbounded commitment to preserve and advance Jewish practice.

For Chassidim today, however, the primary significance of Yud Shvat is that it is the day on which the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, accepted the reigns of leadership of the movement. 48 years ago, at the gathering celebrating his acceptance of this position, the Rebbe stated clearly: Chabad always put the emphasis on individual initiative, not on relying on the Rebbeim.... I will help, indeed, help as much as I can... but of what avail will it be to provide texts to study, sing Chassidic melodies, and to toast LeChaim if there will no effort and initiative on your part.”

At that same gathering, the Rebbe clearly outlined his goals for our generation: “We are at the close of the period when the approaching footsteps of Mashiach can be heard. Our task is to complete the process of drawing down the Divine presence... so that it can rest in our lowly world.”

On that same occasion, the Rebbe explained that although Moses could have constructed the Sanctuary which accompanied the Jews in the desert entirely alone, he refrained from doing so in order to enable the entire Jewish people to participate in this endeavor. Similarly, the Rebbe continued, the Rebbeim of the previous generations did not want the campaign to bring Mashiach to be their private undertaking, but rather an effort shared by the Jewish people as a whole, and by each individual Jew.

The Rebbe taught us to take responsibility for our lives and to direct our efforts to the ultimate good, the coming of the Redemption. Even now, we can rely on the Rebbe to fulfill his promise to help. For although he is no longer with us in a physical sense, he is not removed. But the lesson of the Rebbe’s life is not what he can do, but what each one of us can do.

Each one of us has a part to play in making the Redemption a reality. The anniversary of the Rebbe’s acceptance of leadership is a time to renew our commitment to this mission and take the initiative.