11 Ways the Rebbe Forever Changed the World

11 Ways The Lubavitcher Rebbe Forever Changed The World

How one man in Brooklyn shattered misconceptions and predispositions about Judaism and forever changed the world.

posted on Jun. 19, 2015, at 12:05 p.m. Mordechai Lightstone

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

Born in Nikolaev, Ukraine in 1902, the Rebbe’s life encompasses many of the epochs of the 20th century: The rise and fall of Communism, the Holocaust, modern Israel, the cultural revolution of the Sixties and the dawn of the age of the Internet.

During that time, the Rebbe, headquartered in Brooklyn, transformed a small group of Russian chasidim, survivors and refugees into a worldwide movement that spans continents and countries, across the smallest communities and largest cities, college campuses big and small.

What is more, the Rebbe believed that every person, regardless of their background, could be empowered as a conduit to spread goodness and kindness in the world. Together, those combined acts could illuminate the world, elevating it and bringing true transcendence.

While far from even a partial summary of the vast accomplishments of the Rebbe, the following is a glimpse at how the Rebbe, through his vision and the dedication of his emissaries in the Chabad movement, have forever changed the Jewish world.

1. Judaism in the public thoroughfare

Today Chanukah menorahs are a common site in the public sphere - from midtown Manhattan to the south lawn of the White House, from the Eiffel Tower in Paris to the beaches in Hawaii.

For centuries Jews were conditioned to keep their Judaism quiet. The Rebbe celebrated America’s freedom to serve G-d and brought not only Chanukah, but every holiday and almost every commandment to the public thoroughfare.

To be Jewish is not something that takes place in the synagogue, but along every step of life, spreading light and goodness to even the darkest places.

2. Speak to the youth

Judaism has always placed an important role on Jewish education as the key to continuity.

The Rebbe, however, clarified the importance of experience and interaction as the key to bringing these valuable lessons to future.

Instead of viewing children as merely unfinished adults, the Rebbe viewed the vigor, openness, and pursuit of truth among youth as a unique advantage they could teach and inspire world-weary adults. In the same vein, the Rebbe would dedicate special talks to children, engaging with their minds and hearts with the deepest secrets of the Torah.

From public rallies in the 1950s, the gamification of Jewish involvement with theTzivos Hashem network in the 1980s, Shabbat meals on campus and beyond, the Rebbe understood that it was through action that the innate energy of youth could be catalyzed and focused, ultimately inspiring their elders as well.

3. Rebellion is Revelation

The Rebbe was an orthodox rebel, a traditional radical. In the sixties, the rest of the Jewish Establishment looked on in disdain at what was happening to their youth and cried, “Student unrest! Hippies and Freaks! This is certainly a deranged and lost generation.”

The Rebbe’s approach declared, “Finally the iceberg of America is beginning to melt! Finally, its young people are demonstrating that conformity is not the sum of life’s goals! They have smashed the idols of false progress — they need now only be led back to the living waters of their heritage.”

4. The Power of the Feminine Soul

The Rebbe was once visited by an influential New York politician and his wife. Seeing that the wife, an accomplished lawyer in her own right, was silent in the conversation, the Rebbe turned to her and asked: “Why aren’t you saying anything? These are the days of women’s rights…”

When the world struggled with including women within the rubric of Jewish tradition, the Rebbe had already long empowered women to be leaders and thinkers, masters of Jewish future and bringers of light in the world.

5. No person is far-gone

The Rebbe viewed every person as comprised of inherent goodness at the core, and possessing a unique role in the world. That meant, that even someone imprisoned for crimes committed, could not be overlooked or ignored and can and should be rehabilitated and activated for good.

While many in the Jewish community wished to wash their hands of anyone they deemed beneath their dignity, the Rebbe encouraged people to reach out to those serving time, with a focus on rehabilitation, helping the family unit, and preventative education for those at risk.

6. Joy

Joy has always been an essential component of Jewish spiritual life.

However, all too often the Jewish experience has been one associated with the negative, most lately the Holocaust and persecution.

The Rebbe sought to imbue joy throughout the spectrum of Jewish life - every moment, every good deed, every experience could reflect a sense of pride and rejoicing in the good created. Judaism deserved not to be mourned and eulogized, but to be celebrated.

7. Always practical

The Rebbe created a 10-point mitzvah campaign, focusing on simple practical and actionable deeds that could be performed anywhere, anytime.

Combining his philosophy of taking Jewish action to the streets and understanding the importance of experience, the Rebbe married these two beliefs in the practical request that people do a limited immediate action. Take a moment and put ontefillin, light these shabbat candles, eat this kosher dish.

What you did until now, what you’ll do tomorrow - those aren’t the focus. Right here, right now, we’re doing a good deed. The connection from that experience - even if seemingly transient - is in reality transcendent and eternal.

8. We are all one community

Judaism is relatively unique in its belief that gentiles need not become Jews to gain transcendence. Rather each one of us, following our unique callings, can live an upright and ethical life.

History, however, did not often give Jews the position of serving as a ‘light unto nations,’ partners in creating a just and upright world.

The Rebbe, however, encouraged all mankind to follow the universal moral calling of the so-called “seven noahide laws.”

Each individual has his or her path within a path. Yet, there is one universal basis for us all.

Through this unique cooperation of all people, the Rebbe believed the world could reach its ultimate raison d’etre.

As the Rebbe told then New York Mayor David Dinkins, “We are one side. We are one people, living in one city, under one administration and under one G-d.”

9. Harness Technology

Often people view traditional Judaism, especially as practiced by chasidim, as anachronistic and opposed to modern technology.

The Rebbe, however, propelled a view of Jewish life that lived not in contradiction to modern technology, but rather considered it a valuable component to achieving greater good.

Using the latest means of communication, the Rebbe encouraged that radio in the 1950s, satellite in the 1980s and Internet in the early 1990s all be used to promulgate knowledge and education. When technology was harnessed properly, he taught, it not only was not a negative, but itself a portent G-dliness and goodness in the world.

10. Think Global …

The Rebbe pushed forth the call of “Ufaratzta” that his emissaries should travel to communities around the world, affording every last individual access to his or her heritage.

To date, some 4220 Chabad emissary couples in 85 countries around the world run 3500 centers.

11. … Act Local

Despite the global reach of the Chabad movement, the Rebbe empowered each individual to have agency in spreading Jewish knowledge. Emissaries are largely funded locally, forming a holistic part of the local community.

What is more, every individual has the power to teach and to inspire. If you know Alef, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, teach Alef to others. Every person is a lamplighter than can impact his or her community, thereby illuminating the world with goodness and kindness.