Translation by Yehoshua Siskin
1. This evening marks the 10th of Shevat, a Chabad holiday. What is special about this day? It is the anniversary of the passing of Rav Yosef Yitzhak Schneerson, known as the Previous Rebbe. His defiant posture in the Soviet Union was a model of Jewish resistance, proving that it is possible to stand up against a seemingly omnipotent regime – such as that of communist Russia – and keep the Jewish spark alive, even if you have to go underground to do it. But in the end, Judaism can vanquish the most wicked authoritarian rulers, no matter how powerful.
2. Rabbi Schneerson came to America in 1940 with an important educational message to convey: “America is not different.” We dare not throw away the treasured values associated with the small Jewish towns or shtetls from which we or our parents came. We cannot allow ourselves to lose our way and assimilate. In the land of unlimited possibilities we must still have limits.
3. The Previous Rebbe passed away in 1950, 70 years ago today, and exactly one year later his son-in-law, Rav Menachem Mendel Schneerson, known as the Lubavitcher Rebbe, would officially assume leadership of the Chabad movement. After the Holocaust, Judaism seemed for many to be nothing more than a pale legacy of the past, but the Lubavitcher Rebbe came with a different perspective for the education of the next generation: Judaism is not only about the past but also about the future. Judaism is not a source of apology or embarrassment but rather a source of pride and forward movement. Instead of pitiful passivity and an attempt to just preserve the status quo, the Lubavitcher Rebbe promoted a robust activism that would break through the apathy and indifference of even those most distant from Jewish awareness and observance.
4. The legacy he left behind is that of the shlichut, mission. In a rare confession of how he saw himself and his purpose, the Lubavitcher Rebbe once wrote: “My job is to be an emissary, to awaken every person to live up to his or her spiritual capacity and inner potential, in both the present and the future.” He dedicated his life to this mission: to awaken everyone – children and old people, men and women, Jews and non-Jews, professors and students. And he challenged each and every one of them and us to become an emissary. We speak at length about the global force of Chabad emissaries that he established. But the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s greatest innovation was not in creating thousands of emissaries, but in the millions of other people – all of us, that is – whom he transformed into emissaries too.