This week commemorates the 24th Yahrzeit of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneersohn, of righteous memory. I vividly recall standing in line one Sunday in 1990 at 770 Eastern Parkway about to pass by the Rebbe for a moment and receive a blessing and a dollar bill for charity. Though I was only a child – not even Bar Mitzvah – when it came my turn the Rebbe gave me his full attention, as if I was the only one there.
The Rebbe’s leadership is often described in global and grandiose terms. He founded a movement consisting of more than 3,000 Jewish outreach centers. Leaders and politicians consulted with him on
matters of global import. His teachings touch Jewish communities across the globe—in Illinois alone, his vision is the catalyst for the 48 (and growing) Chabad centers across our state. The Rebbe was, in a word, a global visionary.
There is another, lesser celebrated, element of the Rebbe’s approach. A focus that may surprise many, especially in light of his global impact: His staunch—almost fanatical—emphasis on the power of the individual.
To the Rebbe, there was no collective. No one was defined as a member of a group or society. Each individual, regardless of their accomplishments or pedigree, was treasured for the unique gift only they could contribute to society. “The entire world was created just for me” a Talmudic statement the Rebbe quoted repeatedly—was breathed into life in the hundreds of letters he penned weekly, painstakingly investing himself in the personal needs of others and making them his own.
It is this vision which has made, Chabad has become synonymous with “Mitzvahs on the Spot for people on the go”. Anyone passing a Chabadnik on the street expects to be offered to lay Tefillin or a set of Shabbos candlesticks on their way to lunch.
Many people have asked me: What exactly is the point? What benefit is there in a “hit-and-run” Mitzvah, when the individual has no ongoing Jewish affiliation and will likely never lay Tefillin again?
I reply: to the Rebbe, who initiated, envisioned and implemented these campaigns, this question is the objective: The power of the individual. One single person. One meaningful interaction. One Divine transformation of the world. In the words Maimonides (Laws of Repentance 3:4) a single deed that can change the balance of the world. It is not to be valued as a start of something grander, rather as something innately special and cherished by G-d Himself, even if it is never repeated. The Rebbe often reminded us of the Mishna (Pirkei Avos 4:2) that one mitzvah will bring another in its train – so there isn’t truly anything as a one time, never to be repeated mitzvah act.
Today, there is much talk about individuality and self-expression. Small startups are replacing large corporations; social impact is a more alluring incentive than comfortable paychecks; and blaring billboards constantly remind us of the human right to make choices.
Torah has a slightly different take on the notion of individuality. In the lens of Judaism, being unique is not simply a right. It is a responsibility. Being unique means you have unique gifts and thus unique obligations to the world, your fellow man and G-d A-mighty. Gifts entrusted to you for a distinct purpose—to fulfill a mission unique to you. “The entire world was created for me” is more than a source of encouragement; it is a Divine demander calling to every individual to see themselves as indispensable in the Grand Plan of creation, and to execute the special mission entrusted to them.
Of all the teachings the Rebbe left us with, his special care for every individual serves as my greatest inspiration. It is the guiding force behind the work of Lubavitch Chabad of Illinois— to perceive each individual moment and person as the special never to be repeated creation of G-d it is. To savor every interaction, to seize every mitzvah opportunity and to change the world; one good deed at a time.
Rabbi Meir S. Moscowitz is the Regional Director of Lubavitch Chabad of Illinois and Senior Rabbi of Lubavitch Chabad of Northbrook. Learn more about the Rebbe at www.ChabadIllinois.com/Rebbe .