Often described as the most phenomenal Jewish personality of our time, “the Rebbe,” as he continues to be reverently referred to by millions of followers and admirers around the world, radiates hope, motivation and encouragement in an era often rent with confusion and despair.
The Rebbe is seventh in the dynastic lineage of Lubavitch leaders, which began in the 18th century with Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812), author of the basic work of Chabad philosophy – Tanya, and the Shulchan Aruch [HaRav] – Code of Jewish Law.
The Rebbe was born in Nikolaev, Russia, on the 11th day of Nissan, 1902, to Rabbi Levi Yitzchak and Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson. The Rebbe’s father was a renowned Kabbalist and Talmudic scholar. The Rebbe’s mother was an aristocratic woman from a prestigious rabbinic family. At the age of five he moved with his parents and two brothers to the Ukrainian city of Yekatrinoslav, now Dnepropetrovsk, where his father was appointed Chief Rabbi.
From early childhood the Rebbe displayed a prodigious mental acuity and soon had to leave the cheder [grade school] because he was far ahead of his classmates. His father engaged private tutors for him and, after that, taught him himself. By the time he reached his Bar Mitzvah, the Rebbe was an illuy, a Torah prodigy. He spent his teen years immersed in the study of Torah.
The Rebbe met the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, in 1923, in Rostov, Russia. In December, 1928, the Rebbe married the late Rebbetzin Chaya Moussia (1901-1988), second daughter of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak. The wedding took place in Warsaw, Poland. The Rebbetzin is well remembered for her exceptional erudition and compassion, yet unpretentious and humble demeanor.
Later the Rebbe studied at the University of Berlin and attended lectures at the Sorbonne in Paris. It may have been there that his formidable knowledge of mathematics and the sciences began to blossom.
ARRIVAL IN U.S.A.
On Monday, Sivan 28, 5701- June 23, 1941, the Rebbe and the Rebbetzin arrived in the United States, having miraculously escaped the Nazi onslaught. His father-in-law, who had arrived in the United States a year earlier, appointed him to head his newly founded organizations: Merkos Linyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of the Lubavitch movement; Machne Israel, the movement’s social service organization; and Kehot Publication Society, the Lubavitch publishing house.
Shortly thereafter the Rebbe began writing his scholarly notations to various Chassidic and Kabbalistic treatises, as well as a wide range of Torah responsa. With publication of these works his genius was soon recognized by scholars throughout the world.
After the passing of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn on the 10th of Shevat, in 1950, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson ascended to the leadership of the flourishing movement [one year later].
Motivated by a profound love for the Jewish people, the Rebbe launched an unprecedented program to bring Judaism to every individual Jew, wherever he or she may be. Inspired by the Biblical mandate: “And you shall spread forth to the West and to the East and to the North and to the South” (Genesis 28:14), the Rebbe established a corps of shluchim (Lubavitch emissaries) and charged them with establishing Chabad-Lubavitch centers in every corner of the world. These dedicated men and women reflect the commitment of Lubavitch to the entire Jewish people. It is no wonder that, for many communities, Chabad-Lubavitch, with its vast array of educational and social service programming, has become the central address for all matters Jewish.
In his years as leader of Chabad-Lubavitch, the Rebbe established Chassidism not as one of the limbs, but as the heart and life of Judaism.
Indeed, many of the Rebbe’s innovations are so deeply ingrained in Jewish life today that they often are no longer identified as Lubavitch in origin.
SPANNING THE GLOBE
During more than four decades of inspired leadership the Rebbe made Lubavitch the world’s largest Jewish outreach organization.
Today, [over 3,500] Chabad-Lubavitch institutions span [more than 85] countries on six continents. These educational and social-service institutions serve a variety of functions for the entire spectrum of Jews, regardless of affiliation or background. Programs geared to humanitarian endeavors reach out beyond the Jewish community, to all people.
In Israel, the “Chabadniks” are particularly endeared to all. Their programs reach all segments of the community, and they enjoy the respect of the population, regardless of affiliation.
Kfar Chabad, the Lubavitch city near Tel Aviv, is headquarters for Lubavitch there. Kfar Chabad’s unique educational institutions and outreach facilities have become a lifeline for thousands upon thousands of Israeli citizens.
From the soldier stationed on the front to the farmer on the kibbutz, feelings of veneration and respect for the Rebbe run deep, as all have benefited in some way from his concern.
FORMER SOVIET REPUBLICS
It was in Russia that Chabad-Lubavitch was born more than 200 years ago, and since then nurtured there by its Rebbes in each generation.
A history of heroic, clandestine efforts by Lubavitch kept Judaism alive under the most oppressive and excruciating circumstances conceivable, before and especially after the Bolshevik revolution and during the Communist regime.
When the Soviet Union crumbled, Lubavitch emerged from the underground and the work continues publicly unabated. The Rebbe’s emissaries have established [well over] 200 institutions for Jewish learning and humanitarian aid throughout the FSU [Former Soviet Union].
PEOPLE OF THE BOOK
Under the Rebbe’s guidance, the Lubavitch publishing house, Kehot Publication Society, became the largest Jewish publishing house in the world, publishing and distributing millions of books, pamphlets, cassettes and educational materials in Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Portuguese, Arabic, Farsi, Dutch, Swedish and German.
The central library and archive center of Agudas Chassidei Chabad-Lubavitch, at the Lubavitch World Headquarters, is one of the world’s most precious repositories of Jewish books and literature. The library captains a vast collection of rare books and manuscripts.
REVERSING THE TIDE
The Rebbe was often heard saying that “we dare not rest until every Jewish child receives a Jewish education.”
The American Jewish day-school system, initiated and pioneered by Lubavitch in the 1940′s, has displaced across a wide spectrum the once-prevalent ideology that Jewish education was a dutiful appendage to the real business of acquiring a secular education. Jewish day schools have since become accepted and desirable even to those who opposed it then. This, as well as the outreach programs of Chabad-Lubavitch, have served as a guide for others to emulate.
From full-time yeshivas for Jewish men and women with little or no background in Torah study to literally tens of thousands of classes at Chabad-Lubavitch centers and synagogues around the world, the Rebbe’s inspiration is the vital life-force behind an outreach process that has affected the entire spectrum of Jewish life.
His widespread Mitzvah and holiday campaigns, and the innovative Mitzvah Mobiles, have raised the awareness of Jewish life and Jewish practice among millions of Jews, motivating them to explore and to examine their identity.
From Hong Kong to Tel Aviv, Budapest to Chicago, through the many Lubavitch schools, youth centers, institutions, agencies and activities established and maintained through the Rebbe’s efforts, countless Jews have found their way home.
CONCERN FOR ALL
There is a story told about the Rebbe’s early life that seems to be almost symbolic of much that was to follow. When he was nine years old, the young Menachem Mendel dived into the Black Sea to save the life of another boy who had fallen from the deck of a moored ship. The sense of other lives in danger seemed to dominate his conscience. People “drowning” and no one hearing their cries for help; children deprived of a Jewish education; young Jews on campus; families in isolated communities, under repressive regimes – all in need of help.
The Rebbe motivated all those whom he reached to take part in this task to reach out to others, to help them, to educate them and bring them together.
The Rebbe is a systematic and conceptual thinker on the highest level. His unique analytical style of thought resulted in a monumental contribution to Jewish scholarship. His brilliant approach to the understanding of the classic Biblical commentary of Rashi, for example, revolutionized Bible study.
More than 200 volumes of his talks, writings, correspondence and responsa have been published to date.
The Rebbe’s comprehensive knowledge in all spheres of intellectual pursuit, from science to medicine to mathematics, was astonishing. Yet, for all this scholarship, the Rebbe consistently taught that intellectual understanding must bring to action and good deeds.
The Igrot Kodesh series, a chronological collection of the Rebbe’s correspondence and responsa, is now in the midst of publication. Volume  has recently been published, and brings the total of letters published to more than 10,500. The breathtaking sweep of topics covered in these letters encompasses every sphere of interest, and every field of human endeavor. They range from mysticism, Talmud and Chassidic philosophy, to science and world events, and offer guidance in personal matters, education and social and communal affairs.
The writings in these Igrot Kodesh shed some light on the Rebbe’s genius and the success of Lubavitch under his leadership. His correspondents include Rabbinic scholars and statesmen, homemakers and educators, chief rabbis and Bar/Bat Mitzvah youngsters, scientists and laborers, communal leaders and laymen.
It is a veritable treasure chest of profound Rabbinic, Talmudic, Kabbalistic and Chassidic teachings, exuding encouragement, inspiration and direction, reflecting the Rebbe’s remarkable insight into the human psyche.
It is perhaps the case that his fame as a leader and innovator of widespread mitzvah campaigns and communal projects is a result of his originality as a thinker, and his ability to unite the conceptual with the pragmatic. Essentially, with the Rebbe these two facets are one – the comprehensiveness of his thought and action are part of the same drive: the unity of Torah, the unity of the Jewish people, the unity of all mankind in fulfilling the ultimate purpose of creation.
FOUNTAIN OF BLESSINGS
For many years, every Sunday morning, huge crowds of men, women and children gathered at Lubavitch World Headquarters and patiently awaited their turn to meet the Rebbe face-to-face to receive his blessing. The Rebbe gave each individual a crisp, new dollar bill to be given to charity, often explaining that the most important thing two people could do when they meet is to help a third person. This extraordinary custom attracted people from all walks of life, many of whom traveled thousands of miles just for this momentary, yet unforgettable encounter.
LIGHT UNTO THE NATIONS
Responding to the demands of the time, the Rebbe reached out beyond the Jewish community with a universal message to all peoples of the world.
The Rebbe consistently called for greater awareness of the crucial importance of education for all mankind. The Rebbe stressed that the goal of education is not just to provide a child with information, but more essentially to develop a child’s character, together with his intellectual ability, with emphasis on moral, spiritual and ethical volume. Only such an education will guarantee a generation of people who will abide by fundamental human rights and societal obligations.
The Rebbe maintained that modern, [including] secular man has an enduring need for moral values and a religious philosophy by which to live.
He would often speak of the obligation of all humankind to adhere to and live by the Seven Noahide Commandments – theuniversal code of morality and ethics, given to all at Sinai. This, the Rebbe insisted, is of the utmost necessity to bring sanity and stability to a perplexed world.
The Rebbe’s brilliant insight into the human experience and world events, his genuine compassion for others, his strong leadership and his profound, endless flow of genius, made him a legend in his lifetime, and won him the admiration, respect and awe of all who came to know him.