On Shabbat morning, January 28, 1950, the sixth
Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, passed on to
his eternal rest.
The Rebbe was overcome with grief; for months afterwards,
his every reference to his father-in-law would summon forth a well
of tears. Though he was the natural choice for succession, he steadfastly
refused to take on the role of "Rebbe". It was a full
year before he succumbed to the entreaties pouring in from all corners
of the globe and officially accepted the mantle of leadership.
But from the very start, it was clear that he meant
to carry on his father-in-law's work to reach out and embrace every
Jew, not matter how geographically or spiritually distant from his
On February 7, a mere ten days after Rabbi Yosef
Yitzchak's passing, the Rebbe appointed Rabbi Michael Lipsker as
his shaliach ("emissary") to the Jews of Morocco.
* * *
The institution of shelichut is without doubt the
Rebbe's most revolutionary contribution to Jewish life today. It
is no exaggeration to say that it transformed the face of Judaism
in the second half of the 20th century.
The concept is both profound and simple. The Rebbe
wished to reach every Jew on the face of the earth and to inspire
in them an increased commitment to Judaism and the task of bringing
redemption to the world. But to reach every Jew is a task technically
impossible for a single human being. So he raised an army of young
men and women and said to them: I empower you to act in my stead.
When you go out there--to New Jersey or to Alaska, to Belo Horizonte,
Brazil or to Chelybinsk, Siberia, it will be as if I myself am going
there; as if I myself am giving that class, koshering that kitchen,
or conducting that Passover Seder.
Shelichut is a legal concept in Torah law, by which
one person can appoint another to perform an action in his place.
The Rebbe took this Torah concept and transformed it into a calling
and a way of life for dozens, and then hundreds, and then thousands
of young families.
The Rebbe did not allow his sheluchim the luxury
of mindless obedience to his dictates. Instead, he insisted that
their programs and activities must arise from the particular strengths
and inclinations of the shaliach and the particular needs and circumstances
of his locality. It was the Rebbe's unique type of leadership that
could combine this with the fact that each shaliach was suffused
with the awareness that he or she is acting as an extension of the
Rebbe's very person--which was what empowered them to overcome the
otherwise insurmountable difficulties that lay in their path.
The Rebbe felt a special kinship with his sheluchim.
When the Rebbetzin passed away in 1988, his first request was "to
notify [our] children, the sheluchim." Before the Rebbe left
his office on that fateful day in March of 1992, he arranged his
desk--ordinarily covered with stacks of books and papers--leaving
one item on its cleared surface: the three-volume album containing
the pictures of his sheluchim.
On January 17, 1951, the Rebbe formally accepted
the leadership of Chabad-Lubavitch by delivering the traditional
maamar (discourse of Chassidic teaching) at a gathering marking
the first anniversary of his father-in-law’s passing. On that
occasion, the Rebbe said (free translation):
Here in America people like to hear things expressed
in the form of a "statement"--preferably a provocative
and shocking statement. I don't know if this is the best approach,
but as our Sages have said, "When you come to a city, do as
The three loves--love of G-d, love of Torah and
love of one's fellow--are one. One cannot differentiate between
them, for they are of a single essence. And since they are of a
single essence, each one embodies all three.
This is our "statement": If you see a
person who has a love of G-d but lacks a love of Torah and a love
of his fellow, you must tell him that his love of G-d is incomplete.
And if you see a person who has only a love for his fellow, you
must strive to bring him to a love of Torah and a love of G-d--that
his love toward his fellows should not only be expressed in providing
bread for the hungry and water for the thirsty, but also to bring
them close to Torah and to G-d.
When we will have the three loves together, we
will achieve the Redemption. For just as this last Exile was caused
by a lack of brotherly love, so shall the final and immediate Redemption
be achieved by love for one's fellow.
At that gathering, the Rebbe also laid down what
was to become the leitmotif of his teachings and activities: that
ours is the generation entrusted with the task of bringing to fruition
the very purpose of creation, which Chassidic teaching defines as
“making a dwelling for G-d in the physical world.” Ours
is the generation, said the Rebbe, which will herald the Age of
Moshiach--the era of goodness and perfection which is the end-goal
of man’s millennia-long effort to bring to light the divine
image in which he was created.