On the occasion of his 70th birthday, the Rebbe
received thousands of letters from well-wishers across the globe.
Among these were several that suggested that perhaps it is time
he considered "slowing down" and "taking it easy"
after his many fruitful decades as a leader and activist.
The Rebbe's response was twofold. First, he announced
that he is launching a campaign to open 71 new Chabad institutions
in the course of the coming year. Then launched a blistering attack
on the very concept of "retirement."
On that and on other occasions over the next ten
years, the Rebbe spoke about the injustice, impracticability and
downright folly in shutting out the elderly from the orbit of productive
life. After decades of achievement, their knowledge and talent are
suddenly deemed worthless; after decades of contributing to society,
they are suddenly undeserving recipients, grateful for every time
the younger generation takes off from work and play to drop by for
a half-hour chat and the requisite Father's Day necktie.
On the surface, the modern-day attitude seems at
least partly justified. Is it not a fact that a person physically
weakens as he or she advances in years? But this, said the Rebbe,
is precisely the point: How is a person's worth to be measured?
If his physical strength has waned while his life experience, sagacity
and insight have grown, is this an improvement or a decline?
"Indeed," said the Rebbe with a smile,
"a twenty-year-old can dance the night away while his grandmother
tires after a few minutes. But man was not created to dance for
hours on end. Man was created to make life on earth purer, brighter
and holier than it was before he came on the scene" -- something
that an older person can achieve no less, and in certain ways much
more, than a younger person.
But the Rebbe never criticized anything unless
it was to propose a corrective course of action. In 1980 he established
a global network of learning centers for retired persons. The study
of Torah will give them a new lease on life, said the Rebbe. It
will enlighten them to their true worth and potential, and transform
them from futile has-beens into beacons of light for their families
and communities. Retirement, if utilized properly, can be directed
as the most potent force toward its ultimate eradication from the
mind and life of man.
And how did the Rebbe celebrate his 80th birthday
in 1982? He again called for a massive expansion of Chabad's activities
in a farbrengen held in honor of the occasion. Upon the conclusion
of the final segment of the six-hour address-which began at 9:30
pm following a full day's work -- the Rebbe personally distributed
a gift to each of the 10,000 men, women and children present: a
special edition of the Chassidic classic, the Tanya. The last participant
received his Tanya at 6:15 am.