A young Israeli writer related the following story.
Once, during the festival of Sukkot, I had to do a tour of reserve duty in Lebanon. Army service is not a pleasant experience under the best of circumstances, especially if it happens to be in Lebanon, let alone during Sukkot. My mind was back home, in a decorated sukkah, rejoicing with my family. Of course, our fortified position had a sukkah; we even had a set of the arba'ah minim that had been delivered together with the food supplies. Still, celebrating the holiday with an artillery unit deep in enemy territory is something I would not wish on any Jew. Anyway, I was standing next to the tent, cleaning my gun for the inspection. Suddenly I heard someone shout, "Look guys, a tank!" I lifted my eyes and looked around - no tank in sight. Yet the shouts went on: "A tank! A tank!" Suddenly I heard strains of Chassidic music. A minute later a civilian truck, decorated with posters that read, "And thou shalt spread abroad, to the east and to the west, and to the north, and to the south" rolled right inside our position. Its speakers were set at full volume. Three jovial, bearded men came out of the truck - and the next thing I knew they were mingling with the soldiers, putting yarmulkes on their heads, handing out the arba'ah minim, and urging everyone to recite the blessing.
I was amazed, first of all, by the fact that a civilian truck had managed to pass through the army check-posts. After all, civilians were strictly forbidden to enter Lebanese territory! How, then, could this "tank" have made it to our position? What was even more amazing, however, was that my buddies were actually accepting the arba'ah minim and reciting the prayers. I had been doing reserve duty with these people for ten years and I knew every one of them. Whenever the subject came up, they would furiously attack anyone who tried to defend religion. "You religious people are a pain in the neck!" they would shout indignantly. "Why is there no public transportation on Shabbat? Why are we coerced into undergoing religious weddings and divorces? In fact, why are you always telling us how to live our lives? Leave us alone!" Every year we had the same stale arguments, which tired me to the point of nausea. Yet here they were, all the wranglers and yellers, the same ones who had always scorned anything to do with religion, standing and reciting a blessing over a palm branch!
Ten minutes later, apart from two men who had refused outright, everyone had performed the mitzvah of arba'ah minim. After the blessings, the Chassidim pulled us all into a circle, and we began to dance awkwardly at first, but soon enough we were dancing with abandon.
Later, I asked my commanding officer about this phenomenon. He was surprised. "How can you, a religious person, not know about this? Our guests are not just religious - they are Lubavitcher Chassidim! They can penetrate into any place, any army camp, any position, anywhere there are Jewish soldiers. They come bringing their tefillin, their songs, and their Rebbe. I am not sure what they are trying to achieve, but they are decent fellows."
"These guys are special, not like the other religious folks," the soldiers told me when I asked them why they had suddenly agreed to recite the blessing over the arba'ah minim. "They come with a smile, and the most important thing is that they are sincere; you can see right away that they mean what they say. How can we refuse them? We may be secular, but we are still Jews."
That was more or less the gist of the soldiers' reactions.
This happened several years ago. Since then, I became interested in Chabad and the Rebbe, discovering some amazing things. I found out that the Chabad "motorized infantry units" operate throughout the world. The same "tanks" may be encountered in New York, Tel Aviv, Paris, Melbourne, London - anyplace where there are Jews. They leave their base camps in the morning, and return late at night. Along the way, they approach Jews, mostly in order to encourage them to put on tefillin. Accompanied by Chassidic music piped from the "tanks," the "tank crew" hand out brochures among the passers-by. As a result, many Jews who lost their way suddenly regain their identity and return to their roots."
The "tanks" encountered by this young writer are only part of the Chabad "army." The Rebbe decided to establish this "army" in 1967, in the wake of the Six Day War, when a wave of solidarity had washed over the Jewish world at the news of the liberation of Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria. The Rebbe instructed his followers to "go to the people" to try to translate this outpouring of emotion into the language of Jewish observance.
The most widespread and well known 'campaign' encourages men to put on tefillin, thereby strengthening Jews confronted by enemies, as it is written: "And all the peoples of the earth shall see that the Lord's name is nikra upon thee and they shall be afraid of thee.” Our sages explain that the word nikra can mean "called" or "read," and that this passage refers to tefillin shel rosh - the tefillin which has G*d's name written inside that is placed upon one's head. (The other tefillin is placed on the arm.)
This gave rise to an unprecedented phenomenon: as a man is walking down the street minding his own business, two bearded Jews suddenly approach him asking, "Are you a Jew? Have you put on tefillin today?" In the beginning, this seemed ludicrous. If someone wants to put on tefillin, he does not need these 'preachers,' and if he does not want to do it, what is the use of pestering him? Even if someone does agree to "do the favor" of putting on tefillin just to get rid of these persistent do-gooders, what is the point?
People who ask such questions simply do not understand the essence of Chabad philosophy. It boils down to the idea that every Jews possesses a G*dly soul sent from above. Even if a Jew has ceased to observe the commandments, or does not believe in G*d, there is still a divine spark within, like it or not. The Jewish soul bestowed by G*d continues to glow within. Even if it is buried under the snowdrift of atheism, it still exists. That is why it is the sacred duty of every Jew who cares for other Jews to rekindle this spark and find a way to awaken the soul.
What actually transpires when a Chassid approaches a Jew walking along the street and urges him to put on tefillin? It reminds him of his Jewish identity. Sometimes this reminder may irritate or even repulse the Jew; what is clear, however, is that it does not leave him indifferent. Even if the man reacts with anger (and this reaction does not happen often), the anger itself is an indication that the reminder has touched some hidden Jewish spark within his heart. If this Jew then agrees to put on tefillin, the hidden spark begins to awaken. Even if this awakening is a result of outside pressure and importunities, this does not diminish its importance, for it leads to a crack in the hard shell the man has grown around his Jewish soul. For some, this may be the first huge stride on the way to Judaism. For others, it is but a tiny step, which at first appears to be devoid of any meaning. However, it only appears this way from the earthly perspective, looking from the bottom up, so to speak. Performing even a single commandment is an event of truly cosmic proportions that opens the "heavenly gates" and affects the destiny of the entire world.
That is why the Chabad Chassidim, the Rebbe's 'soldiers,' never give up. They realize the full importance of their mission. Whether in Tel Aviv or New York, Australia or England, they reach out to the misled, apparently lost Jews, in an attempt to revive their Jewish spirit. At times they have to face insults and ridicule, but they do not take offense. For tens of thousands of Jews, this process of awakening is already underway; and the first step on the way to faith is tefillin. In some, it may simply arouse curiosity; for others, it may trigger nostalgic memories of their parents' home. What is important is that for countless Jews, the mitzvah of tefillin serves as the first step on their return to Judaism.
The 'tefillin campaign' is one of ten special 'campaigns' initiated by the Rebbe. Since this particular commandment applies only to Jewish males, the Rebbe also initiated a campaign to encourage observance of the mitzvah of lighting the Shabbat candles - an obligation fulfilled mainly by women. The Rebbe stresses that Jewish girls who have not yet reached their bat mitzvah should also light candles, so that they will become accustomed to performing this commandment while young. On Friday afternoon, Chabad girls walk through city streets, distributing Shabbat candles and candleholders to Jewish women and girls. Usually the candles are accompanied by a booklet explaining the proper way to perform this mitzvah, and listing the times the candles should be lit so as not to desecrate Shabbat. Every week, huge posters are also displayed announcing the exact time when Shabbat starts.
Another campaign of global importance concerns the commandment of giving charity, or tzedakah. Here the Rebbe places special emphasis on children's education. Even very young children should be taught to give tzedakah. (Incidentally, the Rebbe points out that "charity" is an inaccurate translation of the word tzedakah, which literally means an act of justice and righteousness. Everyone is obligated to give ten percent of his or her income, but those individuals who have been blessed with more than others have the duty to share their abundance with the less fortunate. Many languages, inducing English, lack an appropriate term for this concept.) The Rebbe stresses that every Jew is required to fulfill this commandment. It does not matter how much you give; it can be as little as a single cent. What is important is not the amount, but the knowledge that you have given something, that you have thought about others, not only yourself, and that you have fulfilled the commandment. For that purpose, Chabad Chassidim have distributed hundreds of thousands of charity boxes to private homes, synagogues, public institutions, and countless other places.
The fourth campaign is to persuade all Jews to attach a kosher mezuzah to the doorpost of every room in their homes. A mezuzah, symbol of the "Guardian of Jewish doors," is a strip of parchment inscribed by hand with sections of Torah, placed in a special case, and attached to the doorpost. During their many years of activity, Chabad Chassidim have examined millions of mezuzahs. There are countless stories about terrible calamities that visited people who later discovered that their homes lacked kosher mezuzahs. As result of the Rebbe's instructions, people now check their mezuzahs regularly, to make sure that only kosher mezuzahs are on the doors of Jewish homes. When Chabad Chassidim started the practice of examining mezuzahs, they often had to contend with ridicule and lack of understanding. "This is idolatry," many people would say. "A piece of parchment can't protect my home!" By now attitudes have changed, and the majority of Jews, even those who are completely secular, treat this subject with the respect it deserves. They understand that it is G*d who protects their homes, and G*d who commanded us to put up the mezuzah, which represents G*d's constant guardianship.
However, mezuzahs are not the only thing that must be kosher. As a result of the Rebbe's kashrut campaign, around the world, when Jews want to make their kitchens kosher, all they have to do is pick up the phone, call the nearest Chabad House, and within hours an entire team of Chassidim will arrive to "kosher" the kitchen, bringing all the necessary equipment.
The Rebbe also teaches that every Jewish family must learn to observe the laws of family purity. These sacred laws, which include directives for a monthly time of separation between husband and wife, and mikveh, or ritual immersion in a special pool of "living waters," sanctify the Jewish marriage, home and family, and bring holiness into the marital relationship.
The seventh campaign is a call for every Jew, child and adult, to buy a letter in a Torah scroll, thereby taking part in the writing of a scroll. During this campaign hundreds of Torah scrolls have been written, with every letter inscribed on behalf of a specific Jew. Therefore each scroll is the combined effort of as many as 600,000 Jews. The Rebbe also asked all Jewish families to have holy books on their shelves - at least the basic works, such as the Torah, the Siddur, and the Psalms, as well as Chassidic books, specifically the Tanya and other Chabad books.
Children's education and Torah study are equally important issues. The entire history of the Jewish people testifies to the fact that without Jewish religious education we have no future. Unfortunately, today the majority of Jewish children receives no religious education, and faces the danger of rapid assimilation. This accounts for Chabad's incessant efforts to foster Jewish education.
Finally, campaign number ten, the last on our list but the first in importance - is encouraging ahavat Yisrael love for one's fellow Jews. The Rebbe never tires of stressing the significance of the Torah's precept to "love thy neighbor as you love thyself." This applies to every Jew without exception, Torah-observant or mired in atheism, secular or religious, in Eretz Yisrael or in the Diaspora. We must love every Jew just for being a Jew. Thus a person who turns to Lubavitch Chassidim for help will never be asked about background or degree of observance. If there is a problem, Lubavitchers will do what they can to help, the way they would help themselves in a similar situation without asking questions. This is the meaning of the words "as you love thyself."
The Rebbe has a unique attitude toward children. He often holds special farbrengens for children, and he emphasizes the importance of educating children, starting from infancy. "The power of the feats to come is accumulated from infancy," the Rebbe is wont to repeat. This means that the power and prosperity of the Jewish people is rooted in children's study of the Torah and in their prayer. Every Sunday, the Rebbe gives dollar bills to hundreds of young children for them to give to charity to teach them the importance of tzedakah. Similarly, the Rebbe urges his emissaries to devote special attention to working with children. On the festival of Lag Ba'Omer, every Chabad House hosts children's festivities. In addition, the Rebbe selected twelve passages from Torah, the Talmud and the Tanya, and instructed his emissaries to make every effort to ensure that every Jewish child learns those passages by heart. He also founded "G*d's Army" - a children's organization with countless branches spread throughout the world.
A recent strong instruction from the Rebbe, though not a formal campaign, encourages every Jew to learn three chapters a day from Mishneh Torah - the code of laws compiled by the Rambam (Maimonides). Those unable to master all three chapters can limit themselves to one, or study the shorter Book of the Commandments by the Rambam.
In recent years, the Rebbe has been calling upon nonJews to observe the "seven Noahide commandments," - the laws which, according to Torah, are binding on non-Jews: the prohibitions against idolatry, incest, murder, theft, blasphemy and eating live flesh, and the obligation to set up a court system and render just judgments. At the Rebbe's initiative, a declaration was issued, signed by dozens of heads of state, including United States president Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, appealing to the nations of the world to observe the seven Noahide commandments, thereby taking yet another step toward recognizing Torah and faith in the Creator.
During farbrengens, broadcast via cable TV, the Rebbe makes direct appeals to the American public, explaining the meaning of the seven Noahide laws. The numerous Chabad emissaries also carry out these explanatory efforts. This is done through a wide variety of means: the "tanks," the Chabad Houses, and most importantly, the thousands of Chassidim who toil day and night to fulfill the Rebbe's instructions based on the central Chabad concept of ufaratztah.
This enormous worldwide network, designed to combat assimilation, spread the word of G*d, and achieve recognition of G*d's presence among all nations, is headed by a single individual - the greatest of Jews, the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Never before has the principle of ufaratztah been applied on such a gigantic scale.