One of the first challenges that the Rebbe had to face when he accepted the mantle of the leadership was rebuilding the Chabad movement.
The Chabad movement first began and grew in Russia. There, it reached many families. However, when the Soviets rose to power, it became impossible to practice Judaism openly. Many Chabad Chassidim were arrested, and were exiled and ultimately murdered by the Communist authorities. Other Chabad communities, which were then primarily in Poland and the other neighboring countries, were wiped out by the Nazis during the Holocaust.
When the Previous Rebbe, the Rebbe Rayatz, reached the United States in 1940, the Chabad movement was merely a memory, with only a handful of stalwart Chassidim left. The Rebbe Rayatz put much effort in rebuilding its ruins, as well as into reestablishing Jewish life in America in general, where so many Jewish immigrants had cast off their heritage.
When the son-in-law of the Rebbe Rayatz, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the most recent Rebbe, assumed the leadership of the Chabad movement he continued his excellent work. The Rebbe gathered the Chassidim who were scattered around the world and consolidated them into a vibrant, dynamic force in Jewish life.
However, the Rebbe did not wait until this work of internal rebuilding was completed. He was very troubled by the rising rates of assimilation, and he persuaded the Chassidim to work towards bringing their Jewish brothers back to their roots. Chassidim were sent as emissaries to failing Jewish communities, to bring them back to life. Soon, they became flourishing centers of Jewish life once again.
The Rebbe put the interests of the Jewish people in general above his own. When Chabad Chassidim in Israel wanted to establish quality schools for upper-class children, the Rebbe replied that such children could be accepted into schools anywhere. “Chabad needs to do what others don’t want and are not able to do,” he said.
The Rebbe specifically sent his emissaries to some of the most remote areas of the world. Nothing would deter them. Even the difficulties of learning another language and understanding a different mentality did not stop them, nor the lack of friends or money in these remote areas. The Rebbe was the central force that gave these emissaries their strength, perseverance, and faith. A Chabad emissary had to be prepared to suffer and sacrifice himself beyond measure, deriving his own personal satisfaction from helping others and bringing pleasure to the Rebbe.
Today, over half a century later, the power of the Rebbe’s “revolution” is felt worldwide. There are around 2,000 shluchim around the world, from Thailand to Honolulu, from Hong Kong to the Democratic Republic of Congo, from Buenos Aires to Morocco. They are a guiding light that rejuvenates and inspires Jewish life. They bring faith and kindness to so many people, and are known for their dedicated struggle against the forces of assimilation and intermarriage.
During the years of his leadership, the Rebbe turned this small group of remnants into a dynamic force that embraces the world. His vision and concern for every single Jew stretches across the world, and is clear evidence of the Rebbe’s extraordinary, powerful leadership.