The sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe 

While preparing for our weekly Torah class this week I came across a story from 1930's Germany. It was about a woman who, like so many other German Jews, was desperately trying to escape with her family from the Nazis. When she heard that new visas had just been made available, she proceeded to wait hours, then days, in a hot, sweltering office with many others wanting for visas for their families, hoping that the man behind the desk would give her a visa. 

Finally, after days of no progress and full of despair and frustration, she took a different track. As the office was, once again, closing for the day, she went over to the man at the desk and said, ’I want to thank you for all of your time. Have a good day.' As she headed down the stairs to leave, she turned and saw the man calling her back. 'I have these visas I can give you,' he said. And so her family lived.

The importance of appreciating and connecting with other people can never be stressed enough. It saved that woman's life. This week, three separate events prompted me to recall this idea.

The first was the day of 'Yud Shvat', or the tenth day of the Jewish month of Shvat, which is today, Friday. It was on this day in 1950 when the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe passed away in Brooklyn. He had been arrested by the Soviet secret police for teaching Judaism in 1927, bombed by the Nazis in Warsaw in 1939, and lost his daughter and son in law in the Treblinka death camp in 1943. He fled Europe in 1940. His son in law succeeded him as the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe the next year, and proceeded to open thousands of Chabad Jewish centers around the globe.

The second was the ongoing World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland over the week.

The third was the UN's Holocaust memorial day, on January 27 (Shabbat). 

These three events reminded me of the importance of appreciating other human beings, in three distinct ways, from the 'inside out':

The day of Yud Shvat, the passing of the Rebbe, reminded me of the importance of caring for our fellow Jews. In addition to writing thousands of pages of Torah and Chassidic-philosophic literature, and directing Jewish institutions across Europe, including the famed 'Tomchei Temimim' Yeshiva, he was known for his outstanding care for each individual Jew. His son in law, the seventh Rebbe, continued and tremendously expanded his work.

In my view, 'beginning at home' and focusing on caring for our fellow Jews, not only does not diminish our care for all people, it actually increases it. Someone who cares for his or her own family is more, not less, likely to care for others as well.

The Davos conference followed that thread. We must not only try to help 'our own', but the world at large. God created the world in such an interconnected way that is is impossible to live life alone. Every country, every city and town, and every individual person, has something unique to add that could enhance our quality of life. Trying to learn from others is our gain, not doing so is our loss.

Finally, the UN's Holocaust memorial day reminded me of the story of the woman and the visas in Germany. Who would've thought to say a kind world to a German bureaucrat in those dark days? Yet that kind word saved her life. 

Caring for others and trying, when possible, to see even a glimmer of good in every person starts at home, yet must continue on to the world at large, and finally even to those who are at the most severe odds with. You never know.

Rabbi Avrohom